(By his daughter, Katherine Bradley, 2013)
Roland Heywood Bowden was born in Lincoln, the youngest son of Reginald and Marjorie Bowden (nee Heywood). His father was the manager of the gas works in Bracebridge, Lincoln and his mother, a gifted pianist, ran the household. He had one brother, Harry, a solicitor and a sister, Marjorie, who ran her own nursery school. Roland (Roly) won a scholarship to Lincoln Grammar School. He gained a place at the Slade School of Art and at the University of Oxford to read English. However his parents were worried that if he studied either art or English he would not be able to make a living. So instead he studied architecture. He qualified as an architect at Liverpool University and practised briefly.
During World War II, he was a conscientious objector, but served in the Royal Army Medical Corps as a masseur and physiotherapist in the Middle East and Italy. In 1942 while on leave from Egypt in Jerusalem he met Regine (Riki) Rainer (1923-2012). It was love at first sight. Riki was born in Vienna, her mother was Austrian and father Bulgarian. She grew up in Vienna, Gelsenkirchen, Germany and Sofia, Bulgaria. In 1938 the family left Sofia and they travelled to Paris where her father was interned. He was released the following year and they left for Palestine, where they settled. Here she first worked in a kibbutz and then the British Army Pay Corps in Jerusalem.
After a long correspondence Riki and Roly were engaged. At the end of 1945 he was able to arrange her journey to England and they were married in January, 1946. In spite of their different backgrounds and their very different personalities, they remained passionately in love. Theirs was a truly romantic love story. Their story, as my brother, commented was ‘the stuff of novels, not what parents did.’
Once he was demobbed, in 1947, he trained as a teacher through the Emergency Teacher Training Scheme in London. He first taught in a secondary school in London, and then in 1954 at the Manhood School, Selsey, West Sussex, Art and English Literature until his retirement in 1981. Riki and Roly, their two children, Katherine and Mark and Riki’s mother, Steffi Rainer settled in a small cottage in Lavant, near Chichester, West Sussex. Roly lived there for the rest of his life. Riki worked as a secretary in Chichester.
Both were active in politics, in the Labour party and in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).
Riki was the secretary of Chichester CND for many years. Each year they travelled to Italy, mainly the Marche and Umbria, where Roly had been stationed during the latter part of the War. Later in life he and Riki travelled further afield to Kenya, India and Bangladesh, most of Europe including Bulgaria where he was feted as a poet and gave public poetry readings. Riki had been awarded a British Council grant to research and write a book, the biography of the Bulgarian feminist Ekaterina Karavelova (Ahead of her Time (2004)).
Throughout his life Roly was never without one of his pocket notebooks. In these he jotted down poems, ideas for plays and sketches. Roly also loved walking, particularly in the Sussex downs and the Italian Marche. He was passionately in love with these two contrasting areas. This is illustrated in many of his poems, stories and paintings. He was also fascinated by philosophical and political ideas as well as European literature and these also influenced his writing. He loved discussing his ideas but was also a good listener and had an amazing depth of knowledge on an enormous range of subjects. Riki and Roly’s Lavant house was also the scene of many social gatherings for their many friends, heated discussions about politics and the arts, and a great deal of fun for me growing up there. There was rarely a dull moment and I and my brother were encouraged intellectually and to question and analyse ideas and read widely. My parents were extremely hospital and this together with my grandmother’s wonderful Austrian cooking, including wonderful cakes, meant that our friends often visited and even stayed in this small house. My brother and I remained close to both Riki and Roly throughout their lives and felt lucky to have them as parents, although often exasperated by their views, my father’s total lack of punctuality and my mother’s obsession with time as well as at times by their tempestuous relationship.
Essentially Roly was an internationalist as well as a writer, painter and teacher, and a lover of the Sussex downs and Italian countryside. He was, as a close friend commented ‘a man who always saw the best in people’ and a man who believed in social justice.
From early on in his life, Roly painted, wrote poetry, short stories and after the war, plays and novels. Below are a list of his published work as well as some of his unpublished work and paintings. One of his best friends, and possibly the greatest influence on him, was the Cornish painter, Peter Lanyon, whom he met at the Gimpel Fils Gallery, London in 1951. From then onwards they corresponded about art until Lanyon’s death in 1964. (This correspondence is now housed in Tate Britain’s archives and has been used extensively in the many books about Lanyon.)