Brighton and Beyond

A History of the Cowley Family

Reproduced by kind permission of The Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton & Hove

The Cowley Family - Dairymen & Farmers

The association of the Cowley family with farming in the Brighton area is well documented.  There are many references on various web sites to both people and locations, there is published research by local historians, there are entries in trade directories and in electoral registers, and, of course, there are census records.  

I have attempted to bring together all the information that is in the public domain, to add photographs and historical facts provided by various people who have contacted me.

I am particularly grateful to Su and Paul Cowley, John G. Davies, Douglas d’Enno, and John Maddams for all the information that they have sent me, and to Su, Paul and Douglas for their kind permission to reproduce their photographs on this web site.

More photographs on the family tree pages

Click on the images to enlarge them.  Click on underlined names to go to the relevant family tree

Milk delivery cart

W.A. Cowley

Ovingdean Farm Dairy

Possibly Charles Henry and William Arthur Cowley

Cowley’s Dairy milk can

Royal Pavilion and

Musuems Image Store

William Cowley


Jemima - wife of William Cowley (above)


Cowley family group at Black Rock farm

pre 1875

William Cowley (2nd right), wife Jemima, and sons

Henry Cowley (1831-1893) - fourth son of William & Jemima

Cowley cart from

Black Rock farm,


William Arthur Cowley and his wife, Lilly Millicent

Another view of Ovingdean Grange


William Arthur Cowley with farm workers

The Cowleys enjoy a game of croquet at Ovingdean Grange

Horse and cart Ovingdean Farm Dairy

W.A. Cowley

Ovingdean Grange


Postcard showing part of the landslip at Black Rock

  Page updated - 23 February 2016

© Peter Cowley 2018

Who’s Who? - The Main Characters!

At least three generations of Cowleys were involved in farming in the Rottingdean and Ovingdean areas.  Others worked in the dairy ‘industry’, some with their own businesses.

The generations that I have researched start with William Cowley (1798-1881) and his brother, Charles (1800-1880).  

More people than I show were undoubtedly involved in farming and associated activities but exact research is difficult.  More details will be added as, and when, I find them.

Black Rock Farm

The earliest reference to a Cowley farming in the Brighton area is on a tithe map dated 1838 which shows Charles Coley / Cowley at the 94 acre Black Rock farm in Rottingdean.  I believe that Charles and his brother William were the sons of Stephen Coley.  The link back to my own ancestors cannot be totally proven, but nonetheless I believe that the lineage that I show is likely to be correct.  (You can see detailed research notes for Charles and William by visiting the family tree page ‘From Stephen Coley (1776)’ and following the links.)

Charles moved to Harrington Farm, Preston, Sussex, at some time between 1844 and 1851 leaving William at Black Rock.  The farm was subsequently taken over by William’s son, Henry.

There was a severe coastal landslip which threatened the farm and the adjacent coastguard station and the farm was eventually abandoned in about 1887.

Ovingdean Grange Farm

By 1891 Henry Cowley is the tenant at Ovingdean Grange farm. After Henry’s death in 1893 the farm was taken over by his son, William Arthur Cowley.  William Arthur subsequently passed the farm on to his son in law, Percy Filkins, who remained there until 1945.

Other Farms

Several other farms appear in the various research documents -

Articles by Douglas d’Enno

The links below are to two interesting articles by historian and author, Douglas d’Enno, reproduced here with his kind permission.

Other web site links

There are several other web sites with information about both the Cowley farmers and the farms that they occupied.  The most interesting links that I have found are shown below.

East Brighton Bygones - ‘Spot the Dog’

My Brighton & Hove - ‘Ovingdean Grange’

My Brighton & Hove - ‘Woodingdean Farm’

Click to see a timeline for William Cowley

Click to see a timeline for Charles Cowley

Poster for Cowley dairy business in Knightsbridge, London

Woodingdean House Farming in Ovingdean