A wandering ghost and a memorial to a favourite deer – Crawford Priory, Cupar, Fife

Crawford Priory in ruin shared via Wiki Creative Commons
©David Kelly

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.

Lady Mary’s crypt, Crawford Priory in sad decline
©British Listed Buildings

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:

https://adcochrane.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/crawford-priory-riddle-of-a-ruin/

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.

© Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

References

https://www.derelictplaces.co.uk/main/rural-sites/35632-crawford-priory-revisit-scotland-october-2017-a.html

Helen Grant FB page

http://www.derelictplaces.co.uk

 

 

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The Lord of the Manor and the local ratcatcher lie equal in their eternal sleep under the traffic’s drone – a visit to St Leonard’s, Streatham

 

View of exterior St Leonard's Streatham. ©Carole Tyrrell
View of exterior St Leonard’s Streatham.
©Carole Tyrrell

The substantial church of St Leonards at Streatham could almost be seen as God’s’ traffic calming measure as it makes the drivers on the busy Streatham High Road inch past its walls.  But once inside St Leonards churchyard the noisy flow seems to fade to a hum and you can appreciate a church which has had a chapel on its site for over 1000 years.

I was on a guided tour organised by the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery and our guide was John Brown who had an obvious affection for St Leonards.

The first church was built in 1350 and the lowest part of its tower still stands.  St Leonards was then rebuilt in 1778 and altered again in 1831 when the nave was completely rebuilt and a crypt created.  During the 1860’s a chancel was added.  But, on 5 May 1975, disaster struck when a fire completely destroyed the interior.  It was then re-designed and St Leonard’s now has a whitewashed interior within its 19th century walls.  This has created a wonderful backdrop on which the surviving wall tablets and memorials are well displayed.  An inspiring blend of the ancient and new.

We began by exploring outside  and stopped to admire the tower which is known as Sir John Ward’s Tower .  According to John, it has the highest oak tree between the Thames and Croydon  growing halfway up it. The tower is built from Surrey flint and is topped by a modern spire dating from the 1841.

The highest oak tree between the Thames and Croydon on Sir John Ward's Tower, St Leonard's Streatham. ©Carole Tyrrell
The highest oak tree between the Thames and Croydon on Sir John Ward’s Tower, St Leonard’s Streatham.
©Carole Tyrrell

The churchyard contains over 250 memorials  dating from the 18th century with the last burial in 1841. Part of the graveyard was  bombed during the 2nd World War and, as a result, has been landscaped to create a Garden of Remembrance.  John revealed that some of the burials had only had a wooden graveboard  which had long since disintegrated.

St Leonards was a very fashionable church during the 18th and 19th centuries and, as a result, a chapel of ease dedicated to All Saints was built in a nearby road. Alas, even God was expected to adhere to the rigid class system of the time as the local gentry worshipped at St Leonards and their servants would attend their own service at All Saints.  Dr Johnson and James Boswell are known to have visited the church.  This may be one of the reasons that there are several prominent local people buried in the churchyard.  John pointed out some of the more illustrious tombs;  Merian Drew, the lord of the manor and his daughter Jane Agnes Fisher, George Pratt of Pratts Department store in Streatham and  the Colthurst family member who had owned Coutts bank.

William Dyce, the Pre-Raphaelite painter and polymath, lies under a broken cross.  He designed the florin coin and was a much in demand portrait painter.  Amongst his many achievements were the frescoes in the robing room of the House of Lords although they remain unfinished. He also painted another celebrated fresco for the House of Lords, ‘The Baptism of Ethelbert’.    My own favourite of his paintings is ‘Pegwell Bay, Kent – a Recollection of October 5th 1858’ with its haunting, melancholy atmosphere and muted colour palette.     He was also a churchwarden at St Leonards and was responsible for designing the chancel in 1863.  Dyce’s ‘Madonna and Child’ of 1827 featured on the Royal Mail 2007 Christmas stamps.   Robert Garrard, the royal jeweller s also lies here and there was a  flat, plain slab on the grave of one of novelist Trollope’s nephews  who was the owner of the building firm, Trollope and Colls. I also admired the small sculptures of angels on the Montefiore monument. There were also several tombstones dating back to the 1700’s with a scattering of skull and crossbones.

A large monument had been made from the wonder material of the 19th century, Coade Stone.  A Mrs Coade, invented it but for a long time the recipe was lost.   However it and the techniques for producing the stone have now been rediscovered and a new range of Coade sculptures are currently available.

We then followed John inside to admire two 17th century imposing and magnificent monuments in the porch.  The striking Massingberde memorial commemorates a London merchant and Treasurer of the East India Company who died in 1653.  The two figures facing each other symbolise the triumph of life over death. The dramatic Howland monument   was erected by a grieving widow, Elizabeth, to her husband John who died in 1686 and features a brooding skull and several cherubs.

The Thrale memorial tablet by John Flaxman - reputedly drawn from the life. copyright Carole Tyrrell
The Thrale memorial tablet by John Flaxman – reputedly drawn from the life.
copyright Carole Tyrrell

At the top of the chancel by the altar were the Thrale monuments. These were to Henry Thrale and his mother-in-law, Mrs Salusbury.  Henry, who is also commemorated by the nearby Thrale Road, was a wealthy brewer and MP.  He and his wife, Hester, entertained the well -known movers and shakers of the day including Dr Johnson and James Boswell. There were two epitaphs written in Latin by Dr Johnson and a beautiful  tablet by John Flaxman is set into the wall.  It has  three female figures on it which were reputedly carved from the life. One of them is Sophia Hoare.  John Flaxman (1726-1803) was a prolific sculptor of funerary monuments, mainly in the Classical style, and his work can be seen in Westminster Abbey and Gloucester Cathedral as well as many churches.

The mutilated statue of Sir John Ward. St Leonard's Streatham ©Carole Tyrrell
The mutilated statue of Sir John Ward. St Leonard’s Streatham
©Carole Tyrrell

A somewhat dog eared and damaged figure lies on top of what looks like a table tomb.  This is what’s left of an effigy of Sir John Ward in his armour.  Colin Fenn of FOWNC has compiled a list of helpful notes to accompany the reconstruction drawing of it and estimates the figure as dating from 1350-1380.    Sir John fought with the Black Prince at Crecy and, in the modern Streatham stained glass window, he appears holding a model of the first, 14th century chapel that he built.  The rest of the window records the history of Streatham and St Leonard’s and is well worth seeing.  It’s by John Hayward as all the stained glass within St Leonard’s.

There are more  intriguing memorials in the Chapel of Unity and  John drew our attention to Edward Tylney’s. He was the Master of Revels, under Queen Elizabeth 1 and King James 1, and who put on plays and other entertainments for the Court.  He was renowned for being vain and had the memorial created during his lifetime which is why there is a blank space for the date of his death in 1610. But there is another version in which the mason was so relieved at Tylney’s passing that he omitted to add the date of his death.   Nearby is William Lynne’s affectionate tribute to  his wife, Rebecca which dates from Cromwell’s reign. Part of it reads: ‘

 ‘Should I ten thousand yeares enjoy my life I could not praise enough so good a wife.’

The oldest inscription, dated 1390, was below the altar and is a small brass plate which asks for prayers for the repose of a long past rector, John Elsefield.

Then we descended the spiral staircase to the crypt.  This was an unexpected surprise. Although not as extensive as West Norwood or Kensal Green it was still impressive and atmospheric with incumbents in their loculi.

Loculus which is Latin for ‘little place”, plural loculi, is ‘an architectural compartment or niche that houses a body, as in a catacomb, mausoleum or other place of entombment’  Wikipedia

The crypt is laid out with 2 corridors and the gated individual family vaults lead off them.  Some contained entire families including the Thrales.  John showed us one in which the loculus had been bricked up as the occupant had been buried in only a shroud.  This was Mr Costa, a silk merchant, who left instructions that every pauper who carried his coffin was to be given a guinea.  Needless to say, his coffin was carried by many poor men and so his wealth was redistributed.  Only the undertaker was left empty-handed.  There’s also two earls who ended up down there whilst visiting Streatham but I don’t think that the two events are connected.

 

 

 

The crypt was rebuilt in 1831 and was used as an air raid shelter during the 2nd World War during which time an experiment was carried out to determine the depth of the charnel pit under the flagstone floor. The measure went down as far as it would go which was 20ft but the pit extended far below that.   More recently it became the home of a local tramp called Black Tommy who had his mail delivered there.  One wonders with whom the postmen would have left large packages when Mr Tommy was out.

Tombstone of the local ratcatcher St Leonard's Streatham ©Carole Tyrrell
Tombstone of the local ratcatcher St Leonard’s Streatham
©Carole Tyrrell

As a finale, John showed us the substantial headstone of the local ratcatcher which proved that he was certainly busy, successful and appreciated.   Sadly, the epitaph appears to have completely vanished.  Afterwards a couple of us strolled about the churchyard reading the fine epitaphs on several  memorials.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

Our grateful thanks to John Brown for his knowledge and enthusiasm, St Leonard’s, and Cathy Mercer of FONC for organising the visit.

http://www.stleonard-streatham.org.uk/church.html

http://www.19thc-artworldwide.org/autumn_07/articles/wrig_09.html  baptism of ethelbert

http://www.artrenewal.org/pages/artist.php?artistid=120 – portrait of William Dyce

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loculus_(architecture)

© Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.