Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Tale of Two Tombs

When it comes to family tombs, St Mary’s, Lydiard Park has the daddy of them all.

The St John alabaster, black limestone and clunch ‘bedstead’ tomb, a monument to Anne Leighton, first wife of Sir John St John 1st Bart was commissioned by Sir John some thirteen years before his death. In style and quality the tomb has been compared to work by Nicholas Stone, a leading 17th century sculptor. It was made in London and transported to Lydiard Tregoze in sections where it was reassembled in St Mary’s Church.

During a recent visit to Croome Court I discovered a Coventry family tomb with similarities and a family connection to the St John one.

In 1751 George William 6th Earl of Coventry, inherited Croome Court and one of the first things he did was demolish the medieval church which he considered to be too close to the house for his grand design.

He did, however, strip the church of much of its interior masonry and timbers which were reused in the new build on the hill. He also transferred the bodies of a few ancestors and had them reinterred in a vault beneath the church. He re-installed some magnificent memorials in the new church of St Mary Magdalene, consecrated on June 29, 1763.

One of the memorials that moved up the hill was that of Mary Craven, the wife of Thomas Coventry, 2nd Baron Coventry of Aylesborough.

Mary was baptised at the Church of St Antholin in the City of London, on October 17,1602 the daughter of Sir William Craven and Elizabeth Whitmore and immediately we have a family connection to the St John memorial.

Mary’s mother Elizabeth Whitmore was the elder sister of Margaret Whitmore, second wife of Sir John St John, whose effigy lies on his right hand side.

And if you want another local connection, Mary Craven was the sister of Sir William Craven who built Ashdown House for Elizabeth of Bohemia and is the subject of Nicola Cornick’s time slip novel, House of Shadows.

Mary was a wealthy woman in her own right and a most suitable wife for the 2nd Baron. The couple were married at St Andrew Undershaft, (a church which now stands in the shadow of the ‘Gherkin’ in the City of London) on April 2, 1627. A son and heir, George Coventry 3rd Baron Coventry of Aylesborough was born in 1628 followed by a second son Thomas who later became the 1st Earl. Two daughters died in infancy and a third son, depicted on the monument in Mary’s arms, died at birth.

Mary died on October 18, 1634 ‘in her 29th year.’ She is depicted on the monument dressed in sumptuous bedclothes, reclining on a bed, a baby in her arms. Two children kneel at Mary’s feet, possibly her two sons, who would have been aged 6 and 5 at her death.
The Latin inscription on Mary’s monument translated reads:
In Memory of
That most illustrious Lady Maria, devoted wife of Thomas Coventry, eldest son of Thomas Baron Coventry of Allesborough, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of England. A truly most admirable woman, upon whom God lavished beauty, and what is rarer in her sex, virtue, her loveliness surpassing any woman’s, her generosity surpassing any man’s, of unblemished reputation and purity of life, with a lively mind, strong judgment, an easy eloquence and pleasant speech, calmly in control of her feelings, and finally not just a wise but a calm mistress of all these gifts. A fertile mother of four children, she arrived at the last fatal confinement, bringing forth a son, against nature, rather to death than to life, so that even while trying to share out her life, she lost it, and herself yielded to fate, a short time after her child, amid general lamentation.

Anne Leighton also holds her last and 13th child in her arms on the St John monument, but we know this child, a son named Henry, lived to adulthood. Anne lies alongside her husband and his second wife Margaret Whitmore. At her head kneel Anne’s five surviving sons and at her feet her three surviving daughters. Two sons and two daughters who died young are depicted at the base of the monument.

The inscription reads: 

Anne was the daughter of Thomas Leighton, Knight, by his wife Elizabeth of the Knowles family and of the kindred of Queen Elizabeth, as blessed in character as in connection. She lived for thirty seven years, endowed with noble gifts of mind, body, and manner, a rare example of virtue and piety; she was the mother of thirteen surviving children; in the end, long worn down by the painful agonies of her last confinement and at last overcome, she fled to heaven on the 19th September, 1638.

The date is incorrectly recorded and should read 1628.
The Coventry tomb is big and bold, but I have to say the St John one is more finely carved and superior, even with an error in the inscription. Well I would say that, wouldn’t I?
The church of St Mary Magdalene at Croom Court

The Coventry tomb

Mary Craven and child

St Mary's Church, Lydiard Tregoze

The St John tomb with Anne Leighton and child

The St John tomb with Margaret Whitmore 

Margaret Whitmore, Mary Craven's aunt

detail of Margaret Whitmore's hand

Thursday, July 28, 2016

An untimely end

In Memory of
Robert Harwood
Who Departed This Life
January 18th 1864
Aged 55 Years
Also of
Son of
Robert and Susannah Harwood
Who Departed This Life
July 21 1872
Aged 28 Years

Robert Harwood got up early on Sunday morning, July 21 1872. He picked up the gun that once belonged to his father and set off across the fields to Toothill Farm. He knew the area well - this was where he had lived with his parents and his two brothers John and William and his sister Ellen just a few short years ago; where he had worked as a farm labourer and had learned to shoot before securing a job in the Great Western Railway as an engine driver. He knew every inch of this farm and he knew where to bag a rabbit or two. 

He was found later that day - dead; the rabbits at his feet. At the inquest held at the farm on Monday the coroner told how it was his opinion that as Robert drew his gun to shoot again it became entangled and exploded; the charge entering the victim's throat under the left ear. The verdict was recorded - "Accidentally killed by a gun while unlawfully shooting rabbits." He was 28 years old.

The funeral was reported in the Swindon Advertiser thus:

"On Wednesday afternoon last, the remains of the late Mr R Harwood (who met with his untimely end on Sunday morning last) were borne to their final resting place in the parish churchyard of Lydiard Tregoze. The deceased being a member of the "Mackie's Good Intent Lodge of Oddfellows, was carried to the grave by the brethren of that Lodge followed by his sorrowing relatives, a large number of odd-fellows and fellow servants in the employ of the GWR Company, as further proof of the great respect in which the deceased was held. Several persons attended from Chippenham to shew their last token of respect. The service was impressively performed by the Rev W.H.Ed. McKnight."

Toothill Farm 2014

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

St Andrew's Church, Wanborough

Another day, another churchyard.

The Grade I listed St Andrew's Church in Wanborough is famous for being one of only *three churches to boast a tower and a spire. (Another is at nearby Purton and the third one in Ormskirk, Lancashire.)

Legend has it that the two founding sisters couldn't agree upon a tower or a spire, so they built both. Unfortunately this story has been discredited as the tower was built long before the spire.

In 1888 William Morris, founder of the Swindon Advertiser, published a slim volume entitled Wanborough - Roman & Otherwise, in which he devotes a couple of chapters to the history of the church and monuments. This was the year after the church had undergone a major restoration and Morris was able to consult E.C. Ponting, the diocesan architect and surveyor.

At the time Morris was writing it remained unknown how many churches had stood on this site and in his book he debates the history of St Katherine's Chapel, a small building attached to the chancel on the north side.

Records exist concerning the founding of a chantry in the Chapel of St Katherine by Emmeline, Countess of Ulster, the widow of Stephen Longespee, who died in 1276 but the antiquarian Canon Jackson was of the opinion that St Katherine must have been a distinct and independent building, in a different part of the parish, while Mr Ponting remarked:

"Is it not possible that the chapel known as St Katherine's was the one last referred to, that it stood on the site of the present chancel, that the 'body of the church' was added to it at about 1400, making it the chancel of the parish church, and that it (the chapel) was pulled down on the suppression of the chantries in 1483, the present chancel being erected in its place.?'

Anyway, the debate obviously continues as the kindly couple who let me into the church confirmed. Sadly the church has recently been subject to random acts of vandalism and has to remain locked, so it was fortunate I arrived just as they were about to water and refresh the church flowers.

Returning to Morris' book and the then recent restoration he writes:

'There has probably been no instance in North Wilts in which the term 'restoration' meant so much as it did in connection with this latter restoration in 1887 under Mr Ponting, for it included a total change in the appearance of the place - the pulling down, and carting away of very many tons' weight of churchwardens' improvements which successive generation had succeeded in 'piling up' on each other, and through which the original design of the builders had become totally obliterated. So thick, indeed, had the plaster and lime-wash been laid on the walls that when the time came for removing the rubbish it was found to make several good waggon loads.'

Mr Ponting described how the perished plasterwork was 'stripped off and the defective pointing renewed.' During this work a 15th century fresco was revealed depicting Christ's entry into Jerusalem. How fortunate that this was saved, but it does make you wonder what else was lost.

So what did I like best about the church? Was it the beautiful interior and the stained glass windows? Maybe it was the setting and the fantastic views across the Wiltshire countryside. Or was it the neglected piece of the churchyard with many hidden gravestones. Well you know me ...

More blogposts will follow.

remains of 15th century fresco

*I stand corrected - reader Loraine Jones has just pointed out that St Andrew's Church, Rugby also has a tower and a spire. Any advances on four churches?

Monday, July 25, 2016

And it's back to the Ody family


In the cemetery at Lydiard Millicent I discovered the grave of James Ody Selby who died on October 24, 1939 and his wife Henrietta who survived him by nearly nine years.

The couple were married in 1886 and had family of nine children, eight of whom survived to adulthood. Henrietta was born in Oldland, Gloucestershire but James had never moved very far from the Lydiards.

Now I may be biased, but as you know I find the Ody family fascinating and this branch is no exception.

James takes his middle name from his paternal grandmother Elizabeth Ody. His grandfather William Selby and Elizabeth never got around to tying the knot. Pinning down Elizabeth has proved difficult and I would hazard a guess that she probably died round about the time of the birth of her youngest son Richard in 1842.

William and Elizabeth had at least six sons, John, Henry William, Thomas, William and Richard of whom three died in infancy but three survived. James is the second son of Thomas Ody/Selby and Amelia Fisher. Until the time of his marriage Thomas usually went by the name of Ody, but as a married man he adopted, whether officially or not remains unknown, the name of Selby.

At the time of the 1861 census William Selby was working as a gamekeeper at Lydiard Park where he lived with his two sons John and Thomas (who are both recorded as Ody) and Thomas' wife Amelia and their baby Richard (also called Ody). James was born later that year and christened at St Mary's Church, Lydiard Park on December 1, 1861.

In 1871 Amelia and her five young children are still living at Lydiard Park with William; a terrible tragedy had occured, leaving her a widow.

The details were published in the Gloucester Journal on Saturday July 22, 1865.

Fatal Railway Accident – An inquest was held before Mr Ball, coroner, on Monday at the Post Office Inn on the body of Thomas Selby, a stoker on the Great Western Railway, who met with his death under the following circumstances: - The deceased was a native of Wootton Bassett, and was fireman to Joseph Jones, of Swindon, an engine driver. He drove the down midnight goods’ train from Swindon to South Wales on Friday night. About half past one in the morning they were between Sapperton tunnel and Brimscombe, when Selby, unobserved fell off the engine. His companion stated that he did not see him fall off, nor did he miss him til he had got a mile further. The deceased went round to the other side of the tender to fetch his “dart” to stir the fire, and he (Jones) supposed that the poor fellow must have overbalanced and fallen off. Both received the highest character for steadiness. It was proved that both were perfectly sober; and it was stated that they were on the most friendly terms with each other. James Turner, the driver of a bank engine, was running up from Brimscombe, and saw what he believed to be a man on the down rails. A short distance above he turned to come back and then he discovered Selby lying between the rails with both his legs and one arm cut off. The poor fellow was then sensible, and said he felt very ill – too ill to tell how it happened; and he wanted Turner to pull his mutilated arm off and give him some tobacco. Turner conveyed him to Stroud, and took him to the Hospital, where he was admitted about four o’clock on Saturday morning. He became unconscious, and could tell nothing of how the accident happened, and died at six the same evening. The jury returned a verdict of “Accidental death.”

Amelia never remarried and at the time of the 1911 census she was living with her two sons Richard 49 and William 47 at Nine Elms, Shaw in the parish of Lydiard Millicent. Living next door are James and Henrietta with five of their children Frances Beatrice 17; Emily Jane 11; James William 6; William George 3 and 2 month old Lilian Gladys.

There is yet more to tell about the Ody/Selby family ...

Cottages at Nine Elms - could one of these have been home to the Selby family?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Beware, the cautionary tale of the village baker

Headstones are not the indestructible objects previous generations might have thought they would be. Lettering comes off and even inscriptions set in stone weather and degrade, in some cases the whole front of a headstone shears off in one sheet.

We've all seen small church cemeteries where the gravestones have been moved and set around the churchyard wall or used as paving around the church.

In 'The Story of Purton: a collection of notes and hearsay' published in 1919, Ethel Richardson recalls an old song still remembered in the neighbourhood around the turn of the century, but probably much older in origin, and an explanation for the disappearance of at least one village gravestone.

The Village Baker

Job Jenkins was a baker and
A very honest elf,
By selling crust and crumbs he made
A tidy crust himself,
But Job he lived in better days
When bills were freely paid,
And bakers were thought honest then
So bread was never weighed.

While walking through the old Churchyard
He saw some old tombstones,
That long had marked the resting-place
Of some poor neighbour's bones,
"These bodies long have gone to dust,
These stones no use," he said,
"They'll mend my oven and improve,
My very next batch of bread."

Tom Snooks, the parish mason,
A very sporting blade,
Who in racehorses and the dead
Had done a tidy trade,
To him Job gave the order,
Regardless of amount,
And charged it to the Parish
In his next half-year's account.

The job was done the bread was baked
Job, in his highest glee
Sat up to draw the batch that he
Might great improvement see,
But soon as drawn he "slope the pill"
With horror in his looks,
And rushed out like a madman
And knocked down Tommy Snooks!

"Get up, you wretch, and come and see
The blunder you have made,
Your tombstone bottom sure will prove
A deathblow to my trade,
I know that when you're in the whim
At trifles you don't stick,
And by your trick you've spoilt my batch
My cottage, square and brick."

He took him to the bakehouse,
Where a curious sight was seen,
The words on every loaf were marked
That had on tombstone been,
One quartern had "in memory of"
Another "here to pine,"
The third "departed from this life
At the age of ninety nine."

A batch of rolls when they were done
Had on the bottom plain,
The trusting words distinctly marked
"In hopes to rise again,"
A batch of penny loaves came next
Which said "our time is past,
Thus day by day, we've pined away,
And come to this at last."

Tom Snooks now turned his head away
His laughter to conceal, he said "he thought
It a nobby way in making a bread seal."
Says Job, "This seal has sealed my fate
How can I sell my bread?
To feed the living, when it bears,
The motto of the dead?"

Holy Rood Church, Lawn

Headstone vanished from Radnor Street Cemetery

Friday, July 22, 2016

Lydiard Millicent burial ground

The village of Lydiard Millicent is just a twenty minute bus journey from the centre of Swindon and I could easily walk there from my home in West Swindon. Unfortunately the narrow, winding road that leads to the village has no footpath, not even a grass verge, and perhaps that's how the villagers would like to keep things. It's easy to see why residents want to keep sprawling Swindon at bay.

The history of Lydiard Millicent is intrinsically bound with its neighbour Lydiard Tregoze and the St John family who owned property in both parishes.

The churchyard at All Saints Church closed at approximately the same time as the one at St Mary's and the villagers also had to look for a new burial ground; at least theirs was within view of the church. The cemetery was extended in the 1950s and is in two halves separated by a stone built wall.

I spent yesterday afternoon taking photographs of the older half and imagine my delight at finding an Ody buried there.

Look out for further blogposts about those buried in the cemetery at Lydiard Millicent.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Full Steam Ahead

As if they knew we here in Swindon are celebrating a significant anniversary, my favourite team of experiential historian Ruth Goodman with archaeologists Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn bring to our TV screens Full Steam Ahead the story of how the railways created modern Britain.

Previously the team have show us what life was like for the agricultural worker in the Tudor, Victorian, Edwardian and Wartime periods but in their new series they turn their attention to the phenomenon of the railways.

Closer to home we have been celebrating the coming of the railways and the creation of New Swindon with Swindon175. During a busy Spring and Summer there have been numerous events including the Swindon175 Images, an exhibition sharing the history of Swindon during the last 150 years; the Swindon Arts Trail and the Swindon Fringe Festival, not forgetting the Swindon Heritage History Day.

There has been the recreation of the famous railway factory hooter made by Colin Hatch and sponsored by Swindon Heritage and with the Railway Festival in September there are still more events to follow.

Full Steam Ahead is a six part series produced in partnership with the Open University and begins on Thursday July 21 on BBC2 at 8 pm. There is another chance to view it on Saturday July 23 BBC 4.30 and if you miss both of those you can watch it on iPlayer.

In the first episode our intrepid time travellers take a trip on the Gravity Train full of slate down the Ffestiniog line.

Colin Hatch and the Hooter

Former railwayman and Swindon Heritage team member Andy Binks gets to sound the hooter

Colin Hatch and his team

Swindon Heritage History Day

Guided cemetery walk with Noel Ponting

Guided cemetery walk with Andy Binks

Presenters Peter Ginn, Alex Langlands and Ruth Goodman - Full Steam Ahead

On the Gravity Train