What I did over the summer and what is to come……

St Peter & St Paul churchyard Seal Kentt. A magnificent view of the North Downs from the back of the church.
©Carole Tyrrell

Dear readers

It has been an eventful summer for me, to say the least. I moved house again for various reasons and now live in Rochester, Kent.  For those of you that don’t know it, it’s a town associated with Charles Dickens and is on the banks of the River Medway.

But I have also been busy researching 18th century memento mori’s in Kent churchyards, both around Sevenoaks and Rochester. It was quite surprising to see the differences in carvings from church to church and parish to parish.  They started out as naïve, almost crude, motifs and then professional stonemasons became involved.  In the churchyard of St Peter & St Paul church in Tonbridge there were still 2 tombstones dating back to medieval times. A blog post on my research, or I prefer to call it, poking about in churches and churchyards, is forthcoming as is Symbol of the Month amongst others.

So although shadowsflyaway has been quiet over August I’ve been gearing up for the autumn.

To whet your appetite for the Memento mori post here is one from the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul in Seal, Kent which is almost like a piece of Folk Art in my opinion…

Memento Mori, St Peter & St Paul, Seal, Kent. I think it’s almost like folk art.
©Carole Tyrrell

© Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

A tiny angel keeping watch in the most haunted Village in Britain (allegedly) – a visit to St Nicholas, Pluckley

St Nicholas church. (apologies for dust on lens)
©Carole Tyrrell

As I walked along the path to the church’s door I spotted the little angel, maybe a Christmas decoration, maybe a holiday souvenir, perched on top of a tombstone within the churchyard.  Was she a warning? But I was nervous and excited at the same time.  What awaited me inside?  I put my hand on the church door.  Would the Red Lady or the White Lady be ready to welcome me…….or would it be both of them? At last I could put it off no longer, pulled open the door and entered.

OK, I admit it. A friend dared me to visit the village of Pluckley which is in Kent and reputed to be haunted by up to 14 ghosts.  ‘When will you ‘pluckley’ up the courage to visit?’ the wag quipped. So I accepted the challenge and set off on Easter Saturday.

However, Guinness World Records has stood down Pluckley’s claim to fame as the most haunted village in the UK. This is a shame as I always had visions of a solemn official from GWR turning up with a clipboard and pen to studiously record and tick off each phantom at their appointed location as if they appear to a timetable. Some of the purported ghosts include:

  • The spectre of the highwayman hid in a tree at the Pinnock
  • A phantom coach and horses has been seen in several locations around the village
  • The ghost of a Gypsy woman who drowned in a stream at the Pinnock
  • The sighting of the miller seen at Mill Hill
  • The hanging body of a schoolmaster in Dicky Buss’s Lane
  • A colonel who hanged himself in Park Wood
  • A man smothered by a wall of clay who drowned at the brickworks
  • The Lady of Rose Court, who is said to have poisoned herself in despair over a love triangle

St Nicholas church in the centre of the village is reputed to be haunted by two female ghosts: The White Lady and the Red Lady. The latter was supposed to be a great beauty who died 500 years ago and was preserved by her husband in a series of lead coffins and then ultimately in an oak chest.  The Red Lady was supposedly a member of the local landowning family, the Derings, and is a sad wraith.  She is said to haunt the churchyard searching for the unmarked grave of her still born son.

There had been a recent piece in the Fortean Times ‘It happened to me’ section from a visitor to the church who claimed that he’d found a hostile atmosphere and heard sibilant whispering. A blogger online discovered that none of her photos of the church or churchyard had been recorded by her camera. ‘The church is eerie’ said one friend who had visited it and another commented that the whole village had ‘an atmosphere’. ‘Oo-er!’ I thought, ’would there be an entire company of ghosts awaiting my arrival?’

It was a gloriously sunny, warm day as I walked the mile or so from the station up to the village.  Fields of bright yellow rape were almost luminous.  I saw my first Peacock butterfly of 2019 as it obligingly posed on a dandelion head and the local sheep bleated in welcome.  Or perhaps it was a warning…

 

Then I encountered my first ghost hunters of the day as a car stopped with an eager looking family inside. The driver asked for directions to the church.  I pointed in its direction and they drove off. Later I saw them driving out of the village again looking somewhat disappointed. As I said earlier ghosts don’t appear to order.

In fact Pluckley was teeming with small groups of ghost hunters walking up and down the High Street or briefly visiting St Nicholas looking hopeful. Some drove off quickly as obviously they had been unable to find a spectre with which to pose for a selfie.  The village’s other claim to fame is that it was used as the backdrop to ITV’s The Darling Buds of May and I could see why. It’s just ‘perfick.’

St Nicholas was easy to find and it’s a real picture postcard church with a candle snuffer spire. It features on the village sign.

There may have been a church on the site since Saxon times and Pluckley is recorded in the Domesday Book as ‘Pluchelei’. In the 13th century there was a stone church in place and there have been many alterations and repairs right up to the present day. The Derings have their own side chapel and there are brasses set into the floor that record various family members.

They lived at the grand house of Surrenden Dering from the 1500’s until 1928.  The house was demolished in 1957 after a fire and part of some of its wood after the fire was used to create the oak cover for the font.

 

Inside, the church was bustling but not with eager spectres anticipating my arrival.  Instead it was a group of flower arrangers placing elaborate arrangements around the church.  I should have guessed that the church would be busy over the Easter weekend as the female organist began to practice.  The interior of St Nicholas is small and plain with the Dering Chapel on one side. But no ghosts unless they were masquerading as the helpers, or hiding in one of their pockets.   Another ghost hunting family popped their heads in and then quietly closed the door.

But no, I didn’t feel anything at all other-worldly

I decided to explore the churchyard which had a fine collection of 19th century headstones and some precariously leaning older ones.  They were weighed down by moss and age and any inscriptions or symbols are now lost unless recorded elsewhere.  I had to photograph one interesting symbol almost lying down on the grass as the headstone was almost horizontal.

Old Father Time leaning on an hourglass. I was almost lying underneath it to get this photo! St Nicholas churchyard, Pluckley
©Carole Tyrrell

On the other side of the churchyard was an apple orchard, just beginning to blossom, and attracting butterflies and enthusiastic bees.  A small rug of multi-coloured primroses were beside a grave with a beehive on the headstone.  ‘The local beekeeper?’ I thought and in a corner of the churchyard was a small plot bordered by iron railings on which there was a fulsome epitaph.

After buying postcards in the local shop to prove that I had actually been there and stoutly resisting the temptation to have a cold lager shandy in the Black Horse I retraced my steps to the station.

So is Pluckley the most haunted village in Britain?  Does anything or anyone lie in wait in St Nicholas Church?   Were the flower arrangers or one of their number ghosts?

The jury’s still out on whether Pluckley deserves its title but on another day in another season, perhaps when St Nicholas is not so busy, it could all be so different.  Maybe if I visited during the dark season on a chill autumnal day with perhaps with the chilly fingers of mist wreathing the trees… A forgotten scarecrow blown by a wind that makes it creak and turn towards me in an empty field and the marauding groups of spook seekers are all at home watching their Most Haunted Live DVDs.  This time when I enter St Nicholas it’s changed.

The shadows are longer, it feels claustrophobic and I know, by the prickling of my spine that I’m not alone…… I can only hope that this is my chance at last to meet the wonderful people in the dark..

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

https://blosslynspage.wordpress.com/2013/06/13/the-haunting-church-of-pluckley-in-kent/

https://www.pluckley.net/village-life/history/ghosts/

It’s behind you! – The Doom painting of Chaldon Church

The priest’s sermon has made you feel a little drowsy as you sit in your pew.  Then, as your eyelids begin to droop, suddenly you can smell burning and hear crackling flames….faint screams as well and devilish chuckling interspersed with angels singing…..there’s a sudden warmth behind your back and when you turn around, you’re confronted with gleeful demons faces on the whitewashed wall. Is one turning round and beckoning to you? Instantly you’re wide awake again with a nudge from your mother to sit up straight and you turn to face the priest again. But you can still hear the flames and the laughter…..

Chaldon’s Doom painting, or mural as the church prefers to call it, is reputed to be the oldest in England and has been dated to at least the 12th century.  It’s believed to be the work of an anonymous artist monk.    Until the 17th century it taught the local parishioners which was the right path to follow if you wanted to be going upwards to eternal bliss instead of down to hell for endless torment. The mural’s  official title, according to the church’s website  is The Purgatorial Ladder, or Ladder of Souls, with the Seven Deadly Sins.  However tastes and doctrines change and after the Reformation many of England’s Dooms were whitewashed over.  It was felt by zealous reformers that they didn’t follow strict Bible doctrine and were also considered to be ‘Popish’.

But Dooms have a habit of re-surfacing and so it was with the Chaldon Doom.  In 1869, the then Rector, Reverend Henry Shepherd was having the church walls prepared for whitewashing when he suddenly noticed signs of colour and halted the work. The mural was then cleaned and preserved.  There was a further conservation in 1989 by the Conservator and Director of the Canterbury Wall Paintings Workshop.

According to the painted church website, Dooms were the most commonly painted subject in the Middle Ages. Dooms were often placed on a church’s west wall as a reminder to parishioners as they were leaving the church.  But, as at Chaldon, they were also on the back wall or at the front on the chancel arch as at St Thomas’s Salisbury.  The Chaldon mural has the disturbing effect of constantly looking over your shoulder when you turn your back on it…..

The Chaldon Doom is large and measures 17ft x 11ft and stands out against the plain white washed walls. It’s painted entirely in red whereas other Dooms are in full colour. However it’s the only image in England of the Ladder of Salvation although it’s common in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. It’s behind the pews and would have been a constant reminder to the parishioners to be thinking of the afterlife.   A medieval congregation would have been illiterate and the Doom would have resembled a picture book or public information film on what could happen to sinners in eternity. They needed to prepare for the Final Judgement and, due to a shorter lifespan, the afterlife was much more to the forefront of the medieval mind than ours. A Doom is a traditional English term for a pictorial rendition of the Last Judgement or Doomsday which is the moment when Christ decides the eternal destination of human souls.  This is because the Church was very concerned with how to portray the afterlife in a visual way that could be easily understood.  After all a picture is worth a 1000 words…

There are roughly 40 surviving Dooms in Britain but in the 1880’s over 100 were recorded. They can often combine several themes: the parable of the sheep and the goats, assorted Biblical prophecies and other medieval traditions.  The Chaldon mural uses the Seven Deadly Sins.

There’s only two choices for the dead as they arise from their graves to go up to Heaven and sitting around on clouds playing harps or down to Hell and the eternal flames.  However Purgatory was also uppermost in the medieval mind as people believed that, prior to going to Heaven, a soul would have to spend time there before going up to Heaven. Chaldon’s Ladder represents Purgatory.

To interpret the Chaldon Doom and its crowded canvas you need to begin at the lower right of the painting and look for the serpent in the tree of life which is a metaphor for the fall of man.  This is a rough guide from a Chaldon church pamphlet and imagine the priest using it to preach to his flock:

Detail of Chaldon Doom showing the bridge of spikes over which dishonest tradesmen have to walk over with a moneylender sitting in flames with Envy and Lust on either side of him.
©Carole Tyrrell

Two demons hold up a bridge of spikes over which dishonest tradesmen have to cross. These include a blacksmith, spinner, potter and mason who are all missing essential tools. The cheating milkman is about to climb the ladder with a brimming bowl of milk due to having given short measure in life.

Then we come onto the 7 Deadly Sins:

Avarice: A moneylender sits in flames as two demons hold him upright. He’s blind and money pours from his mouth. He has to count it all as it flows into his pouch.

Envy: There are two figures on the right hand side of the moneylender.  One of them has longer hair than the other.

Lust: On the moneylender’s left hand side are two figures embracing.

On the left hand side of the ladder a demon plucks souls from the ladder of salvation.

Pride: A woman is beside a demon as a devil wolf gnaws at her hands.  This could indicate either pride in her hands or that she fed her pets too well in life while ignoring the starving.

Anger: Above the woman two figures fight over a hunting horn.   Two demons throw what are considered to be murderers into a cauldron.

Detail of Chaldon Mural. Glottony clutching hi bottle of wine.
©Anne Mitchell. Used without permission

Gluttony: A drunken pilgrim lies at the feet of a demon.  He’s sold his cloak or badge of office in order to buy wine.

Sloth: At the far left 3 women dawdle.

A cloud bisects the picture to form a cross and the foot of the Ladder is the symbol of life.  The Archangel Michael is weighing the good and bad deeds as the Devil slyly has a hand on the scales trying to weigh it down with bad deeds as he holds a rope dragging souls to hell.   A penitent tries to point out to St Michael what the Devil is up to.  The 3 Marys are being led to Heaven by an angel as another one above them helps a remorseful thief ascend to the Pearly Gates.

Detail of Chadon Mural. The Weighing of the Souls. Three naked women walk towards the Ladder as an angel points the way.
©Anne Mitchell. Used without permission

Elijah and Enoch are also going upwards to bliss on the right of the ladder as an angel holds up a scroll of their good deeds.   Above them another of the heavenly host hold up a scroll which says ‘open ye the gates that the righteous may enter.’

Detail of Chaldon mural. Supposedly based on the Harrowing of Hell as Satan lies on top of a huge worm like creature and an angel tranfixes him with a banner/ Redeemed souls climb the Ladder as another angel helps one climb.
©Anne Mitchell. Used without permission

On the far right the Lord is mesmerizing the Devil with his cross while welcoming Old Testament characters into Heaven and finally above the ladder is the demi figure of Christ in the act of benediction.

He has the sun on his right hand side and the moon on the left.

 

For a fuller explanation I can recommend: http://www.paintedchurch.org/chaldon.htm

 

Chaldon church is near Coulsdon in Surrey and its correct name is St Peters & St Pauls.

View of Chadon church, Surrey.
©Carole Tyrrell

It’s a lovely picture, postcard church with a candle snuffer tower but it’s in the middle of nowhere except for a scattering of nearby houses. There’s no village attached to it and it’s on the notorious Ditches Lane which leads off Farthing Downs.    This can be a lonely road for walkers as there are no houses along it until you reach the church.  Chaldon church is rumoured to have been built on a pagan site and there has been a church here since 1086 AD.  Its foundations have been dated back to 727AD.   I find it strange that such a magnificent and dramatic mural was located in such an out of the way place.  It really took me by surprise when I first saw it as it’s so in your face. But as I turned away from it I thought I heard devilish sniggering and wondered what it must have look like under flickering candlelight.

There are other Doom paintings to be seen in England and these are:

South Leigh, Checkendon and Coombe – Oxfordshire

Wenhaston, Sufoollk

Dauntsey, Wilts

Patcham, Sussex

Penn, Bucks

Oddington, Glos

Symington, Beds

Lutterworth, Leics

Stratford upon Avon, Worcs (this is in glass)

York Minster  (a crypt carving)

St Thomas’s church, Salisbury

I have seen the one in Salisbury and was really impressed. It’s in full colour and is over the chancel arch to greet worshippers.  Christ sits on a rainbow at the centre of the chancel arch with the godly rising from their graves with angels whereas on the left the sinners are being helped by demons to go down below. This again was whitewashed over and then re appeared. Here are a small selection of images from it:

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

Reference and further reading

Dooms with a  View, Cathy Howard, FONC News Summer 2007

Chaldon Church mural leaflet

Restoration Village, Philip Wilkinson, English Heritage, 2006

Restoration Village, Philip Wilkinson, English Heritage, 2006

http://www.stthomassalisbury.co.uk/documents/history-heritage/9-the-doom-painting-guide/file

http://www.paintedchurch.org/doomcon.htm

http://www.paintedchurch.org/sleig7ds.htm – South Leigh Oxfordshire 7 Deadly Sins

http://oxoniensia.org/volumes/1972/long.pdf – overview of medieval wall paintings in Oxfordshire including Dooms

http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/suffolk/suffolk_three/wenhaston/index.html

http://www.paintedchurch.org/dauntdoo.htm

http://www.allsaintspatcham.org.uk/page9.html

http://www.medievalchurchart.com/2017/10/the-penn-doom-buckinghamshire.html

http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/cotswolds/gloucestershire/gloucestershire_two/lower_oddington/index.html

http://www.paintedchurch.org/mmoret1.htm – Marston Moretaine, Beds

https://www.leicestershirechurches.co.uk/lutterworth-church-st-marys/

https://www.stratfordguildchapel-friends.org.uk/the-wall-paintings

http://www.mondes-normands.caen.fr/angleterre/archeo/Angleterre/sculpture/doomstone.htm

https://www.quora.com/What-were-medieval-doom-paintings-and-what-were-they-used-for-What-is-their-importance

http://www.paintedchurch.org/doomcon.htm

http://www.lazerhorse.org/2014/06/08/medieval-doom-paintings/#

http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/cambridgeshire/hi/people_and_places/religion_and_ethics/newsid_8605000/8605860.stm

 

 

 

 

 

Poignant and powerful – Beard – a fisherman’s memorial – Hastings East Sussex

Closer view of the powerful and moving photo of ‘Terry Jones aka ‘Beard. Photographer unknown.
©Carole Tyrrell

It was the striking monochrome photo that made me stop to look at this memorial on a day trip to Hastings this month. I’d admired the brand new pier and then wandered along the beach to the fishermen’s section commonly known as the Stade.

The photo was of a man whose tough outdoor life showed in his face and had obviously been a Hastings fisherman. He’d earned his livelihood from the sea in both calm and storm tossed waters with his boat as his only protection as it sailed its course, gulls shrieking overhead for any rejected catch. And then returning to the pebbled Stade at sunrise to offload the catch which would be sold at the Fishmarket later that day.

Beard died aged 68 and may have ended his days as ‘the boy on shore’ which meant that he was no longer able to go out on the boats but, instead, helped bring them ashore or sorted out the catch and nets. He looked quite a character in his photo and I felt that it really captured him.

Hastings fishermen have had the right to use the Stade free of charge for over 800 years. In fact, Stade comes from the Saxon for ‘landing place.’ There are usually 25 boats on the beach and it’s the largest beach launched fishing fleet in Britain. There’s always gulls here looking for any titbits and amidst the pebbles are the usual paraphernalia of fishing; nets, ropes and cuttlefish cages. Near the promenade and the Fishermen’s Museum are the unique tall, black tarred Grade II listed sheds used for storage.  The boats have to be hauled from the sea after each trip so cannot be longer than 10 metres and care only able to travel a few miles.  This makes for an ecologically friendly method of fishing.

But ask any fisherman and he’ll tell that, with quotas and costs,  it’s becoming more and more difficult to make a living from the sea.  In Hastings, there’s also the clash between an old established working community which occupies a large section of valuable land in the Old Town and property developers.  The fishermen strongly opposed the building of the new Jerwood Gallery on part of the Stade.  In fact, ‘No Jerwood’ was the message on one fisherman’s shed.

However, I couldn’t find out much about Beard apart from a brief obituary in the Hastings Observer dated 3 June 2016. It merely said that he’d died peacefully at home on 15 May 2016 and donations were to be given to either the RNLI or Cats Protection.  Under the online condolences was one from a breakdown recovery service who described him as

‘a very jolly, helpful man who will be missed  by the people who knew him…heartfelt condolences and sympathy to all the family.’

So he had a family and was obviously well liked but Beard may have been one of a vanishing breed.   The photo that caught my attention made me wonder about Beard and his life. Memorial benches can often feel very anonymous as there’s usually only a small plaque with a few details but Beard’s photo gave you the man as well.

RIP Beard – may you sail on calm seas forever.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell except for photo of Beard. The photographer is unknown.

http://hastings-fish.co.uk/index.htm

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2006/nov/09/food.ethicalliving

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2009/may/30/fisherman-working-life

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Stade

 

 

Only the thrashing wind through the trees and each other for company forever…… Part 3 of a visit to Knebworth – Elizabeth Lytton’s mausoleum

A view of the Lytton Mausoleum in its field. ©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell
A view of the Lytton Mausoleum in its field.
©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

 

The wind thrashed through the small group of ancient oak trees in Mausoleum Field as I stood admiring the view of the surrounding hills.  It was a hot, but windy, August day and the gift shop assistant had been enthusiastic about the wonderful vistas.  But I felt that on a dark winter’s night it could be very eerie and lonely.

This field contains Elizabeth Bulwer-Lytton’s (1773-1843) mausoleum in which she rests with several other members of the Lytton family.  But why is she resting here eternally and not in the Lytton chapel in the nearby church?

Elizabeth was the mother of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the novelist and she lived at Knebworth from 1811 -1843.  She is responsible for the House’s present Gothic style with its myriad of gargoyles, bats, towers and battlements after having had most of the old, ancient House demolished.  She inherited it from her father, Richard Warburton-Lytton who lived at Ramsgate and described the estate as ‘the old half-feudal pile. ‘   Or as we would describe it today ‘as having many original features and development potential.’

She lived with Edward, her third and favourite son, until she died and her rooms are still preserved exactly as she left them.  Edward had inscribed above the mantelpiece a reminder to future generations to maintain them in her memory.  He was very close to Elizabeth but one wonders if he was worried that she might return and haunt him if he didn’t.

Elizabeth had a powerful personality to say the least.  She disapproved of Edward’s marriage to Rosina Doyle Wheeler by cutting off his allowance and forcing him into a whole new career as a writer.    He was very prolific, as the section of his books in the library attests, and he coined the famous phrases ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ and ‘The pen is mightier than the sword.’   Edward also had a successful political career but found the pressure too much and after two children, his marriage collapsed.  Elizabeth’s thoughts on the situation that she had helped create aren’t known but he gained custody of the children after a nasty separation.  Rosina then embarked on her own literary career with a thinly veiled account of her marriage and followed this with other works on the theme of the wronged wife.  She was buried in an unmarked grave in Croydon which is certainly ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and was forgotten until her great-great-grandson erected a tombstone in her name in 1995.

Elizabeth quarrelled with every rector of St Mary’s about the tithe that the church claimed on all estate produce.  As a result, they all ended up preaching to an empty church while she insisted that her staff and tenants attended her own church services in Knebworth’s State Drawing Room.  The large Bible at the foot of her bed in her room is the one that she always used and carries her own initials EBBCL – Elizabeth Barbara Bulwer Lytton.  As a House tour guide told us, she planted trees around the church to hide it from the House and they’re still there but it was only partially successful.  She was also equally determined that she and her family wouldn’t be buried within the Lytton Chapel or the churchyard.

Of course with the compact size of the Chapel and the three 18th century Lytton gentlemen’s monuments which take up most of the space she may have felt that there simply wasn’t room for her.   Or at least room for her to be forever remembered in the way that she wanted and  so her own large sepulchre was the only way in which she could compete. Four of the five female statues in the Chapel decorate Sir William Lytton’s monument and it does feel like a gentlemen’s club. So Elizabeth had a mausoleum constructed a short distance from the church and in what is appropriately named Mausoleum Field.   Although the male incumbents of the Chapel may have life size facsimiles of themselves lolling about in rumpled sheets Elizabeth had gone farther in a game of one-upmanship.

A view of the Lytton mausoleum through the railings. It's in the Classical style and note the funerary urns in the niches. ©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell
A view of the Lytton mausoleum through the railings. It’s in the Classical style and note the funerary urns in the niches.
©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

The octagonal mausoleum, reputedly based on an Italian design and built in 1817, has niches containing elegant funerary urns.

 

Elizabeth’s epitaph is on one side and there are other epitaphs to Lytton family members around the tomb.

An obelisk surmounted with an urn commemorates Edward’s son, Robert who became the first Earl of Lytton,  and is near the entrance.

Another strong-minded Lytton woman who is interred here was Lady Constance Lytton (1869-1923) who was a noted suffragette under an assumed identity and was force-fed on several occasions.  The epitaph reads ‘…sacrificed her health and talents in helping to bring victory to this cause.’  The vault was restored in 2004 and has contemporary iron railings around it.    There is a sarcophagus on top of it with shell acroteria. However, these always remind me of old-fashioned baths.

The sarcophagus on top of the mausoleum with shell acroteria. ©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell
The sarcophagus on top of the mausoleum with shell acroteria.
©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

But knowing Elizabeth’s determination and desire to have her own way one wonders if she and the other incumbents rest easily together or if they are all locked into an eternal argument……

©Text and photos Car0le Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

http://www.mmtrust.org.uk/mausolea/view/76/Lytton_Mausoleum

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1174579

Knebworth House guidebook, Heritage House Group ©Knebworth Estates 2005

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=-M4HAAAAQAAJ&pg=PT109&lpg=PT109&dq=elizabeth+lytton%27s+mausoleum+knebworth&source=bl&ots=hulY1VuEjA&sig=CcDACH2yf0RB-C2ge9NOZiziomU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwje-6Sf8_XOAhVBPRoKHd74BMYQ6AEIRzAI#v=onepage&q=elizabeth%20lytton’s%20mausoleum%20knebworth&f=false

 

The blank eyed stare of a marble congregation – Part 2 of a visit to Knebworth – The Lytton Chapel, St Mary’s Church

 

Sir William Lytton. ©Carole Tyrrell
Sir William Lytton.
©Carole Tyrrell

Everywhere I looked, as I stood in the Lytton Chapel, a well-upholstered, well dressed 18th century gentleman stared impassively back at me.  They seemed to jostle for space in the small chapel and, although these past members of the Lytton family, couldn’t take it with them, you certainly knew that they’d had it when they were alive.  These were powerful men and there’s plenty of beautifully sculpted marble on show in the Chapel.   Nowadays, people would ask an artist or sculptor to make them look slimmer but here the subjects are unashamedly larger than life.

All three of the memorials are in the baroque style which was made fashionable by the Italian sculptor, Bernini.  It was a technique that achieved effects in carving such as flesh, hair and textures that were remarkably realistic as well as other pictorial effects that had previously only been attempted in 2D paintings .  And yet English Baroque was dismissed as mundane.  However the three tombs in the chapel seem anything but that.

Both Pevsner and Simon Jenkins in ‘1000 Best Churches’ mention the Chapel.  Indeed the latter describes  it as having ‘the best of 17th and 18th century monumental art (is) on parade and ‘three of the Knebworth tombs are among the finest 18th century monuments  In England.’   It was originally built in 1520 and then rebuilt 200 years later.

The first one as you enter is Lytton Strode Lytton who stands perfectly posed in his shell niche dressed fashionably in his coat and shoes with some of his coat buttons undone to display the buttoned up waistcoat beneath, Too many power lunches perhaps?  He died young at 21 as his epitaph reveals but he looks older with an almost feminine face and full lips. Lytton is guarded on either side by winged cherubs, or Cupids, as Historic England describes them..  One is copiously weeping and the other is in prayer and the whole memorial has been attributed to Thomas Green of Camberwell.here is a helpful English translation of the Latin epitaph:

‘Here lies Lytton Strode Lytton Esq., sole son and heir of Sir George Strode (of Etchinham in the County of Sussex_ and also heir of Sir William  Lytton of this parish, his great-uncle. He married Bridget Mostyn, the eldest daughter of Richard Mostyn, Eds., of Pembedwinthe county of Flint. He died without issue at the age of 21 in 1710.  He left the ancient patrimony of the Lytton family to his dearly beloved relative William Robinson, who erected this monument at his own expense as a pledge of his own affection.’

 

Then you turn and are almost crowded out by the other two:  Sir William Lytton to the left and Sir George Strode on your right. Their heads are both inclined towards Lytton Lytton as they lie semi-recumbent on marble beds, sheets rumpled and you almost feel as if you’ve disturbed them in conversation.  Sir George Strode was Lytton’s father and Sir William was his maternal great-uncle so it’s not surprising that they both look to their cherished heir and once the bearer of the Lytton dynasty hopes.

Both of these memorials are credited to Edward Stanton. (1681-1718).   He was a very successful mason who carved 40 monuments between 1699-1718 and in 1720  became a mason to Westminster Abbey where he remained until his death.  Stanton was married 3 times and one wondered where he found the energy.  He has his name prominently displayed at the base of one of the pillars on Sir William Lytton’s huge monument.

The carving on Sir William’s cravat, cuffs and wig as well as the delicate lacing of the Grecian style boots on two life size allegorical female figures or Virtues on either side of him is beautifully detailed. However, his opposite neighbour, Sir George Strode, has a wig that reminds me of waves of whipped cream.  Both men face each other and lie in the fashion of old style glamorous Hollywood stars with their rumpled marble sheets and supporting cushions.  But, perhaps in a feat of one-upmanship, William’s shrine is bigger than George’s as it’s laden down with figures and decoration such as the two Virtues dressed in flowing robes and showing a fair bit of leg.  There are also 3 winged cherubs heads under the cartouche decorated roof with swags of fruit and flowers.  But if you look up still further there are two small female figures, possibly children, perched on top of the roof and one appears to be playing an accordion.  The English translation of the Latin epitaph is:

‘Here lies Sir William Lytton, Knight, son and heir of Sir Rowland Lytton, Knight of the ancient family of the Lyttons de Lytton in the County of Derby (which has flourished happily in this neighbourhood since the time of King VII) in the direct line of descent.  He married first Mary the daughter of Sir John Harrison of Balls in the county of Hertford, then Philippa the daughter of Sir John Keyling of Southill in the county of Bedford; he died without issue, his second wife surviving him. 14th Jan AD 1704-5’

 By contrast, his neighbour, Sir George Strode, Lytton Lytton’s father, is far more restrained as there wouldn’t have been enough room in the chapel for another tomb as large as William’s.  George appears to be in mid-conversation with his hands making a gesture and one thumb indicating the epitaph above him.  This translates in English as:

‘Sacred to the memory of Sir George Strode of the ancient family of the Strodes, the eldest son of Sir Nicholas Strode of Etchinham in the county of Sussex, and his wife Judithe the oldest daughter  of Sir Rowland Lytton of Knebworth in the county of Hertfordshire, who piously and peacefully fell asleep in the Lord on the 9th of June, 1707, whose remains repose at his own wish in the Church at Etchinham aforesaid, who married Margaret Robinson (the daughter of John Robinson Esq., of Geursylt in the county of Denbigh). She survived him and from this union was born one son with the Christian name of Lytton, who by the will of Sir William Lytton his maternal great-uncle changed his family name from Strode to Lytton, and this became styled Lytton Lytton to whom the aforesaid Sir William Lytton bequeathed the ancient patrimony of his family.  He has dedicated this monument at his own expense as a tribute of piety and affection.’ 

The motto underneath George’s figure  reads:

‘Life is the gateway to death, and death in turn the gate of a new life and learn to die to the world, and live for God.’

 Comforting words for a man who lost his only son at an early age.

And so I left them, perhaps in an eternal interrupted, silent conversation, after marvelling at the skill of the mason’s work.  They are all behind iron railings, presumably to stop visitors touching them, but I also felt that the figures were so realistic that it might also be to stop them coming to life and lunging at sightseers.

 ©Text and photos unless otherwise indicated Carole Tyrrell

References

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1295771

http://hetrfordshirechurches.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/knebworth-1.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Stanton_(sculptor)

http://217.204.55.158/henrymoore/sculptor/browserecord.php?-action=browse&-recid=2558

https://www.britannica.com/art/Western-sculpture/The-Baroque-period#ref401564

http://217.204.55.158/henrymoore/sculptor/browserecord.php?-action=browse&-recid=52

http://hertfordshirechurches.weebly.com/knebworth-churches-hertfordshire.html