A country churchyard on a warm, sunny May day can be a peaceful and interesting place to explore. All Saints churchyard in Staplehurst is one of those as it looks down over the village from its hilltop perch.
I have already discussed one of the symbols that I found in there which featured in a an earlier Symbol of the Month. This was ‘The Choice’ which I found in the older part of the churchyard. After exploring the newer part of the churchyard and seeing ‘nature’s lawnmowers’ aka sheep in the field behind I returned to the older section. I then discovered this headstone with a combination of two symbols on it.
At first glance you might be forgiven for thinking that this is the grave of a warrior or someone involved in warfare as the combination is formed from a bow, a quiver of arrows and a circlet of oak leaves. The bow and arrows are a symbol that has been known for centuries and since the earliest times has been associated with hunting and survival.
The headstone is dedicated to Edwin Fitch who died at the fairly young age of 43 on 22 January 1869. The epitaph goes on to state that Edwin left behind a widow and two children; Marianne and Walter William. There is also another inscription above it that states that the stone was erected as a mark of respect by the Staplehurst Cricket Club.
But, as with most symbols, there are other meanings and I am indebted to theartofmourning blog for reminding me of these. For, although a cricket field can occasionally turn into a polite and gentlemanly battlefield, I was sure that there were softer connotations to the bow and quiver.
The other most obvious interpretation is of Cupid shooting his arrows of love straight to a lover’ s heart. Indeed, he is traditionally portrayed holding a bow with an arrow ready to aim and fire. There are also the famous lines in William Blake’s poem, ‘Jerusalem’:
‘Bring me my bow of burning gold
Bring me my arrows of desire.’
There is also a Biblical link with children. In Psalms 127:3-5 children are described as being:
‘Children are a heritage from the Lord,
offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
I interpret this to mean that a man’s children will continue his family line and achieve their place in the world.
The oak leaves underneath the quiver and bow are an ancient symbol of strength and the oak was known as the tree of life in pre-Christian times. According to memorials.com it is believed to have been the tree from which Christ’s cross was made.
An acorn is also depicted on the headstone which emphasises immortality and fertility. There is the old saying ‘ Mighty oaks from little acorns do grow’ and this may be a reference to Edwin’s children and his hopes they would go onto do great things. An acorn is the seed of the oak and so is a symbol of potential.
Edwin had an untimely death and we don’t know if he, his family or members of the Cricket Club chose the symbols. But I believe that it was a final message from him to his family that he left behind and that this thoughts were of hope.
There is also a small verse underneath the epitaph:
‘My wife and children dear I bid you all adieu,
By God’s commands I leave this world and you
And trust my friends whom I have left behind
May give you comfort, and to you be kind.’
In this Edwin clearly hopes that his friends will support his family after he has gone. The Fitch family may have been in financial straits with the death of Edwin as the Cricket Club provided the headstone.
I have found out more about Edwin and his family. He married Maria Wickings on 9 September 1852 and they had three children together.
- Marianne born in 1853
- Walter William born in 1855
- Charles born in 1858
Sadly, Charles appears to have been stillborn or may have died in childbirth as he was born and christened on the same day and is not recorded on Edwin’s epitaph. Marianne followed her father to the grave in 1875 aged just 22.
I have approached the existing Staplehurst Cricket Club for further information on Edwin but the present club has only been in existence since the 1950’s. They thought that Edwin might have been the very first member but are undertaking further research. One current member thought that there might have been a private Staplehurst Cricket Club associated with the nearby Iden Manor.
This is now a nursing home but was once the house of the Hoare banking family. There are members of this family buried in the churchyard. In 1904 they sold the manor due to impending bankruptcy and they were well known in the area for holding cricket and football matches, flower shows and other events for the village.
Finally, I think that this is a poignant combination of symbols that left a powerful and comforting message to his family. A man whose last thoughts may have been of his family and now lies under the green canopy of the tall trees of Staplehurst churchyard with his beloved daughter.
©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated
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