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The Waterloo Rector

By December 6, 2023February 9th, 2024No Comments

The church of Saint Mary the Virgin, the Parish Church of Little Thurrock, is located on the north bank of the Thames in Dock Road. The church was built around 1170 and is a ‘Grade II Star Listed Building’. It contains the tomb of one of the few clergymen who fought under the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo.

The remains of Reverend Edward Bowlby, the 52nd rector, are interred below the sanctuary. On leaving school, Edward followed his brother Peter into the army and served with the King’s Own 4th Regiment of Foot.

At 6pm, on 18th June 1815, the day of the Battle of Waterloo, 20 year old Lieutenant Edward Bowlby went into action just to the north-east of the farm of La Haye Sante. The farm had just fallen to Napoleon’s forces. During the campaign the 4th Regiment suffered the loss of 12 men killed and 122 wounded.

On returning to England Edward Bowlby resigned his commission and entered Jesus College, Cambridge, graduating with a BA in theology in 1822. In 1838 he was appointed Rector of St Mary’s, Little Thurrock, where he remained for 22 years. A very generous man, he funded several additions to the rectory, a new vestry on the south side of the church and ornaments for the pulpit. He died in office on 25th June 1860 at the age 65.

His successor was the Reverend E. Davis.

The Battle of Waterloo was a decisive battle in European history which finally vanquished Napoleon’s ambitions to rule Europe. Its connection to Thurrock through the part played by the Rector of Little Thurrock parish church may not have been realised had it not been for a couple of coincidences. In August 2014, in the course of First World War research, a newspaper article in the Southend Telegraph of July 1915, was discovered. It carried a brief report on Lieutenant Bowlbys’ Waterloo connection with Little Thurrock 100 years earlier.

Then in June 2015 during a refurbishment of St Mary’s church the carpet behind the sanctuary was lifted revealing the grave of Edward Bowlby which none of the current church community had realised was there.

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Extracted from the Essex Hundred Histories
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