"...John Bowen the son of a Blacksmith walked into Birmingham with a sack of tools on his back and laid the foundations for his success..."
Welcome to this website which has been developed so that more people may learn about the buildings built by John Bowen and Sons.
Initially my primary aim is to seek out people who worked at the firm so that I could record as many buildings as possible that had been built by, or tendered for, by the firm..My first book 'Alderman John Bowen J.P.', is now out of print but is followed by a second book 'John Bowen & Sons' which is the result of several years of research and lists over two hundred buildings most of which are in Birmingham. Hopefully this will assist those researching their.
There are some old and new photos contained within the Photo Gallery and more importantly a precis of John Bowen's life found in the Bowen History page.
Please either send me an email or leave a blog on the Guestbook page so that I know you have visited and so that we can share our mutual interest.
At the close of 2015 we remembered the an Anniversary of the death of John Bowen's youngest son Leslie Harold Bowen killed in action in France on 22nd December 1915
Leslie Harold Bowen - born 3 November 1888 died 22 December 1915
Leslie Harold Bowen was the ninth child of John and Catherine. He was born on the 3 November 1888 at 'Rochford' in Strensham Road, his father being at that time described as a 'Builder Master'. It was the previous year that John Bowen had started work on the Victoria Law Courts. Catherine registered the birth herself on the 15th November. John Bowen was 43 and Catherine 39. Leslie Harold Bowen was to be their last and youngest child.
At the age of eleven Leslie passed the entrance exams for Birmingham High School in December 1899 and attended what is now known as King Edwards School between 1900 and 1902. It is not known if he earlier was taught by a private tutor or attended a local school. Thomas Kenneth Barnsley who was killed in the first world war on the 31 July 1917 and who was a member of the Barnsley building family attended the school as did members of the Buller family. After being at King Edwards for just three years, Leslie then went on to Queens College, Taunton in September 1903 and stayed at the school until July 1907, when he went up to Cambridge in October of that year. Queens College was surely chosen both because of its Wesleyan foundation, and because John Bowen's solicitor and co Wesleyan Trustee Alban Buller, had earlier sent his son, Arthur Henry Reginald Buller to the school.
Leslie was fourteen years old when he started at Queens College and joined Form IV equivalent these days to year 9. Leslie features in the Wyvern the school magazine on many occasions whilst he is at the school. Playing both in the cricket and rugby teams. The Captain's cricket report of July 1907 reported Leslie as, 'A steady bat with a tendency to stonewall', in spite of him hitting no fewer than nine boundaries in the fifty he achieved against Holy Trinity Cricket Club in June of that year. He gained his colours that year. Some of the Wyvern editions are missing particularly for terms when Leslie would have played Rugby for the school. The only Wyvern for the Spring term records Leslie as playing back and tackling well.
Leslie also participated in the School debating society which was forward looking enough to chose to debate on the subject ' The Channel Tunnel would prove beneficial to the Country'. The motion was lost, and unfortunately it is not recorded whether Leslie was for or against the motion.
He played a prominent part in the life at Queen's, and was made Senior Prefect in 1906.
He left for Cambridge in 1907. It was no doubt an obvious choice. Leslie's elder brother William Henry Bowen was already working in Cambridge as a doctor at Addenbrokes Hospital. Leslie gained a first class in the special examination for law at St John's College in 1910. On going down he was articled to train as a solicitor at the Birmingham firm of Ryland Martineau and Carslake and then joined Sharp & Co at 12 New Court, Carey Street for his final year of articles. He passed his final examination in June 1913 and at the time war broke out, it is recorded that he held a good position with many possibilities.
With an old St John's friend, he immediately joined the 2nd Battalion of the Queen Victoria Rifles (9th County of London Regiment) where he rose to the rank of Corporal. Unless you had attended one of the major public schools which had a Officer Training Corps (O.T.C) boys from other public schools the custom was that you joined the ranks, but became promoted as the number of casualties mounted. In March 1915 Leslie was offered and accepted a commission with the 3rd Battalion (attached 1st) The Lincolnshire Regiment.
Writing in June of 1915 he said: ' I am off tomorrow for Southampton en route for France. I am glad to go now, I have had the best time of my life in camp here,' no small tribute to the esprit de corps and joie de vivre of camp life.'
He was drafted to join the 1st Lincolnshire Regiment and was constantly engaged in trench work, save for occasional rests which the Regiment enjoyed. When at home on leave in October 1915 he spoke with warm praise of regimental life, the cheeriness of the men and the pleasant jaunts he had with fellow officers when the respite from trench life gave a few hours of freedom.
He was killed while on Patrol Duty in the early morning of December, almost immediately after his Battalion had got back to the trenches when he was just twenty seven years old. Leslie had lasted a little more than the average of six weeks for men at the trenches in those dreadful days.
His Colonel wrote to his parents : I deeply regret to inform you that your son, L. H. Bowen, whilst out on Patrol Duty between the lines on the early morning of the 22nd December 1915, was struck by a bullet and I fear killed. He was approaching the German wire about ten yards in front of other members of the patrol when he was hit and seen to fall. Owing to the enemy's fire it was impossible to approach the spot where he fell, and his body has unfortunately not been recovered. The Corporal who was accompanying him feels sure that he was killed outright, but of course there is a faint chance of his being still alive, but I fear the chance is remote. An endeavour was made to go out the next night, but the patrol was observed and had to withdraw. We are very grieved about it. He was a keen and zealous officer and very popular among his comrades. Please accept my deepest sympathy for the loss of your gallant son.'The Captain of his Company also wrote recording -
'I feel I must write just to tell you how much all the officers and the men feel for you in the loss of your son. I have not known him long, but quite long enough to find out that he was one of the very best officers and friends that any man could meet. On the morning of the 22 December he went out to find certain particulars of the ground between our trenches and the enemy's; this was at 3 a.m. He took two men with him. I was watching for his return at about 4.15 am when I saw three shots fired which apparently came from the enemy's trench, and about twenty minutes later the two men came back and told me that your son had been hit. They stopped out there for ten minutes and called his name several times, but he did not reply. They could not get to him because they themselves would have been shot; he was at the time close to the enemy's barbed wire and about five yards in front of his men. Mr. Harris, who had been with him all the time he was out here, went out the next night to see if he could find anything out, but found it impossible to get near enough to find him. A keen watch was kept to see if we could find out anything the previous day, but nothing happened.'
The British War Graves Commission record that his body is buried at the Caberet-Rouge British Cemetery at Souchez, Pas de Calais. The grave number is numbered XX.F.12. Souchez Cemetery is a mile south of the village of Souchez, and on the Arras and Bethune road. Souchez Cemetery was an 'open' cemetery that accepted war dead from over a hundred smaller cemeteries, resulting in having in its care over 7,000 casualties. Any first world war dead still being found are buried there. His grave stone simply reads -
L. H. Bowen
22nd December 1915
The records held by King Edwards School Birmingham state that he was killed at Armentieres and buried at Louin near Lille.
This is not quite correct as the undated letter from the war office to John Bowen received on the 8 April 1919 states that his body is buried in Lomme Communal Cemetery West of Lille, the grave being marked by a durable wooden cross. If this is the first communication that John Bowen had received of the whereabouts of his son's body it must have been a grievous wait I suspect that if it was a communal burial the individual bodies may not have been exactly located under each cross but this is perhaps being morbid. In any event Leslie's body was later moved south of Lomme to Cabaret-Rouge which is close to Arras, after the war.
During the first part of the Great War the British soldiers did not have 'dog tags' to wear, and it was not until 1916 that they were issued with tags made out of compressed card board which were of little use in identifying casualties after a time.
It may just be that his body was never identified and that John Bowen made certain that his son had a grave stone was installed and that for various reasons Caberet Rouge was chosen, and that the King Edwards School record is correct, but we may never know.
It is hard for us today to imagine what it must have been like to have been involved in the trench war of the First World War let alone the Somme. Major - General C.R. Simpson's excellent History of the Lincolnshire Regiment is a must read for anyone seeking to understand the dogged spirit and courage of the soldiers in the most awful conditions. Leslie's name is recorded in the Roll of Honour of the Regiment and his death recorded in this comprehensive history. He died at a time when there were no major battles and whilst on patrol duty. Nevertheless in the period between 17 June 1915 and 30 June 1916 four officers were killed and twelve wounded. In other ranks the casualties were thirty nine killed and three hundred and fourteen wounded. These numbers are nothing compared with the slaughter in the war as a whole when between 702,917 and 888,246 military were killed and 1,663,435 wounded from the United Kingdom. It is hard to imagine that Leslie would have escaped being killed or seriously wounded in any event.
It is gratifying that there are a surprising number of war memorials or honours boards which include Leslie Harold Bowen's name. These can be found in the Chapel at King Edwards School Birmingham where Leslie was one of 257 Old Edwardians who were killed. The Honours board at Queens College Taunton, where he was one of sixty seven OQ's who were killed in the Great War, the war memorial in St John's College Chapel at Cambridge which records 163, the Law Society's Reading Room in Chancery Lane where he is listed as one of 588 Solicitors who were killed. Just under a quarter of all the practitioners at the time joined up and if you include those practitioners who were injured which number 669, this represents a causality list of about a tenth of the profession. Leslie's name is recorded at St Anne's Church Parish Church in Park Hill on a memorial where Leslie is one of thirty three members of the church never to return home to Moseley. As you would expect, Leslie's name is recorded in the Roll of Honour of the brave men of The Lincolnshire Regiment at Lincoln Cathedral. The memorial at Notre Dame de Lorette near Caberet Rouge also include Leslie's name along with 580,000 other men in Nord Pays de Calais. Both friend and foe are listed. John Bowen & Sons Limited built the Colonnades for and laid out the grounds for Birmingham's Hall of Memory to honour the war dead and Leslie's name is included here in the book of Remembrance.
In all Leslie's name is recorded publicly on no less than eight war memorials or scrolls. Leslie's war medals comprise the 1914 -1915 Star. Leslie, like his elder brother Tom was a member of the 10th Birmingham Company of the Boys Brigade in Moseley and Leslie is remembered within its own Roll of Honour of those who died in the Great War. Leslie's artistic talent is reflected in a poem entitled 'An Ode to a camp cheese', written whilst he was at the Boys Brigade camp at Malvern in 1912.
His sister Kay Bowen, whose hobby was binding books in leather, tooled a book which I found at the Methodist Church in the Moseley Road in his memory which is entitled -
'Order of Administration of the Sacraments and other services
for the use of The people known as Methodists'
The book is inscribed –
'This book is given
To the Glory of God
and in loving remembrance of
Lieut Leslie Harold Bowen
Who gave his life for his country
in the Great War
1914 – 1918'
This book is leather bound and inscribed on the front with the words -
'A new commandant I give unto you that ye love one another as I have loved you'. Inside are the words ‘Wesleyan Church Moseley Road’.
Leslie was clearly much loved by his family and his death must have been a devastating loss. Nothing is known about any affairs of the heart but suffice to say that in this life which was cut so short he never married. He was the third of John Bowen's children to predecease John Bowen.
It was in memory of Leslie that John Bowen bequeathed £1,250 to provide a bed in his memory at the General Hospital in Steelhouse Lane. In spite of this being a substantial gift in those days, there is sadly no record of it today.
John Bowen described his son as 'the white knight of that particular generation'. Indeed he was.
13 January 2021
The unveiling of a Birmingham Civic Society Blue Plaque at the Balsall Heath Church Centre on the 22 September 2014 by Tim Watts D.L., High Sheriff of the West Midlands supported by Michael Hogan, High Sheriff of Worcester and Philip Bowen, High Sheriff of Powys. The plaque was positioned on the 19th September 2014 at The Ark Tindal Primary School Tindal Street.
For more information about the work of the Birmingham Civic Society please visit www.birminghamcivicsociety.org.uk
See also www.victoriansociety.org.uk for information of the activities of The Birmingham branch of the Society.
John Bowen was President of The Birmingham Skin Hospital in John Bright Street 1923/24 at the age of 78 just three years before his death in 1926. John Bowen followed on as President from the then Bishop of Birmingham. Sir John Holder, with whom John Bowen had many connections was also a former President.
Saving our heritage:
The brick work and structure of the 1875 Red Carriage bridge in Birmingham's Cannon Hill Park needs urgent attention and will be on the danger list if not repaired soon. The bridge was designed by R. Morrison Marnock and built by John Barnsley & Sons, a fellow Wesleyan. Please contact Tony Fox of Cannot Hill Friends to show your support. This pretty bridge which is crossed by the thousands who visit the park each week deserves to be kept in good order.
Up for a challenge? :
If you regularly search the British Newspapers archive and are able to identify the name of the builder of No 134 Edmund Street Birmingham B3 2ES please let me know. The 1897 Grade 11 terracotta building was designed by Birmingham architects Newton and Cheatle for G. J. Eveson Coal and Coke merchants. The plans lodged with Birmingham's archives and collections make no reference to the builder which might have been John Bowen & Sons.
Latest News :
A second book on John Bowen & Sons kindly sponsored by Wesleyan Assurance referencing over 250 building was published in December 2020. See The Book tab.
John Bowen & Sons built the Wesleyan Assurances Head Office in 1901, the same year that the firm began to build the Wesleyan Central Hall. During John Bowen's lifetime in Birmingham he was active in building churches of a number of denominations, but particularly those in the Moseley circuit for the Wesleyan Methodist church working with Richard Aldington Hunt the then general manager of the Wesleyan.