Select Knowles Miscellany

Here are some Knowles stories and accounts over the years:

The Knollys Rose Ceremony

The Knollys Rose Ceremony is held on June 14 each year and is organized by the Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames.  On that day one red rose will be plucked from the garden in Seething Lane and taken to the Mansion House on the altar cushion of All Hallows by the Tower, where it will be presented to the Lord Mayor. 

The ceremony commemorates an ancient City judgment dating from 1381.  Sir Robert Knollys owned a house on Seething Lane.  He was sent abroad to fight alongside John of Gaunt.  While he was away, Lady Constance his wife was reputed to have become annoyed with the chaff dust blowing from threshing ground opposite their house.  So she bought the property and turned it into a rose garden. 

She also built a footbridge over the lane to avoid the mud, but without the equivalent of planning permission. The penalty was that a red rose 'rent' from the garden had to be paid annually to the Lord Mayor. The rose payment was no more than a peppercorn rent, a symbolic fine upon Sir Robert Knollys. 

For this payment permission was given "to make a haut pas of the height of 14 feet" across the lane.  The footbridge has long since disappeared.  But the legal requirement for the payment of this quit-rent has been established as one of the City's traditions.

Sir Thomas Knollys' Epigraph

Sir Thomas Knollys, Lord Mayor of London, was buried in the north aisle of St. Antholin's Church on Watling Street in London.  On his tomb was the following epitaph:  

“Here lyeth graven under this stone 
Thomas Knollys, both flesh and bone, 
Grocer and Alderman years forty, 
Sheriff, and twice Mayor truly: 
And for he should not lie alone, 
Here lyeth with him his good wife Joan: 
They were together sixty years, 
And nineteen children they had in fier; 
Now be they gone we them miss: 
Christ have their souls to heaven bliss.  Amen”

Sir Thomas was also Lord of the manor of North Mymms in Hertfordshire.  His arms displayed in the church window at North Mymms suggest his family believed that he and they were descended from Sir Robert Knollys.

Knowles in the 1881 Census


Blackburn and Preston contained the largest numbers of Knowles.  And their main trade at that time was in the cotton industry.

The Knowles Coalmining Family

Andrew Knowles and Sons was a coal mining company that operated for many generations in Lancashire.

Their business began probably in Elizabethan times.  Robert Knowles, who died in 1780, started the pits in Eagley Bank and Sharples north of Bolton in the mid 18th century.  It was his great grandson Andrew Knowles who founded Andrew Knowles and Sons Ltd, having taken his four sons into the company in the 1830’s.   The next generation joined the company after a disagreement in 1872.  The firm grew to be the largest on the Manchester coalfield by the end of the 19th century when it had almost 4,000 employees. 

These Knowles presented some contrasting outward public relations.  Many were prominent in their civic duties.  However, starting in 1866, the company locked out all workers who joined a fledgling trade union and repeatedly defeated over time any attempt to unionize the workforce. The company's intransigence towards unions continued until 1891 when a strike left miners little better off.  However, the firm was forced to negotiate with a union it had until then refused to recognize.  

Old Silverhead Knowles

Edmund Knowles, who left Lancashire for Virginia as a young lad on the Elizabeth and Jedeth in 1699, was known as “Old Silverhead.” 

One story has him wounded by an Indian who fractured his skull with a tomahawk.  It was said that someone fashioned a plate from a silver coin and this was inserted in his scalp to cover the head wound.  The other story, the more practical one, is that Edmund had a full head of silver colored hair. 

Family stories indicate that Edmund married a Swedish woman, but her name has not been recorded anywhere.  They settled in Sussex county, Delaware where Edmund died in 1762.  His descendants have been traced through their oldest son Richard.

James Knowles, Plantation Owner in the Bahamas

James Knowles was a mulatto plantation owner on Long Island in the Bahamas.  He was born sometime in the 1720’s in an unknown location, thought to be Eleuthera, to John Knowles, listed as white or European, and an unknown African woman or woman of African descent. 

He was sometimes listed as being born on December 20, 1733, as that was when he was baptized at Christ Church Cathedral in Nassau.  Due to his racial background, his baptism was logged in the registry reserved for mulatto children.  The priest who baptized him noted that he appeared to be about ten years old. 

Long Island was to be more receptive to interracial marriage than were other Bahamanian islands.

Knowles in Australia - A Case of Irish Sectarianism

William Knowles had come from a Protestant landowning family in county Antrim.  For some reason he and his brother Hugh departed Ireland for Australia in the 1890’s.  William became a journalist in his new home, working first for the Sydney Morning Herald and later for the Farmer and Settler. 

His family remembers him as a friendly old man, smoking his pipe and talking with that strong and distinctive Ulster accent.  But he was brought up in the Protestant/Catholic divide.  When his eldest daughter Marguerite married a brilliant engineer named Flynn, Dr. Flynn’s only fault in life was that he was a Catholic. The result was that, after her marriage to Flynn, her father never spoke to her again.  Not once for the rest of his life. 

For a time her sisters kept in touch with Marguerite surreptitiously.  However, the family was irrevocably divided.  In due course, Marguerite just passed out of the family, another victim of Irish sectarianism.

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