I found the article below in the Church Times and thought that I would share it with you. Although on first glance they may look a little macabre, I saw them as lovely examples of medieval iconogrpahy. In many ways they are also very touching. I love the mystery surrounding them as well.
Shrouded skeletons on brasses in medieval Durham church investigated
The two shrouded figures displayed on brasses at St Edmund’s, Sedgefield
PUBLIC curiosity about two shrouded skeletons in a medieval church has led to an investigation into their origins.
The figures — believed to be male and female — are depicted on brasses displayed on the wall at 13th-century St Edmund’s, Sedgefield, in Co. Durham, which is Grade I listed. The plates are singular in that they portray skeletons: normally, the figure is a likeness of the person in the tomb.
Little is known about them, and the Friends of St Edmund’s are trying to find out more. “We are asked about the origin of the skeletons on a fairly regular basis, and it would be nice to have an explanation for people who visit the church,” Alison Hodgson, a local historian and the secretary of the group, said.
They hope that documents held in the archives of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne will shed some light, and are aware of one record which says that the two figures were once on a tomb that had a shield and ribbon above, and a border — probably with an inscription — around the edge.
Brian Mutch, a churchwarden and the Friends’ membership secretary, is leading the investigation. “We don’t know how long they have been in the church,” he said. “One document from 1896 says they were there then; so we will have to go further back. There is no indication as to how old they are, but all the others in the church date from the 1300s; so it is quite likely they come from then.
“It is possible they were on a tomb in the north transept, but that has been altered two or three times over the years. However, we do have two stone effigies in the south transept — one of a man and the other of a woman — and I wonder if it is them. There are records of noble families in the area giving patronage to the church, but we have yet to examine them.
“There is a lot more work to do. I don’t know how long it will take, but we shall persevere.”
There is a clearing along Ship Path in West Norwood Cemetery where, if you pause for a moment, you could almost swear that you can smell the sea. For a moment you can hear the ceaseless ebb and flow of the tides, the relentless cries of seagulls and the smell of ozone.
Then you’ll probably be standing in front of the exuberant and flamboyant monument to Captain Wimble (1797-1851) and his indomitable wife. He was an employee of the East India Company and, Mary Ann, his wife, accompanied him on his many voyages which demonstrates that Captain Wimble didn’t subscribe to the old seafaring tradition that it’s unlucky to have a woman on board. However, as sea voyages at the time could take over a year perhaps it was the only way that they could see each other. He was born in 1797 and baptised at All Saints parish church, Maidstone in March of that year. Capt Wimble would have probably first gone to sea aged 12 or 13 and he was obviously ambitious. The East India Company who were extremely powerful and held a monopoly on the trade with India in importing items such as cotton and opium. They were a precursor of the British administration in India. At 23, he became a ship’s captain with the Company by fulfilling their criteria and so his seafaring career began.
The epitaph on the front records his deeds and as you walk around you will see a sailing ship on each side. They are still impressive and dramatic and the still crisp carving emphasises the sea scenes. You almost feel that they could sail away at any moment. These were all ships that Capt Wimble commanded. A sculptured length of rope decorates the base of the monument as a frieze.
On the east side is a 3 masted ship, the Maidstone, with furled topsails on a clam sea and is dated 24 June 1840. He captained this ship on a round the world voyage in 1840. It travelled to Calcutta, then New Zealand, onto New Jersey and then finally New York. The Maidstone, all 818 tons of her, was built in 1839 at the Blackwall Yard in London and owned by Green and Wigram. She was intended for the London – Bengal and London-Calcutta routes and was last recorded in 1860 when she was abandoned on the way to Australia. There is a painting of her in the National Maritime Museum.
The Florentia is depicted on the south side in stormy weather off the Cape on 24 June 1825 and to the west is the London, dramatically and perilously sailing in heavy seas with a broken mast off Gangam and this is dated 6th October 1832. Gangam is a coastal district of Orissa in India which East India Company ships would have passed through on their way to Calcutta. The Florentia was the first ship that he captained and he would have sailed to the island of Madeira near Tenerife, turned towards Brazil for supplies, then onto South Africa and onto India.
The three scenes emphasise the unpredictable ups and downs of a sea captain’s life which was completely at the mercy of the weather at that time. There is a fulsome epitaph to the Wimbles on the north side of the monument:
‘Sacred to the memory of Mr John Wimble,
34 years of whose life was passed on the
seas. Died, 23rd July 1851, aged 54 years. ‘They
that go down to the seas in ships and occupy
their business in great waters; these men see the works
of the Lord and his wonders in the deep.’
Also of Mary Ann his wife who shared in some
of his perils. Died Exeter, 22nd March 1886
aged 94 years.’
Capt Wimble was clearly a man of substance as this unique and imposing monument demonstrates. It may be more than coincidence that Capt Wimble’s first ship as Master was called the Maidstone. He was born in the town of that name and when he retired he named his house in Upper Tulse Hill Maidstone Cottage. In the first Census taken in 1851 he was recorded as living at that address with Mary Ann, then aged 54, and two servants, Mary Iles and Elizabeth Sheffield, both aged 26. He died at Maidstone Cottage in 1851 with the cause stated as ‘heart disease’.
As you might have guessed by the size of the tomb and the quality of the bas-reliefs Capt Wimble was a man of means as it was the custom for wealthy travellers to give the captain of their ship expensive gifts at the end of the voyage.
I am indebted to Eloise Akpan’s 2005 article in The Norwood Review for the details of his will and also the Friends of West Norwood Cemetery’s newsletter, September 2020 for the details on his will and ships. Capt Wimble’s will was signed 9 months prior to his death and in it he specified the intended destination of ‘every bit of his clothing, jewellery and furniture’, as well as the money. The debts of the relatives to which he lent money are all erased. As a result of the generosity of his well-heeled passengers there was an impressive collection of gold and silver items including 6 silver candlesticks. These came down to a descendant of John’s brother, Charles. This was Derek Wimble who lived in Herne Hill until his death roughly 36 years ago. The candlesticks with an accompanying candle snuffer were subsequently sold by his widow with an engraved inscription that stated they had been
‘given by the grateful passengers on a homeward voyage from Calcutta to London in 1840.’
Sadly, Derek had no idea that his illustrious ancestor was buried nearby which is sad.
Mary Ann was a woman of her own mind. The will also stipulated that ‘
‘I direct that my body may be decently and plainly interred at the discretion of my beloved wife. She alone shall have the ordering and regulation.’
Perhaps she had her own interpretation of this and so she created a magnificent monument to her husband and herself which is one of the most attractive and imposing within West Norwood.
An interesting postscript to this was in the Friends of West Norwood Cemetery’s 2010 newsletter in which the headstone and grave of a William Wimble had been located close to Capt Wimble’s. William had also been born in Maidstone – a possible relative?
Sadly, I have been unable to find an image of either Captain Wimble or Mary-Ann which would have enabled me to put faces to them. The monument is due to restoration this year and I am looking forward to seeing the results.
But I’m sure that when I next visit that I will still hear and feel sea breezes as I walk towards it along Ship Path.
These lion’s feet supporting two sarcophagi within London’s Brompton Cemetery almost look comical – it’s as if they may just get up and run away at any moment carrying their cargo!
But, if you look closely, then you can see how detailed they are especially with the hair around the ankles and the claws. They are unusual as I don’t see them that often. But there are examples to be found in other cemeteries. For example, there is one within Norwich’s Rosary Cemetery.
The sarcophagus is made from cast iron and was originally painted black. It is dedicated to the memory of Jeremiah Cozens who died aged 32 in 1849. There are other members of the Cozens family commemorated on different sides of the sarcophagus. Also, Mrs Bradley’s monument in Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis, Tennessee, USA features a magnificent set of paws.
The lion represents strength which is demonstrated by the paws supporting the sarcophagus. They have appeared as decorative devices in Ancient Greece and Rome. These were often known as ‘claw feet’ or ‘paw feet’ and were usually either a lion or a bear’s foot. They also appeared during the Renaissance and into the 17th and 18th century in French and English furniture. This magnificent example dates from the Renaissance. Although this sarcophagus has been dated to the 5th century the lions paws were added after the 15th century. It comes from Ravenna, Italy.
So the use of lion’s paws probably originated in the Classical world as did the sarcophagus form itself. It’s a stone coffin that was used for burials and the word ‘sarcophagus’ comes from the Greek for ‘flesh-eater’. With the rediscovery and use of Classicism within Victorian cemeteries such as Brompton it’s appropriate to find two elements from it. Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome motifs appeared in many Victorian cemeteries and Classicism was one of the first major artistic movements to be represented within them.
These two examples are very plain apart from the wildly extravagant carved hair on the ankles of the paws. They are both dedicated to women; Catherine Ferrall Carmichael and Charlotte Hooffstetter.
Catherine who died, aged 88, on 21 April 1853 was the widow of Major Hugh Lyle Carmichael. He was the Lieutenant Governor of British Guiana from 1812 until his death, aged 49, in 1813. According to Wikipedia:
‘He was a strong proponent of giving native Caribbean troops the same rights as ordinary British soldiers.’
Sadly, I’ve been unable to discover anything much about Catherine. There is an epitaph on one side of the sarcophagus of which I can only read two lines so she may have to be a Work in Progress.
Charlotte Hooffstetter is recorded on one side of her sarcophagus as being:
…’the 2nd wife of Charles Hooffstetter Esq
Nee Charlotte Gasquet
Obt on 31st August 1861 at 77.
According to an inscription on side of the sarcophagus she lived in Thurloe Square with Charles at what is still a swanky address. They had one daughter, Sophia, who died in 1854 and Charles Hooffstetter died on 30 September 1870. The names of other family members are inscribed on the other sides of the sarcophagus. But, again, I can find out nothing more about her. According to Find a Grave even her birth date is unknown and Charles proved to be just as illusory. So Charlotte will have to be another Work in Progress.
I also found a magnificent example on the Henniker monument within Rochester Cathedral.
The sarcophagus and lion’s feet were immensely popular and could be adapted to many other decorative uses. I found several examples of much smaller sarcophagi and lion’s paws on vintage and antique websites where they were being offered as wine coolers and collarettes amongst other uses. They would look very good on a sideboard or in a gentleman’s study.
But nowadays lion’s paws are more likely to be supporting an ‘antique’ revival bath tub which is a different container for a body altogether!
I was exploring Rochester Cathedral recently after visiting The Museum of the Moon temporary exhibition. It featured the Luke Jerram artwork which had travelled there from the Natural History Museum. This was my first opportunity to have a good look around the Cathedral since moving here in 2019. There was much to see; 14th century Green Men and a zodiac depicted in tiles in front of the altar amongst others.
But it was a guidebook to the Cathedral’s monuments that pointed me in the direction of the Lady Chapel and a grander version of the Good Samaritan symbol. It’s usually covered by a rubber mat so passing visitors may not even know it’s there. A helpful Cathedral guide lifted it for me and as it was so busy I only had time to take a few snaps. I have to apologise for the quality of the photos. exhibition.
Someone really wanted visitors to notice the relief as there is a carved pointing finger indicating it. These are known as ‘manicules’ from the Latin root, ‘manicula’, meaning ‘little hand’ and you can just see it in one of the photos.
This is a wonderful depiction of the Good Samaritan in 3D. I have read that the figure of the Good Samaritan is based on the incumbent, Frederick Hill, himself. I can see the reason why it is protected by the mat as generations of visitors feet would soon start to wear it down. However Mr Hill may not be buried directly underneath the ledger stone that bears his epitaph. But they are usually placed over an actual burial vault.
According to the booklet, the ledger is:
‘an incised stone slab set flush into a stone floor.
This one is considered to be:
‘one of the Cathedral’s finest’
The fulsome epitaph reveals a probable reason for the choice of symbol. I have corrected the 18th century spelling in which an ‘s’ looks like an ‘f’. This is called the medial S which was also known as the long ‘s’. This was a second form of the uppercase ‘S’.
To the Memory of
FREDERICK HILL, Gent.
Anno Domini 1720 Married the Widow of
His Bosom Friend
To whose children
Two sons and Three Daughters
Affectionate and Bountiful
In the most tender
In his PUBLICK Trust
Providing for his Majesty’s Sick and Wounded Seamen
At this Port,
Such His Love and Care for them
(Solely Observant of
The Seal of His Office)
That Thought for,
Or Justice to
Was his last, as Least Concern;
He Departed this Life, the 20th of May 1759.
Much Regretted as Greatly belov’d by all who knew him,
Being a Kind Neighbour, Sincere friend; in Disposition;
Above Guile, and in Practice; an Exemplary Christian.
As you can see, Mr Hill married his best friend’s widow and became stepfather to his children. He was obviously an important figure in the town and he lived in the St Margaret’s area close to the Cathedral.
I have obtained a copy of his Will via The National Archives. It’s dated 6 June 1750 and written in flowing calligraphy. However, I could find no mention of his wife in it so maybe she pre-deceased him. Mr Hill appears to have been quite well off as he owned land, or estates, in both Southfleet and in the Brompton area of Chatham both of which are in Kent. He appointed his son, Captain Thomas Snarkston, his daughter in law, and Mary Snarkston, spinster, as his joint executors. The estates were to be sold and the resulting money to be divided between his daughters; Susanna Borthwick, wife of Edward Borthwick, Frances Powney, wife of Mr Powney and Frances Flight, wife of Major Thomas Flight. Mary Snarkston was to have the use of all of Mr Hill’s household goods included his plate, china etc for the rest of her natural life. After she died it would pass to Captain Thomas Snarkston, then to Frances Flight and then be sold by the executors and the money divided amongst the aforementioned children.
Susanna Borthwick was to have one of his diamond rings and Mary Snarkston would have the other one. Two god-daughters, Henrietta Soames and Elizabeth Page were to have £50 and £20 respectively. With the latter it would be paid on either her 21st birthday or her wedding day. Mr Hill’s gold repeater watch was bequeathed to Captain Thomas Snarkston and 5 guineas each went to Frances Powney and Frances Flight. Finally after payment of any debts and funeral expenses Mr Hill bequeathed the rest and residue of monies to be divided equaly between Susanna Borthwick, Mary Snarkston, Captain Thomas Snarkston, Frances Powney and Frances Flight.
Mr Hill was a man who appeared to have been as generous in death as he was in life to his adopted children.
Last month’s Symbol of the Month was devoted to the ship. It’s a central symbol of Christianity and recently, on a visit to Rochester Cathedral, I found more evidence of this in the medieval graffiti etched on several of its pillars.
They are in the nave of the Cathedral and consist of at least a dozen scratched images of sailing ships. They look almost as if a child has drawn them and you have to look very closely to see them. Th eone above is the only one that I could find easily.
According to the Cathedral’s information board these were often drawn by :
‘…..crew members and sea captains with proximity to an altar, image or shrine dedicated to St Nicholas, the patron saint of those in peril on the sea. At times of trouble on a sea voyage, such as storm, a vow could be made to St Nicholas that, if they survived, a votive offering would be made in thanks, sometimes in the form of a model ship of wax and wood. Some of these models survive in coastal churches today but at Rochester this graffiti is the only surviving trace of this once common tradition.;
It goes onto add:
‘……..All recorded designs are located on the south face of the pillar, (this) may indicate the suspected position of an altar or shrine to St Nicholas in the south nave aisle in the 12th of 13th centuries.’
There is a church dedicated to St Nicholas adjacent to the Cathedral but this is now the offices of the Board of Education of the Diocese of Rochester. According to their website, there was a shrine to the saint within the Cathedral at which people worshipped until the 15th century. It was consecrated on 18 December 1423. The current church dates from the 17th century with 19th century restoration.
So these little ships, symbols of protection, will sail on a sea of stone for as long as the Cathedral stands. Let’s hope that all of the crews and captains, they who go down to the sea in ships, who created them came home safely back to port.
The first Symbol of the Month of 2020 – a little later than I planned but more to come….
There are many sailing vessels in cemeteries. Ships, boats and the occasional yacht, becalmed on headstones or monuments forever sailing on a marble or granite sea. Often they reveal the incumbent’s former occupation as on this fine example on the grave of Captain Edward Parry Nisbet in Brompton Cemetery. Note the cross formed by the mast which is one of the central symbols of Christianity. There’s also the magnificent and exuberant monument to Captain Wimble and his indomitable wife on the appropriately named Ship Path in West Norwood Cemetery.
But this little boat tied up and apparently moored at the base of a large cross is symbolic of a journey that has reached its final destination.
The monument is located within Brompton Cemetery and is a representation of the journey of life. This is a small sculpture of a rowing boat that has been carved to resemble a wooden one and there are seats inside but no oars. It could be interpreted as coming to the end of your life or journey and entering another life of eternity symbolised by the cross. In other words, the crossing to the ‘other world’ as Douglas Keister calls it. Also as www.stoneletters says:
‘…it’s a symbol of our last journey, it embodies the voyage of life, of coming full circle and taking us back to the waters of our beginning.’
However a boat can also be seen as an emblem of safety and refuge as it carries us over life’s often choppy seas and takes us home. In this context, another boat that springs to mind is Noah’s Ark. It protected and saved all that were on it and was a metaphor for the church as it weathered the storm against all odds. However, Keister also suggests that the shape of a boat can resemble that of a cradle or a womb which would again emphasise shelter and protection. It holds us secure above the chaos of life.
Boats and death are a central theme in many other religions and cultures in that they carry the souls of the dead to eternity. For example, King Arthur was transported by boat on death and, most famously, the Vikings people also used funerary boats. This was granted to important people of the tribe as they and their possessions would be sent out across the water in one after it had been set ablaze. A symbolic mimicking of the soul’s journey to Valhalla. Also in Greek mythology, Charon was the ferryman who took the souls of the dead by boat into the Underworld by crossing the River of Woe, Acheron.
But boats and death also feature in literature, especially poetry and there is the famous quotation by F Scott Fitzgerald:
‘So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’
‘Crossing the Bar’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson also features a sea voyage which will end in death,
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.
There is also The Ship of Death by D H Lawrence amongst others.
I said earlier that a boat or ship is an important Christian symbol due to the mast forming a cross. Also, the Latin for ‘nave’ ,the central aisle of a church, means ‘ship’ and there are several Biblical references to boats and ships. After all, Christ told his disciples to “follow me and I will make you fishers of men”.
But let’s not forget that a boat or ship can also indicate a love of sailing and freedom.
Some of the letters on the epitaph beneath the boat and cross have worn away so I can only assume tha the name commemorated is Walter Ward M Cais but it seems incomplete. He died young at only 43 and his widow, Martha, married again and lived well into the 20th century. It must have been a message of comfort that Walter’s small boat was moored safely for eternity.
On windy nights, the derelict and romantic ruin that is Crawford Priory is reputed to have a familiar visitor. A wandering spirit walks through the estate which she once owned accompanied by a retinue of the per animals that she knew and loved. This is the ghost of Lady Mary Lindsay Crawford who is rumoured to walk the grounds when the wind is high.
Is she keeping a watch on the crumbling building or her crypt which is a mile away. Or does she see the Priory as it once was with its fine furnishings and decoration and a butler opening the front door to visitors as she, smiling, descends the sweeping staircase to meet them?
Deep in the Fife countryside lies the shell of a derelict, once grand country house. For over 25 years it has been abandoned to nature which is fast obscuring it from memory and the world. Ivy and saplings have thrust their way through broken windows and doors and a fire in 1995 was the final indignity. In 1997 its current owner applied to have it demolished but it may just eventually fall down by itself.
The cawing of crows or the wind whistling around what’s left of the Gothic styled Crawford Priory are the only sounds that the casual visitor will hear now.
However, it was never actually a priory and no religious order ever lived there. But the name went with the romantic Gothic touches such as the pointed windows and the battlements and so it became one.
A mile away near Lady Mary’s Wood lies an equally ruinous crypt dedicated to the Priory’s creator and the last of her line, Lady Mary Lindsay Crawford. From urban explorers websites, the last great recorders and finders of the abandoned, the crypt is in no better state than the Priory. Its door is now bricked up although a hole has been made in it and the crypt is falling in on itself. The pet cemetery is rumoured to be still there but I haven’t seen any photos of that while researching this article.
To add to the romance of the place there is also a belief that the pale wraith of Lady Mary drifts across the site as she gathers her pet animals around her. She had the crypt built so that she would always have a good view of the Priory even in death.
I am indebted to a Facebook friend who lives in Scotland with her family. They like to go out and explore the local countryside and share their photos and adventures online. They have been kind enough to give me permission to use their photos to illustrate this article. Crawford Priory was a real gem as it’s the sort of place that I would like to explore myself.
Crawford Priory was originally merely a hunting lodge built by the Earl of Crawford in 1756 and then completely remodelled in the then fashionable style in the early 1800’s. Lady Mary employed well known architects of the time to create it. She died in 1833 and was known as a reclusive, religious woman. The pet cemetery was also created by her to remind her of her favourite animals. They flocked to her and she was frequently attended by tame foxes, birds, dogs, cats and even a pet deer. However, I have been unable to find any images of Lady Mary but she must have been formidable as well as kind. There is a tombstone near the outer wall of the Priory dedicated to a pet deer which is what caught my attention and intrigued me enough to research further.
Lady Mary lived alone, except for her servants, and administered a large country estate as well as the Priory. This included limestone kilns, coal mines and farms amongst other business interests. This was remarkable in the 19th century for a woman alone.
This keen business sense and her managerial abilities led to Lady Mary being regarded as odd and her obituary, according to alex cochrane’s blog, considered her eccentricities as
‘lean’d to the virtue’s side for the cause of humanity .’’
Also, according to adcochrane, a distant relative of the family, quotes from one of Lady Mary#s letters on his blog, in which she says:
‘this hall is raised under bad and awful auspices ‘
and then goes onto to describe how her dog:
‘howled in the most dreadful manner in the next room to the new building…yet in spite of its cries would not leave the dining-room’
It sounds like a page from a Gothic novel as the heroine eats her dinner at a candle-lit dining table while her dog howls and the wind picks up speed around the battlements.
Lady Mary left generous bequests to the local poor, friends, servants and her animals. The Priory then came into the possession of the Earls of Glasgow and the Cochranes The photos on adcochrane’s blog and now in the possession of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (rcahms for short) reveal how lavishly decorated The Priory’s interior was:
‘The grand hall was magnificently decorated with fan vaulting and hanging pendants; suits of armour stood under canopied gothic niches; medieval style stained glass lit the hall. The drawing room and morning room opened off a rib vaulted chamber decorated with gargoyles, both with gothic fireplaces inlayed with coloured marbles. The principal staircase…was decorated with gilded armorial panels and armorial stained glass of the Earls of Glasgow.” adcochrane
ADcochrane also goes onto recall that
‘The grand bedroom was hung with panels of wallpaper depicting the life of Psyche from the ancient Latin story by Apuleius.’
He adds that in 1990 a lot of the internal decoration was still there but now it’s all gone. Even the sweeping staircase has finally collapsed. To see archive photos of the Priory in its glamorous heyday please visit his blog:
Eventually the Priory became just too expensive to maintain like many country houses. They usually required a retinue of servants to maintain them and after the Second World War these were in short supply. Adcochrane adds that both his godfather and cousin remembered exploring huge unused rooms and clambering about dusty piles of trunks.
In the 1960’s the Prior needed an expensive and major restoration but this never happened. No use has been found for it since and so it was left to lie empty until it fell into its current state.
If Lady Mary does walk in her wood and the Priory grounds then one hopes that she sees the Priory as it was and not how it is now.
Welcome to a new year and a short piece on how part of one of my blog posts became part of a youtube film.
I have to say that, after a cursory glance, that ‘Look it’s behind you! The Chaldon Doom painting’’is undoubtedly my most popular post with 4,205 views since it’s publication in 2018. It was a post about what may the oldest wall painting in England which is on the back wall of the church of St Peter and St Paul in Chaldon, Surrey. This is an out of the way place as there’s no real village there. But the church is very picturesque and popular as a destination for walkers especialluy during the summer when there is cake and tea on sale on Sunday afternoons.
The actual title of the painting is the Purgatorial Ladder and was painted in order to instruct the congregation to live a righteous life. After death they were either destined for heaven or hell depending on if they had lived a righteous life. It’s an impressive piece and I did wonder how it might have felt when praying or listening to a sermon with the painting and its angels and demons behind you.
A man called,Richard Gandon from a film company called Eyedears contacted me last year as he’d created an animated explanation of the Chaldon Doom and posted it on youtube. He asked for permission to use my introduction from my blog post on the painting with accreditation. It is a short and accessible explanation of the painting’s elements such as the Seven Deadly Sins and well worth a look at.
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.