E.A. Bowles: papers and objects (catalogued)

Scope and Content

The archive comprises papers of celebrated plantsman E.A. Bowles, relating to the development of his garden at Myddelton House and his lifelong work with plants. It records his in-depth studies of plants and plant breeding, and includes six decades of correspondence with eminent botanists and horticulturists of the time. It includes journals and photographs relating to his travels and plant hunting trips with companions such as Reginald Farrer and Susan Garnett-Botfield. The papers reflect the successful publication of his writings and drawings, and his involvement with the RHS over 57 years. The archive documents his relationships with a wide circle of friends, including Gertrude Jekyll, Reginald Farrer and William Robinson, as well as his benevolent work and involvement with the local community in the Enfield area

Administrative / Biographical History

Edward Augustus Bowles (1865-1954), known to friends as Gussie, was born at Myddelton House in Enfield on 14 May 1865, the youngest of three sons. A sickly child, he was educated at home by the local vicar from whom he drew inspiration for a career as a priest. As a child he was a keen natural historian and gardener and later, whilst studying at Cambridge for the priesthood, he joined the Cambridge Entomological Society. In 1887 whilst completing his degree tragedy struck the Bowles family, his brother and sister dying of consumption. Bowles returned to his parents to comfort them and abandoned professional priesthood. Instead he devoted himself to helping his local church as Vicar's Warden and lay reader, with the organisation and running of a night school for neighbourhood boys, charitable work for the local poor and the creation of a garden from uninspired parkland at Myddelton House.

He was a self-taught gardener, botanist, botanical artist, and garden writer as well as plant hunter. Despite the loss of sight from his right eye, the several hundred detailed paintings now held at the Lindley Library and Natural History Museum are a testimony to his talent as an artist. Bowles joined the Royal Horticultural Society in 1897 and purchased life membership for £26. He served on 15 committees and was a member of Council for 36 years, and Vice President from 1926-1954. In 1916 he received the Victoria Medal of Honour. Following his death in 1954, an area of RHS Garden Wisley was named Bowles' Corner.

Apart from the many articles and papers he wrote on various plants, he was the author of three books about his remarkable garden: 'My Garden in Spring', 'My Garden in Summer' (both published in 1914), and 'My Garden in Autumn and Winter' (published in 1915). 'A Handbook of Crocus and Colchicum for Gardeners' was published in 1924, revised in 1952, and 'A Handbook of Narcissus' in 1934.

Many strange, rare and difficult plants were successfully grown at Myddelton House and people came from far and wide to admire them. All were made welcome and visitors usually left with bulbs, roots, cuttings or seeds. The children he helped and befriended either through the church, Church Lads Brigade, Forty Hill School or Night School became known as 'Bowles boys' and had the run of the garden at weekends where activities were laid on for them, such as fishing, football, cricket or skating on the pond or New River. Others could be found assisting him in the garden, removing blanket weed from the pond, weeding and helping with other tasks.

During the Second World War work began on a sixth book, a monograph on the Anemone, but the project was abandoned due to lack of funding. Bowles' final work, on snowdrops, was published posthumously as a chapter entitled 'Garden Varieties of Galanthus' in Sir Frederick Stern's book 'Snowdrops and Snowflakes' (1956).

The death of E.A. Bowles in May 1954, one week short of his eighty-ninth birthday, marked the end of an era. Three hundred people attended his funeral. His ashes were scattered in his favourite area of the garden at Myddelton House, the rock garden.

Adapted from a history of E.A. Bowles on the website of the E.A. Bowles of Myddelton House Society, used by kind permission


Overall, records were arranged to reflect Bowles' principal achievements and interests. Within folders, papers were retained in their original order, however prior to cataloguing some original arrangement had been lost as a result of earlier work on the records. This is recorded in the catalogue descriptions. Mea Allan's book, 'E.A. Bowles and his Garden at Myddelton House 1865-1954', was used to establish likely dates of photographs and other details

Access Information


Most folders are open for consultation. Those with unprotected dried plant specimens are either closed or partially closed to public access until specimens have been removed to the herbarium at Wisley. Readers are asked to handle all items in the archive with care due to their fragile nature. It is essential to check opening hours and make an appointment

Acquisition Information

The majority of the archive was bequeathed to the Library following Bowles' death in 1954. A volume containing signatures, presented to E.A. Bowles on his 70th birthday, 1935, part of a manuscript autobiography, c.1950s, and some photographs were donated by W.T. Stearn in 1965. A folder of correspondence and papers relating to Narcissus, 1791-1951, was donated by W.T. Stearn in 1976, and a further folder donated by the Stearn family in Oct 2017. A child's sketchbook, 1920s, and watercolour drawings by E.A. Bowles, 1896, were donated by Elizabeth Bell in 1996. A garden fork that had belonged to Bowles, previously on display in RHS Garden Wisley, was transferred to the archive in 2013. Archive material associated with Bowles, reference EAB/AA/1-3, was accumulated by the Library from unknown sources

Other Finding Aids

The Lindley Library descriptive catalogue, available on-line via the Archives Hub, and as a paper copy in the research room

Archivist's Note

Catalogued by Liz Taylor, RHS Lindley Library archivist, in Aug 2016. Assistance enhancing documentation of photographs, letters and journals was provided by Jackie Kingdom, Liz MacNicol, Jennian Geddes, Annie Johns and Mara Uzzel, RHS Lindley Library volunteers. Packaging was carried out by Annie Johns, RHS Lindley Library volunteer. Research assistance was provided by Ann Thornham, RHS Lindley Library volunteer. All packaging materials and conservation of seven scrap books generously funded by the EA Bowles of Myddelton House Society.

Appraisal Information

Library Committee minutes record that in 1955 a sub-committee was appointed to decide which papers would be retained permanently, but there is no known record of their activity. Apart from the disposal of a small number of duplicates during cataloguing in 2013-2016, all papers were retained

Custodial History

Following the death of E.A. Bowles in 1954, a large number of his papers were received as a bequest to the Lindley Library. Library Committee minutes report a preliminary survey of the papers and 'tabling' of scrap books. During the 1950s drawings of Galanthus were removed from Bowles' folders of papers and bound into a volume (now in the Lindley Library Art Collection). At some point a box of Bowles material was transferred to the herbarium at Wisley, presumably because it contained many dried specimens. Some of these specimens were removed during the 2010s and added to herbarium collections, and the box was transferred back to the Library in 2015. Remaining specimens will be removed to the herbarium in due course and their removal will be documented in the archive catalogue descriptions. During the course of Mea Allan's research for her book ‘E.A. Bowles & his Garden at Myddelton House 1865-1954’ (1973), a number of folders and papers from the Bowles archive passed into her possession, which were returned to the Library following her death in 1982 and replaced in the Bowles archive in 2016

Related Material

Related material at the Lindley Library:

Approximately 425 original drawings by Bowles, including drawings of Narcissus, Galanthus, miscellaneous plant portraits, garden views, people portraits, still life including birds, and holiday scenes, are in the Lindley Library Art Collection, and can be searched on the Library catalogue. Some of Bowles' dried plant specimens are in the herbarium at Wisley, and more are to be transferred from the archive to the herbarium in due course. For portraits of Bowles, one attributed to Nellie Sansom, 1923, the other by John Gray, 1945, and for a decorated royal autograph by Bowles, signed by Queen Mary, 1929, see the Lindley Library Art Collection. For a letter from Bowles to William Robinson, 1919, see WRO/2/011. For letters from Bowles to Susan Garnett-Botfield, see the archive of Susan Garnett-Botfield and Ruth McConnel, reference GBO. For a letter from Bowles to Arthur Grove, 11 Nov 1939, see enclosures removed from books at Wisley. For copy and original letters from Bowles to Dick Trotter, E.B. Anderson and others, copy and original photographs of the Bowles family, copy letters to Bowles from Reginald Farrer, Ellen Willmott and others, notes of interviews and letters from individuals who knew Bowles, see Mea Allan's archive, reference ALL

Related material held elsewhere:

A collection of drawings of Crocus by E.A. Bowles is held at the Natural History Museum. Papers of E.A. Bowles including letters, Chelsea Flower Show medals, certificates, books and paintings, are held at University College London School of Pharmacy Library. Papers relating to E.A. Bowles, his friends, family and connections to the local area of Bulls Cross and Forty Hill, comprising mainly copies, prints, photographs and cuttings, are held by the E.A. Bowles of Myddelton House Society, at Myddelton House, Enfield