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Jackie Bowles, landlady of the Louis Armstrong pub in Dover since 1962, dies

By Sam Lennon

Customers, musicians and fans have been plunged into mourning following the death of a town's longest-serving publican.

Jackie Bowles died last Friday morning, aged 79, after a short illness.

Her family has described her as an "irreplacable jewel in Dover's crown."

Jackie Bowles celebrating 40 years at the Louis Armstrong in 2002. Picture: Mike Waterman
Jackie Bowles celebrating 40 years at the Louis Armstrong in 2002. Picture: Mike Waterman

She had run the Louis Armstrong, originally with her late husband Robert "Bod" Bowles, for 57 years.

The pub, in Maison Dieu Road, is one of the best-known live music venues in the town.

The family now says it will continue as that in her honour.

Grandson Luke Jordan, 34, told KentOnline: "We kept the pub open even on the day Jackie passed away as a gesture for her.

"It is what she would have wanted.

"The family intend to keep running the pub in the same manner as Jackie had, also as a live venue.

"Customers will not expect to see a lot of change.

"The family will not sell the pub or close it."

Also carrying on in her memory is the monthly Good Vibrations acoustic evening, which was scheduled to take place as usual yesterday.

Organiser Paul Dagys said: "I am very glad I got to know Jackie in the few years I've been in Dover.

"She was always very encouraging of musicians, even the humble musical gathering called Good Vibrations that I am part of.

"Of course, this is the end of an era, but I am confident that Jane and the family will keep a great tradition going."

Good Vibrations is for folk, blues and pop acoustic music with an open mic session for audience members to take part.

It is held on the third Tuesday of every month with the follow-up on April 16 from 8pm to 10pm.

The Louis Armstrong has been a hotspot for music fans for generations, since the time the Bowles took it over in 1962.

Mr Bowles even had his own band playing there.

It has the unique feature of a mirrored wall facing bands on stage so customers around the corner of the bar can also see them.

The couple first ran the pub in September 1962 when it was The Grapes.

They renamed it the Louis Armstrong in 1972, a year after the jazz legend died.

Mrs Bowles on her 70th birthday in 2009 with musician Mick Morris. Picture provided by Mick Morris
Mrs Bowles on her 70th birthday in 2009 with musician Mick Morris. Picture provided by Mick Morris

Jazz musician Mick Morris had known Mrs Bowles since 1962 and during the Sixties was a teenager playing in jazz jam sessions.

In the 1970s his band Mirkwood played on Friday nights at Louis and he and co-founder Jack Castle played at her 70th birthday party in 2009.

Mr Morris said: "She was a wonderful lady - very kind and generous.

"When Mirkwood played Jackie would always look after us and make us some food.

"The Louis was probably the first pub this side of London to feature regular live music, and over the years has played host to some world-famous musicians.

"It must surely be one of the few pubs anywhere in the UK that has featured live music every week, continuously for over 50 years. It may well be the only one.

"Jackie will be greatly missed by musicians all over the UK and elsewhere."

The most famous musicians at the Louis included Nick "Topper" Headon, who lives in River and was a Mirkwood drummer before he joined The Clash.

Another was Monty Sunshine, clarinet player for the Chris Barber Jazz Band.

Ian Shawcross
Ian Shawcross

Jazz musican Ian Shawcross, of Deal, said: "I first met Jackie and Bod in the Sixties when The Grapes was a major jazz venue and the Bod Bowles Jazz Band was a sensation every Sunday evenings.

"I feel privileged to have known Jackie for so many years and to have been given the opportunity to play with my own band, (the Ian Shawcross Band) in such a welcoming environment and friendly place."

Mrs Bowles' funeral is on Friday, April 26. The procession starts from the Louis Armstrong at 10.30am and goes to to St Paul's RC Church where a service takes place at 11am.

The committal is at Barham Crematorium at 12.40pm.

The wake will be from midday at the pub with bands playing throughout the day representing its different eras.

Kelly Turner in 2016
Kelly Turner in 2016

The family of cancer teenager Kelly Turner had continually been supported by the pub in the fundraising campaign to save her life.

The pub hosted live music shows and discos during her lifetime and after she died to save others with her rare condition.

Events had included a multi-band show in September 2016.

Kelly's father Martin Turner told the Mercury: "Jackie and the pub provided absolutely wonderful support for Kelly when she was alive and for the continuing fundraising after she passed away.

"Jacky was a wonderful lady, easy to talk to and easy to get on with. She will be greatly missed and we offer our condolences to our family."

Kelly's mum Linda Turner also paid tribute on Facebook saying: " So sad. Our condolences to Jackie's family. Wonderful lady."

Kelly Turner, of Dover, had an extremely teenage cancer called desmoplastic small round cell tumours and needed £1 million for specialist treatment in America.

Mrs Bowles had been one of the mass of people who helped in the fundraising for this.

Kelly died in November 2017, aged 17, before the target was reached but fundraising continues to save other children with her condition.

Jackie and Bod Bowles, 1998
Jackie and Bod Bowles, 1998

Jackie Bowles was born just outside Oxford on November 7, 1939.

She lived with her parents in Finchley, north London, for nine years before moving to Dover.

Mrs Bowles attended St Ursula's Convent School, leaving at 16 after becoming head girls.

From then she went to board at St Mary's Convent in Folkestone for her A Levels.

She married Bod Bowles in August 1962 and they lived in a flat next to the then Grapes.

Mr Bowles worked across the road at Dover Engineering Works and Mrs Bowles taught maths at her old school, St Mary's.

When the previous tenants left The Grapes the couple decided to take it over, with Mrs Bowles, at 22, becoming the town's youngest landlady.

It was a time when a pint of mild or bitter cost just two shillings and threepence (just over 11p)

The coupl'es first child Jane was born in May 1963 and their second, Sarah, in March 1965.

By this time the pub had become famous for live music in Dover.

It was rechristened the Louis Armstrong because both the couple were big jazz fans.

In 1980 the couple bought the pub from Charringtons and it became a free house.

They then knocked the two bars into one open space and created a raised stage for music to be played every night of the week except Tuesday.

Folk was played during the week, rock on Friday nights and jazz on Sundays.

Over the decades the pub was a magnet local bands from both Dover and east Kent.

Dover regulars, in the 1980s for instance, were Uncle Lumpy and the Fish Doctors, the Bill Barnacle Jazz Band and the Dover Skiffle Band.

Others playing there at the time included the Maroondogs from Folkestone and the Sleazybeats from Whitstable,

Groups using the venue in recent years have included the Dover ska band Hey Rudi and User Friendly, also from the town.

Mrs Bowles also became involved with local licensing groups and campaigned against bootlegging.

By January 1999 she was chairman of the Dover and district branch of the Licensed Victuallers Association.

She thenjoined a call by the drinks industry to bring UK excise duty in line with the rest of Europe to tackle a rise in beer smuggling.

Mrs Bowles argued that UK duty was too high and so encouraged the illegal resale of alcohol brought from Calais.

Mr Bowles died in October 2000 after a long illness and his widow had to carry on alone.

The band Deepwater Horizon in the Eddie Clapson tribute show, August 2012
The band Deepwater Horizon in the Eddie Clapson tribute show, August 2012

By September 2002 she clocked her 40th year at the Louis and at the time told the Mercury: "It's in the back of my mind to sell but I don't know if I can face the wrench.

"The pub is my life and leaving it all behind is a scary thought."

The pub continued to thrive under Mrs Bowles with the formation in April 2009 of the LA Music Club especially for eight to 20-years.

It was to encourage young people to take up music and Topper Headon became its president.

Many of these youngsters are now professional musicians.

In August 2012 the Louis held a multi-band show in memory of former local photographer Eddie Clapson, who regularly supplied the Mercury, following his death six months earlier from cancer.

The show was set up by the LA Music Club, which Mr Clapson had helped found.

The Louis with its distinct mirrored wall, 2012
The Louis with its distinct mirrored wall, 2012

Family members had announced Mrs Bowles' death on Facebook on Friday afternoon.

The posting, from her children Jane and Sarah Bowles, sister Ticcy Colling and grandchildren Lucy, Rebecca and Luke Jordan, was on the Louis Armstrong page.

It said: "It is with a heavy heart that we announce our beautiful mother, sister, grandma - the legend that is Jackie Bowles passed away this morning. We hope you all know how much you meant to her

"Please raise a glass to her tonight."

By Monday afternoon a total 133 tributes had been paid.

Barbara French said on the page: "Please accept my sincere condolences. I will always have lovely memories of Jackie, beautiful lady with a big heart."

Laurence Huntley said: "Our sincerest condolences a special lady and she was always smiling. Our thoughts are with you."

Ray Newsam wrote: "So sorry to hear this, sad news about a wonderful lady who with Bod gave so much support to so many."

Karen Sheppard posted: "I can't believe it. This has made me feel very sad. Jackie and the pub were a huge part of our adolescence and she will be very very missed."

Kaz Jordan said: "I'm very sad to hear this, I will certainly be raising a glass to the lady who played such a huge part in the local music scene."

Zoe Menday commented: "Jackie was a true legend and I have so very many happy memories.

"She absolutely influenced my love of music and created such a wonderful environment where we were all free to be ourselves and create our own little community.

" A truly sad day for everyone who knew her and Dover in general."

Mick Morris posted: "Jackie was not only a wonderful person but, with Bod, made a unique contribution to our town.

"Like hundreds of other musicians I have many happy memories of the numerous occasions when we played at the Louis Armstrong.

"Some of them stretching back to the very first live music that Dover pubs had ever seen, and none of which would have been possible without Jackie."

Landlady Jackie Bowles in her 50th year at the pub, in 2012
Landlady Jackie Bowles in her 50th year at the pub, in 2012

A written family tribute to Jackie Bowles.

"Jackie Bowles, loved by many, adored by her family and missed by all.

"She lived a full and varied life, finishing her schooling as head girl, moving on to a career she revisited several times as a maths teacher before she and Bod took on the pub.

"They transformed IT in to Dover’s premiere Jazz and live music venue, The Louis Armstrong.

From 1962 until 2019 Jackie has touched the lives of many people spanning several generations.

"Her kind words, wise counsel and passionate support given to the people she considered family has enabled countless patrons to be part of a community, many musicians to start or advance their careers and all of her loved ones to live a little more securely knowing Jackie was there for us all.

"It takes more than a successful career spanning decades to become a legend.

"Throughout all the hard work and organization Jackie still carried out all her endeavors with a style, extravagance and grace that is rare to see and hard not to admire.

"Whether it was the high fashion of her earlier years, the parties she threw that were remembered for a lifetime or the exquisite cooking that left people craving more she combined love, talent and tenacity to become an irreplaceable jewel in Dover’s crown."

Read more: All the latest news from Dover

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