My Sussex Attree Family History


Emily Bowles nee Attree was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire in 1847 and died in Brighton in 1925.  She was my maternal great grandmother.

My Uncle Geoffrey recalled a very special moment concerning her in 1917.

“Grandma’s portrait has a very nostalgic appeal for me. It was a gift from all the then Bowles family and their respective husbands, wives, and children (I remember that my contribution was two weeks pocket money – sixpence). It was painted by Harry Mileham, the artist who did all the pictures in St. Thomas’s Church in Hove.

The presentation was made on grandparents’ Golden Wedding anniversary when a big party was held in Brighton at Ditchling Rise. I can only just remember it. Grandma died two years later; and Grandpa outlived her for only another two years and he left the portrait to my mother in his will.”

That portrait now hangs in my study room.


Attrees in Sussex

These Attrees were in fact an old Sussex family.  The name occurred from the 13th century onward in a number of Sussex townships, mostly in East Sussex.  A family of that name possessed land at Wivelsfield and at one time held the Otehall manor there.  Atte Ree became Attree about 1500.

The earliest Attree of our line was a Thomas Attree, born in 1576, who lived at Wivelsfield.  Over the next two hundred years we can track his descendants in the wealden and downland villages of East Sussex – from Wivelsfield to Ditchling, Street, Newick, and – in the late 1700’s – to West Firle.  We don’t know what these Attrees did, but they were probably engaged in some kind of farming.  The one occupation we do know was that of John Attree in West Firle, a blacksmith.

There was, curiously, a geographic connection between this Attree family and my own Shelley family which had also been at West Firle.  Jesse Attree was the son of John Attree of West Firle.  Jesse was transported to Australia in 1815 for stealing pigeons from Lord Gage of Firle Place.  Lord Gage graciously allowed him to return to West Firle in 1822 on the expiration of his sentence and he lived out the remaining thirty years of his life there.


John Attree – to India and Back

We don’t know how things stood between Jesse and his oldest son John.  John had been born in West Firle in 1805 and would have been seventeen when Jesse returned from Australia.  But some years later he left with the British army for India where he married.   He and his wife Eleanor had one daughter Sarah and one son George, both born in India.  Eleanor died in 1834 and John was remarried in India to Sophia Thorley three years later.

John and Sophia returned to England in the early 1840’s, but not to West Firle.  He was a schoolmaster in Lancashire and Yorkshire before retiring back in Sussex.  Two of their daughters, Emily and Lucy, were born in Yorkshire.

Uncle Geoff painted an endearing picture of how Emily Attree met her husband Henry John Bowles.

“My grandfather Bowles was the amateur conductor of the Brighton Sacred Harmonic Society, which, apart from other occasional concerts, did an annual show of Handel’s Messiah in the Dome during Holy Week.  One year the committee were recommended a soprano soloist from Wakefield, our Emily Attree. She was invited down for an audition, duly sang at the performance and married Grandpa six weeks later.  Who said that the Victorians were stuffy!”

Emily, aged 20, and Henry, aged 22, were in fact married in Brighton in 1867. There is a beautifully preserved photograph from this time of Emily in a long black evening gown with music in hand as if about to sing.


The Attrees, Bowles and Uruguay

Henry and Emily became the patriarchal late Victorian family. They moved to Athelstan House, 157 Ditchling Rise, a large house on the hill rising to Ditchling Road in Brighton. There were nine children to bring up, four boys and five girls.  In addition, Emily’s younger sister Lucy came to live with Henry and Emily before marrying in Brighton in 1890.  She and her husband later settled in Berkshire.

Meanwhile Emily’s elder step-sister Sarah had married John Oldham in Lancashire.  They departed for Montevideo in South America in 1864, John going out there to supervise the laying of the telegraph cable between Buenos Aires and Montevideo.  He remained there as manager of the Eastern Telegraph Company until his death in 1910.  His presence paved the way for Emily’s  elder married sister Mary and her eldest son Stanley also to leave for Montevideo.

By the late 1800’s there were many English companies in Uruguay, in telegraph, waterworks, trains, banks etc.  There was a substantial English community and they were all ‘friends.’  Many of the English families – and these included the related Bowles, Oldham and Macadam families – were buried in the British cemetery on Rivera Avenue in Montevideo.  They also sent their children to the British school in Montevideo which opened in 1908.


Attree Family History
  • Thomas Attree (1576-1642) of  Wivelsfield married Joan
  • – John Attree (1608-1684)
  • – William Attree (1611-1659)
  • William Attree (1611-1659) of Wivelsfield and Ditchling married Ann  Hayward (1611-1662)
  • – Thomas Attree (1654-1741)
  • Thomas Attree (1654-1741) of Ditchling married Mary Bennett (1654-1691)
  • – Jesse Attree (1688-1763)
  • Jesse Attree (1688-1763) of Street married Elizabeth Shoulder (1692-1788) in Street
  • – Elizabeth Attree (1721-1773)
  • – Thomas Attree (1723-1793)
  • – Jesse Attree (1725-1785)
  • – Sarah Adkins nee Attree (1727-1781)
  • Thomas Attree (1723-1793) of Newick married Mary Simons (1725-1789) in Newick
  • – Jesse Attree (1748-1826)
  • – Thomas Attree (1754-1793)
  • – John Attree (1757-1795)
  • – Sarah Weston nee Attree (1762-1831)
  • John Attree (1757-1795) of West Firle married Mary Gladman (1755-1821) in West Firle
  • – George Attree (1779-1846) m. Sarah Piper
  • – Jesse Attree (1780-1852)
  • – William Attree (1781-1835) m. Ann Jane
  • – Harriet Diplock nee Attree (1783-1861)
  • Jesse Attree (1780-1852) of West Firle married Mary Holman (1775-1853) in Seaford in 1804 and was transported to  Australia in 1815
  • – John Attree (1805-1865)
  • – Jesse Attree (1807-1877)
  • – Charles Attree (1809-1862)
  • John Attree of West Firle (1805-1865) married Eleanor Glynn (1805-1834) in India in 1829
  • – Sarah Attree (1830-1898) m. John Oldham in Lancashire and departed for Montevideo in 1864
  • – George Attree (1833-1915) also returned to Lancashire
  • John remarried Sophia Thorley (1818-1889) in India in 1837 and they later returned to England
  • – Mary Ann Attree (1844-1913) m. William Drever in Lancashire and they were living in Montevideo in 1896
  • – Emily Attree (1847-1925)
  • – Jesse Attree (1850-1915)
  • – Lucy Attree (1861-1934) m. Charles Walls
  • Emily Attree (1847-1925) from Wakefield in Yorkshire married Henry John Bowles (1845-1922) in Brighton in 1867
  • – Stanley Bowles (1871-1899) m. Adelina Brooks in Montevideo




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