yeovil people

John Bower(s)

Labourer and Chimney Sweep


John Bower(s) was born in Yeovil in 1868, the eldest child of labourer Charles Bower (1842-1897) and his wife Mary Ann (1837-1935). In the 1871 census the couple, together with 3-year old John were listed living at Goar Knap. In fact they were living at New Prospect Place which was built between 1814 and 1829. It was also known as 'The Colony' and as Jenning’s Buildings - named for the person who built them, Robert Jennings and his son William Jennings who owned them after the death of his father in 1848. New Prospect Place was a long terrace of very small cottages, essentially slums occupied by the very poorest families.

The buildings were very tiny as may be seen by looking at the map below and comparing the size of the dwellings with, for instance, those in adjacent Great Western Terrace which themselves were only Victorian "two up, two down" houses. Indeed the squalid dwellings in New Prospect Place were described as "simply huts with no foundations and originally having earth floors". They were not demolished until after 1911 and the land used as allotments.

The western part of New Prospect Place had become a brickyard in the 1820s - this, and another brickyard further north, gave the name Brickyard Lane to what is today's St Michael's Avenue. In the 1881 census Charles and Mary were listed at Brickyard Lane with John and two further children; James (b1871) and Sarah (b1876). Charles gave his occupation as a brickmaker - presumably working in this adjoining brickyard - while 15-year old John was a labourer.

In the summer of 1887 John married Sarah Ann Hann (1867-1939) at Yeovil. Sarah was the daughter of agricultural labourer Stephen Hann and his wife Caroline. John and Sarah were to have eleven children (one died in infancy) including Elizabeth (1889-1971), Alice (1891-1974), John Stephen (1894-1977), Charles W (1897-1956), Mabel (b1898), Henry (1899-1943), Rose (b1902), Ethel (b1905) and Hilda (b1906).

In the 1891 census it appears that John and Sarah were spending some time apart as he was listed as a prisoner in the police station in what is now The Town House in Union Street. John was charged with aggravated assault on a woman named Lucy Street (see Gallery below) at the White Horse Inn in Brickyard Lane, adjacent to New Prospect Place. Not only that, but when the police tried to arrest him it transpires that his wife Sarah, his brother James and his brother-in-law Charles Hann all assaulted police officers. John received six weeks imprisonment in the Town House, James and Sarah were each fined £1 and seven shillings costs (a total of about £130 each at today's value) and Charles Hann was fined ten shillings and seven shillings costs.

In the 1901 census John, Sarah and their six children were living at 51 New Prospect Place. John listed his occupation as a general labourer and Sarah gave hers as a leather glove liner.

By 1910 John and his family had moved to 7 Edwards Buildings in Higher Kingston and it was around this time that he began to get into frequent trouble with the authorities for keeping his children out of school. Worse, when they did attend school they were found to be dirty and verminous (see Gallery). The family were listed at 7 Edwards Buildings in the 1911 census at which time John gave his occupation as a general labourer, Sarah and Alice were glove liners, Steven was an assistant and Charles was an errand boy.

From the photograph below, taken in 1926, John Bower and his son Charles were working as chimney sweeps based at their home at 103 Park Street. In the photograph Charles is seen wearing two medals from his service in the Great War. Charles' son-in-law, Gerry Masters, wrote of Charles' war service "He joined up in the first rush of the war and was badly wounded in 1915. He was shot through the right thigh, the bullet removing a fist-sized lump of flesh from his inner thigh, it then entered his left thigh and broke his femur. The bullet missed his crown jewels by less than an inch. After one year in Sheffield Hospital he had a spell of sick leave, was returned to duty, posted to Plymouth to train as a Pioneer. By a strange coincidence he was carried off the battle field by G Masters of Yeovil, as far as i can tell no relation!"

John Bower died at Yeovil in the winter of 1934, aged 70.


John Bowers' signature on the 1911 census




The 1901 Ordnance Survey showing Goar Knap and New Prospect Place. The map shows that New Prospect Place comprised sixty separate dwellings.


This map, based on the 1842 Tithe Map, shows parcels of land referred to in indentures of 1814 and 1829 in my collection. Parcel 982 was that parcel "lately converted into a Brickyard", which is presumably where Charles Bower worked as a brickmaker at the time of the 1881 census.

 Parcel 981 contained New Prospect Place built and owned by Robert Jennings (his son William had inherited the lands by 1846) - "bounded on the north by the land of the said Robert Jennings". Parcel 983 was "on the South by lands of James Tucker" - this is now the site of Great Western Terrace.


The 1886 Ordnance Survey shows Edward's Buildings, the former Edward's Court, just left of centre and off the south side of Higher Kingston. John and his family were living here by 1910.




The report of the Borough Police Court at which John was charged with aggravated assault from the 10 April 1891 edition of the Western Gazette.


In this further report from the 8 April 1891 edition of the Exeter & Plymouth Gazette, it transpires that John's wife Sarah, his brother James and his brother-in-law Charles Hann were all found guilty of assaulting police officers.


In trouble again - this time for being drunk and disorderly. This report from the 10 June 1892 edition of the Western Gazette. (Er Robins was Tony Robin's great-granddad).


The Town House, photographed during the 1970s from Union Street looking towards South Street. In the 1891 census John Bower was listed as a prisoner here for six weeks for assaulting Lucy Street with a glass.


This photograph features in my book "Lost Yeovil"

The original Police Station cells, today entered from the Mayor's Parlour. Photographed in 2018.


In trouble once more, this time for not sending his child to school. This report from the 5 April 1901 edition of the Western Gazette. In 1908 John was fined 2s 6d for a similar offence.


This report from the 8 July 1910 edition of the Western Gazette concerns the verminous state of John's children.


This photograph features in my book "Lost Yeovil"

A 1926 photograph (complete with nosy neighbour at top right) of John Bower and his son Charles with the tools of their chimney sweeping trade, presumably taken in their back garden at 103 Park Street. At this time John was aged 58 and Charles, who wears two medals from his service in the Great War, was 29.


Courtesy of the Smillie family

John and Sarah Bower, probably photographed in the late 1920s or very early 1930s.