A pre-Coronavirus Spring Saunter though Kent churchyards – St Mildred’s and St John the Evangelist, Meopham, Kent

St Mildred’s Meopham
©Carole Tyrrell

The church in the field – St Mildred’s

The cawing of rooks in the bare trees kept me company as I walked towards St Mildred’s in Nurfield, just outside Meopham. It was a dark, wet, overcast day and St Mildred’s huddled surrounded by fields at the end of Church Lane. In fact, it’s known as ‘The Little Church in the Field’.

Kent has many of these picturesque churches and I hoped to discover more symbols or interesting headstones in the churchyard.  Coronavirus was snapping at my heels and I knew that all churches would soon be closed.

On the horizon of one field outside the churchyard I could see the bright yellow traces of a future rapeseed crop but the other field, alongside it, was still ploughed earth.  The bare trees tried to stretch up to the sky on the other side of it. I’ve always loved these in winter as you can really see the shape of the tree and the delicate pattern of branches and twigs.

St Mildred’s was closed but the church door was protected, or hidden, by four tall yew tree sentinels. A pot of purple pansies beside it were a splash of colour on such a grey day.

Pansies by church door of St Mildred’s, Meopham
©Carole Tyrrell

Despite the damp weather there were large patches of Spring flowers; Violets, both purple and white covered parts of the churchyard, together with smaller groups of Lesser Celandine which is one of the seven signs of Spring. Daffodils shuddered in the wind and a group of them huddled together for warmth by headstones.  But I was determined and found the symbol of a closed book on one grave to a man who had died young. The oldest headstone was now unreadable and was decorated with tiny pom-pom shapes of a lichen.  An imposing Celtic Cross was dedicated to a priest. The bright yellow flowers of lesser celandine had closed themselves up and who could blame them? Primroses kept their heads down but in one corner of the churchyard there were indications of living residents.  These were of the four legged kind who had dug deep holes and left pungent evidence…..

Nurstead was described 700 years ago as ‘a poor little parish with a church.’  St Mildred’s was originally a Saxon church and made of wood. The current flint structure dates from the 14th century and the guide leaflet says ’that together with the 14th century hall of nearby Nurstead Court it is the only surviving part of the Manor as it existed in 1349.’

Meopham town sign featuring St John the Evangelist church.
©Carole Tyrrell

Meopham is pronounced Meppham and it’s more of a hamlet than a village.  But it does possess another, larger church at the other end of it.  This is dedicated to St John the Evangelist and appears on the village green town sign. St John’s was open and I gratefully sheltered inside glad of the respite from the weather.

The church on the sign – St John the Evangelist

Inside it was peaceful and St Johns had some interesting features. There was a very decorative wooden pulpit attributed to Grinling Gibbons and dated 1632 and the colourful and beautiful tiles decorating the chancel. They were uncredited in the guidebook. There was also a window containing fragments of medieval glass which have been dated to 1346.   Curling hazel branches had been placed on windowsills and I wondered if it was in honour of Branch Sunday. Outside in the churchyard I explored and my shoes soon became soaking wet. A bonfire had been lit  in an adjoining garden and the combination of that and the gloomy weather made it feel more like November. The Millais painting, ‘Autumn Leaves’, with its melancholy atmosphere sprang to mind.  A patch of primroses cuddled up to each other in a drift of fallen leaves and the Lesser Celandine flowers had closed themselves in response to the rain. A lone dog violet stood in defiantly in the middle of them. It was time to go home.

But when I returned two days on the Saturday it was under sunny blue skies.  St Mildred’s was now open and despite the wind that made the daffodils blow this way and that I noticed that the Spring flowers seemed to have colour again.  The crisp white blossom of blackthorn foamed in one corner as did the Wild Cherry blossom on the other side of the churchyard. Late snowdrops nodded in the wind as I entered the church. The interior was very plain and simple with large ledger stones providing the nave flooring.   The bare fields now looked as if they were impatiently waiting for the forthcoming crop to burst forth. I had hoped to see a March hare but no such luck. The headstones were bathed in the golden glow of the sun and the bright flowers of Lesser Celandine lifted their heads upwards and basked.

These were dedicated to past residents, the Edmeades, of nearby Nurstead Court, and dated back to the 17th century. They are actually buried in the vaults beneath the stones. A squint could be seen in the West Tower and the slow, regular ticking of the church clock was the only sound. St Mildred and her stag featured in the window above the altar and an ancient piscina was decorated with wheat ears and grapes. A reference to a farming community?  The wind howled round the little church as it had done for centuries, as if trying one last time to blow it down, but it still stood.

In contrast St Johns was closed but the bright sunshine revealed several headstones that I had missed.  I’m not quite sure what this figure represents but he does seem to be pointing to the small skull in the corner.

This is on the headstone dedicated to

‘Hannah, wife of Joseph Munn the elder Feb 15th 1715 in either the 34 or 54 year of her age.’

Mr Munn is buried beside in a separate grave with his second wife but not with such an intriguing symbol.

Also this naive head or skull on one headstone.

A Naive skull on a headstone, St John’s, .Meopham
©Carole Tyrrell

 

The sticky buds on a venerable Horse Chestnut tree at the entrance reminded me that despite the horrible weather we’ve had over the last couple of months Mother Nature was just getting on with it as she studded and carpeted churchyards with the bright colours of Spring flowers and blossom.

Sadly, my poking about in churchyards has had to be put on hold this Spring due to the virus. However I did manage to visit two Kent churches just before the lockdown and I will blog about this on a future post. One churchyard was awash with symbols!

I hope that you are keeping well and safe during these strange times.  Life has taken on a surreal quality for some of us as others, keyworkers, keep things going and risk their lives.  Will things return to normal  afterwards or will we not take so much for granted again? Who knows.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading:

https://kentarchaeology.org.uk/

Guide Leaflet, St Mildred’s church

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Another afternoon with the dead and famous – a visit to St Pancras Old Church and churchyard Part 1

 

 

Old St Pancras church – note Victorian ‘improvement’ of additional tower.
©Carole Tyrrell

Part 1 The Church and the Hardy Tree

Despite their transformation into swish new, trendy areas of London,  Kings Cross and St Pancras still retain their historical origins if you know where to look.

However, I can remember when St Pancras was the station that time forgot. In fact if Stephenson’s Rocket had puffed its way along a platform at one time I wouldn’t have been surprised, The MIdland Grand, an enormous rabbit warren of a building was still awaiting its Cinderella like transformation in 2003/4.  Now, reborn as St Pancras Renaissance, it’s always a magnificent sight to see as you perambulate along the Euston Road.

But behind St Pancras International, as it’s now known,  there is still a part of London that has welcomed  visitors and immigrants from all over the world and is testament to the capital’s ever-changing history.

In this quiet part of North London, if you listen hard enough you can still hear the running feet of The Beatles or Mary and Percy Shelley discussing their elopement as they take a Sunday afternoon stroll. But, even more gruesomely, you might also hear body snatchers plying their trade.

This is St Pancras Old Church and churchyard.  But it’s not to be confused with St Pancras New Church which is the one with the weirdly proportioned caryatids that face the Euston Road.

The Research History Group of Brompton Cemetery visited on an overcast September afternoon when the churchyard, or park, as it’s now known seemed sombre and silent under the canopy of the 160 year old tress.  But it wasn’t always like this. Our knowledgeable guide, Lester Hillman, told us that during the 19th century, instead of the elegant iron railings that border the front of the churchyard , there had been pubs and adjacent to the church there had been a terrace of houses.

The famous music hall star Dan Leno had been born in one of them.  During the 1850‘s there had been balloon ascents as well and I did wonder how the permanent residents of St Pancras had ever got any of their eternal rest.

Charles Dickens who lived opposite the churchyard as a child described it as:

‘ a desolate place surrounded by little else but fields and ditches’

This seems incredible now as the area is so built up. Dickens featured St Pancras in ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ in which one of the characters, Jerry Cruncher and his son, Jerry Jnr, visit the churchyard in order to ‘fishing’. This was a euphemism for body snatching which was rife at the time.

Jerry Cruncher’;s friends going fishing from A Tale of Two Cities.
©Goodreads

Although the churchyard is now much smaller, during 1689-1845 88,000 burials took place in it and It’s estimated that 1.5%  of the 66 million Londoners who have lived in the capital over the centuries have been buried here. It closed to burials in 1850 and was acquired by parish authorities becoming a public park in June 1877.

We first visited the church which is very attractive and to walk through its door is to walk into London’s past. Roman, Norman and Tudor brickwork are almost cheek by jowl with each other and the memorial of the very first burial is preserved on a wall near the altar.  This is to a Mary Berisford who was interred on a very auspicious day, 21 August 1588, which was the day of the Spanish Armada. On the opposite wall is the memorial to Daniel Clark (died 1613) and his wife, Katherine (died 1627) and he was cook to Elizabeth 1st.    This large monument is dedicated to William Platt and his wife and they look as if they’re sitting in a box at the theatre.

The memorial to William Platt and his wife inside the church
©Carole Tyrrell

A piece of a Roman altar is embedded in the top of the present one. It was found nearby and seems appropriate as St Pancras was a Roman saint.

According to the guidebook, the church:

‘may possibly date back to the 4th century…..the present building has been here since the 11th or 12th century  close to the River Fleet.’

A picture of the church in 1827 taken from an information board.
©Carole Tyrrell

The river now runs underground but continues to supply Highgate Ponds.  Lester informed us that the 17th generation descendant of Richard III swam in them daily. However, little remains of the medieval church.

A memorial to a bygone occupation that of pew opener
©Carole Tyrrell

As we left the church to enter the churchyard I spotted a wall memorial to a Amelia Rogers whose occupation was given as ‘pew-opener’. This undoubtedly referred to the days when there were box pews with doors and she was obviously greatly valued.

 

One of the features for which the churchyard is renowned is The Hardy Tree.  This is an ash tree which has grown in and around the headstones placed around it.  Sadly, the tree isn’t looking very healthy these days and an exclusion fence has had to be placed around it as branches have fallen from it. Fungus is clearly visible.  The Hardy connection comes from the novelist Thomas Hardy.

Thomas Hardy (1840-19280
Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

During 1862-67, as a young man, he studied architecture under Arthur Blomfield, in London. At this time, the Midland Railway was being built over part of the churchyard and Hardy was given the task of supervising the proper exhumation of human remains and the dismantling of tombs.

In The Early Life, Hardy recounts being involved with the overseeing of churchyards that were being cut through by railroad companies. His employer, Arthur Blomfield, described “returning from visiting the site on which all the bodies were said by the railway companies to be reinterred; but there appeared to be nothing deposited, the surface of the ground quite level as before” In order to make sure the bodies were actually buried properly, Hardy was asked to check one such job at irregular intervals. One evening, accompanied by Blomfield, he watched as a coffin fell apart. Out dropped a skeleton and two skulls. When years later he met Arthur Blomfield again, “among the latter’s first words were: ‘Do you remember how we found the man with two heads at St. Pancras?'” http://casterbridge.blogspot.com/2009/05/levelled-churchyard.html

In 1882, 20 years later, he wrote the poem ‘The Levelled Churchyard’ which may refer to this period.

‘O passenger, pray list and catch
Our sighs and piteous groans,
Half stifled in this jumbled patch
Of wrenched memorial stones!

“We late-lamented, resting here,
Are mixed to human jam,
And each to each exclaims in fear,
‘I know not which I am!’

The wicked people have annexed
The verses on the good;
A roaring drunkard sports the text
Teetotal Tommy should!

“Where we are huddled none can trace,
And if our names remain,
They pave some path or p-ing place
Where we have never lain!

“There’s not a modest maiden elf
But dreads the final Trumpet,
Lest half of her should rise herself,
And half some local strumpet!

“From restorations of Thy fane,
From smoothings of Thy sward,
From zealous Churchmen’s pick and plane
Deliver us O Lord! Amen!”

 

The Hardy Tree is a London legend but no-one’s quite sure if Hardy himself placed the headstones there. However, it was certainly created at the right time. With the Eurostar coming to St Pancras in 2007, another part of the churchyard was lost and there has been a Hardy Homage.  A graceful swirl or half circle of headstones marks the spot

The homage to the Hardy Tree when Eurostar took a piece of the churchyard away.
©Carole Tyrrell

Part 2: Escape from the Black Hole, the inspiration for a British icon and Frankenstein

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading:

A Walk in the Past – a churchyard tour Of St Pancras Old Church – St Pancras Old church guidebook

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

 http://casterbridge.blogspot.com/2009/05/levelled-churchyard.html

https://www.theflyawayamerican.com/st-pancras-old-church-london/

http://thelondondead.blogspot.com/2014/06/polly-peachum-and-black-hole-of.html

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

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angela_Burdett-Coutts,_1st_Baroness_Burdett-Coutts

https://www.historytoday.com/archive/months-past/angela-burdett-coutts-born-london

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-incredible-chevalier-deon-who-left-france-as-a-male-spy-and-returned-as-a-christian-woman

https://www.them.us/story/chevalier-d-eon-trans-woman

 

 

Wildflowers and wild animals – a spring saunter through West Norwood Cemetery

A lovely display of tulips along path.
©Carole Tyrrell

Nature has decided to burst forth now that the sun’s out and suddenly everything’s out at once.     West Norwood Cemetery basked in a warm glow and its two terracotta mausoleums; the Doulton and the Tate,  seemed to be glowing.  I walked along the path from the entrance towards Ship Path and realised again how beautiful a cemetery can be in spring as new life appears amongst death.

I admired the groups of brightly coloured red and yellow tulips as they gracefully lifted their cups to the sun as in homage and a perennial Spring flower, garlic mustard, clustered around the base of a hedge around a memorial.  I’ve seen plenty of it already this year and wondered if it was an omen of future weather.

A queen wasp flew indecisively above one group of primroses as if unable to choose which one to land on and so evaded my camera. A Queen wasp is one of the 7 signs of Spring as they awake from their winter slumber. Multi-coloured carpets of primroses were everywhere between monuments and memorials and butterflies were on the wing obeying the imperative being to mate.

Orange Tips, Holly Blues and the odd Brimstone, the first butterflies of the year, impressed me with their speed and acrobatics.   One Holly Blue dived under a spreading rug of plants that covered last year’s forgotten or discarded horse chestnuts and dead leaves.    There has been a lot of clearing going on in West Norwood and it was like rediscovering it again as I found memorials and monuments that I had never previously seen as they’d been hidden under ivy, brambles and other vegetation. The clearances have made it much easier to get to the back of Captain Wimble’s exuberant and magnificent tomb to admire the still crisp carving of one the ships on which he sailed. But more about him and his indomitable wife in a later posting.  It is the reason that the grass path that runs past it is named, strangely enough, Ship Path.

Captain Wimble’s magnificent tomb – you’d never guess that he was a nautical man would you? It’s a shame that the stone model of a ship has lost its mast but there are carvings of 3 of the ships in which he sailed around the monument’s sides.
©Carole Tyrrell

In one clearing two drifts of wood anemones stood proud and nearby was a large patch of lesser celandine – another Spring time flower.  I’ve also seen so much of it this year and again is it an omen of a hard winter to come or a hot summer….

Another view of the wood anemones as they looked so impressive against the background of dead leaves.
©Carole Tyrrell

A flash of russet behind a group of headstones caught my attention and I saw an adult fox selecting a good place in a patch of foliage as his mattress in which to have an afternoon kip. After he tucked himself in he then spotted me and got to his paws and limped off with difficulty.  He appeared to have a bad problem with one of his front paws and I felt guilty for having disturbed him.

There is a part of West Norwood Cemetery which backs onto a small row of houses and so the occupants household pets, cats,  come into explore.  There’s often a good selection of them on a sunny afternoon; using the cemetery as an extension of their garden while checking each other out, going on the hunt or as their playground.  After having disturbed the fox, I caught sight of a fluffy back and white cat on his rounds trotting along a grass path.  I tried to keep a discreet distance as he passed Mrs Beeton’s modest memorial and the top of Ship Path.  However, as I galumped along, he began to pick up speed.  He trotted, more quickly now, across the main path in front of the catacombs and then leapt gracefully onto the wall above them. He looked back as if to say ‘Too late!’ and then vanished over it.

Nervous cat by railings – I tried not to come too close.
©Carole Tyrrell

A grey cat near the houses was quite timid and I didn’t want to come too close and frighten him away completely. I took a couple of photos from as close as I dared and moved on.

So many dandelions this year and there was a fine spread of them in between memorials. After all the recent murky weather it was encouraging to see their bright splashes of colour.

Bluebells, at their most effective when in great drifts in woodland, were clinging together in a patch opposite the crematorium.  It was just as if Mother Nature had brought everything into bloom at the same time instead of one after the other.

As I ate my lunch whilst admiring the crimson blossom on a tree nearby I could hear an old lawnmower in the distance.    As I got up and came around to explore another large cleared area I saw a descendant of the Doulton family mowing the grass around the mausoleum.  Terracotta always looks at its best in the sunshine and today it looked almost on fire.

 

A small statue of a praying child was almost being enveloped by lesser celandine and there’s been plenty of it everywhere I went this year,

Child angel statue surrounded by copious lesser celandine – it’s been everywhere this Spring – a hard winter or a good summer? We shall see.
©Carole Tyrrell

I descended from the columbarium admiring the speed of butterflies as they whizzed around tantalizingly out of reach of my camera.  It was then that I encountered the fox again. He lay draped over a grave like a fur stole and raised his head as I passed.

The fox again! Still trying to have an afternoon nap.
©Carole Tyrrell

A cuckoo flower was half hidden in the long grass near another glorious display of brilliantly coloured tulips.

As I walked I thought how lucky I was in to be in this oasis with the busy world kept at bay outside its magnificent Gothic gates.    I passed the Stonehenge inspired monument to John Britton which still looks as if it’s just landed from the opening scenes of 2001 and then to one of my favourite memorials in West Norwood or maybe any cemetery.

It’s a real gem and is the unashamedly Art Nouveau headstone dedicated to Amelia McKeown.  Its modest size and poignant dedication have always impressed me and the primroses beneath it emphasised its deep blue colouring.  This had been a chance discovery a few years ago when the main entrance had been closed for building works and visitors had had to enter via a side gate. Sometimes the road less travelled can bring the unexpected to your notice.

As I left the cemetery, feeling that I’d had almost a Spring walk in the countryside with some attractive monuments, I noticed the Unknown Mourner still grieving in a rose garden.  The elderly lawnmower and the sparse cars of visitors were behind me and I was back out onto the slow moving traffic of Knights Hill and Norwood High Street again. I nearly turned round and went back in again…….

 

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

Remembrance of Open Days past – Kensal Green

Candy skeleton on plastic coffin. An Open Day purchase from the 1990’s.
©Carole Tyrrell

Once Spring has sprung it brings with it the start of the Cemetery Open Day season. What better way to spend  your time on a sunny day than out in a cemetery?

In London, with the Magnificent 7, it kicks off with Nunhead’s cross between a village fete and a knees-up followed by Brompton, Kensal Green and Tower Hamlets.

However, the Open Days are not, as you might be thinking, an opportunity for cemetery volunteers  to measure you up for an eternal des res . But, instead, they’re a good opportunity to wander round and explore.  Now you have an excuse to visit that cemetery that you’ve always been meaning to go and have a look round but were worried that you weren’t quite Goth enough.. , There will be undoubtedly be a nice cuppa on offer, the opportunity to go on a tour or just admire the scenery.  Each cemetery has its own unique atmosphere and little gems to discover .

Sadly neither  Brompton or Kensal Green are holding Open Days in 2017 (boo!) but it’s not only the Magnificent 7 that have them.  In 2013 I attended the Friends of Streatham Cemetery’s Open day. Unfortunately for them it rained all day.  But there was a newly reopened derelict chapel to explore, interesting angels to see and some excellent refreshments.   In the 1990’s Brookwood Cemetery near Woking held an Open Day at which Highgate sold chocolate covered marzipan coffins shaped biscuits on their stall – well worth the trip alone.

So why not support your local cemetery and go and have a look round when you see the Open Day posters on display. .  You never know, you might find a long lost relative in the undergrowth   or a lovely piece of cake in the refreshments section.

This is a slightly revised article I wrote for the Friends of Kensal Green’s magazine, Th e Telemon, on my fond memories of previous Kensal Green Open Days.

‘Only 50p.’ said the earnest young Goth at the entrance gate as he offered me a small red plastic coffin. Inside was a pastel coloured candy skeleton in pieces.  How could I resist such a bargain?

The candy skeleton from an early Kensal Green Open Day.
©Carole Tyrrell

This souvenir was offered at one of the first Kensal Green Open Days that I attended in the mid 1990’s. I was a little overawed by the cemetery at first as I walked along the main avenue, past the Casement Turks, the four angels and the Princess Sophia’s bathtub – sorry I mean sarcophagus.  Kensal Green felt like a huge film set as the avenue swept up to the dramatic Anglican chapel and colonnades.  In the courtyard behind the chapel was a flock of glamorous Goths roosting like exotic birds of paradise. In contrast, there were waiters bustling about serving strawberries.  I felt that they set the tone but, alas, although the Goths are still visible, the waiters are not.

However, each Open Day has had its own highlights and special memories; a man in period costume enthusiastically riding a penny farthing bicycle around the chapel, Goths peering out from colonnade columns or posing over in the terraces and atmospheric tours of the catacombs, now sadly closed for restoration.  The ebony clad throng may have decreased over the years and Medusa, as Aspasia Broome’s heavenward gazing figure was known, has lost her crown of dead tree branches but the Open Day is a permanent fixture in the London cemetery calendar.

A visitor from the 2012 Kensal Green Open Day.
©Carole Tyrrell

One of the most memorable was in 2013 when  I encountered this exotic creature in the doorway of  an Egyptian influenced mausoleum as I made my way up the main avenue.  I assumed that he was  wearing a mask but I never saw him take it off so who knows….There was also a wonderful display of vintage cars that year which drove around the cemetery in a stately parade.  An old-fashioned  pick-up truck announced itself as ‘The Final Cruise’ and carried a black coffin in the back.   Several appeared to date from the ‘60’s and came from the USA.  Others had been decorated with skulls and signs.  It was an impressive sight to see so many in one place.

 

 

In fact,  the cemetery has been used for filming. My younger sister used to live in the Harrow Road opposite the cemetery and often saw film crews inside in the early morning mists.  So it was a real treat when, in 2014, Peter Fuller led the Theatre of Blood tour.  I couldn’t miss this one as it’s one of my favourite films.  A much loved 1970’s camp horror and film classic with its tongue firmly in its cheek, it told the story of the Shakespearean actor Edward Lionheart who apparently commits suicide after receiving bad reviews.  If every actor di that we wouldn’t have many left. The much missed Vincent Price played  Edward with his customary joie de vivre, sinister air and obvious enjoyment.

 

But he’s isn’t really dead and exacts an inventive and gruesome revenge on his critics with his devoted daughter, Edwina, played by Diana Rigg.  The deaths all have a Shakespearean theme and several key scenes were actually filmed in the cemetery. Peter led us round some of them.  We were a motley crew of Goths, film fans and Theatre of Blood devotees as we sat on the chapel steps and read the Shakespearean quotes used in the film.   We looked down along the main avenue where one of the critics had been dragged by a horse, the colonnades where Carol Browne and Ian Hendry, two of the film’s stars, had chatted and the Sievier monument where Diana Rigg had mourned her father.  Peter related several anecdotes about the film and revealed that it was on this film that Coral and Vincent’s love affair began which eventually led to the breakup of his marriage.  They married after his divorce and then entered their ‘kaftan period’. This sounded too horrible for words and I had to go and have a restorative cup of tea.

 

On one Open Day I was leaving after a lovely day exploring and discovering the shrouded angel on the Gardner memorial only to find that the Ladbroke Grove entrance was locked and closed.  I immediately turned around and headed for the West entrance which I hoped was still open.    As I hurtled along, a middle aged Goth couple were also heading in the same direction.  The male Goth said enthusiastically to his partner   ‘If we’re locked in do you fancy sleeping in a mausoleum?’  She replied emphatically, ‘No.’ and quickened her pace.  I felt a little disappointed as they had plenty of choice and a mausoleum motel did sound appealing.

 

Sadly there isn’t an Open Day in 2017 but I still have my little plastic coffin as a memento.  Whenever I look at it I remember young girls in Victorian costume, the gleam of a chrome skull on a radiator grille and the best 50p I’ve ever spent.

© Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

840 words

 

Eternally at rest amongst the sprouts and cabbages – a horse’s  tomb, Kelsey Park allotments

 

Patch’s plinth February 2017.
©Carole Tyrrell

My local allotments are very popular and there’s always half a dozen people working away and getting their hands dirty.  They’re watched closely by birds  looking for worms in the dug over soil before swooping down for their meal.   In summer the allotments burst forth with vegetables:  lines of runner beans, rows of cabbages , lettuces  and flowers and the occasional fox can be seen strolling through at dusk.

But, if you walk up the slope towards the chain link fence that divides the allotments   from the park, you’ll come to a large stone plinth at the top.  It nestles amongst the trees that have grown up around it.  On one end there is a sculpted swag containing roses for remembrance so it once had a farh more illustrious past.   I first saw the plinth from the other side of the fence while on the Kelsey park Woodland Trail looking for fungi to photograph.  I wondered what it was.   It was far too grand to be an allotment user’s display or flower pot stand. Maybe a small statue had been on top and had since disappeared as the empty pedestal was now in no man’s land. The plinth  has also puzzled and intrigued the casual passer-by, dog walker and jogger as they go past.  The local legend was that it marked the burial site of a horse which belonged to ‘one of the Burrell girls.’

But it wasn’t until I started researching this article that I managed to source a contemporary engraving of the plinth dating from the 1790’s which was entitled ‘Patch’s tomb’ that I had any evidence for the story. At last I had a name for the incumbent.  It looks very grand in the picture with an elegant urn on top which is being admired by a fashionably dressed gentleman with an equally well dressed couple nearby. The perspective looks a little strange as the tomb looks larger than the onlookers. This was a serious monument both in cost and the determination to remember Patch.  The location, on a small slope, was no idle choice and can be seen from the lakeside path 150 yards away below if you know where to look.  Trees and vegetation have grown up on the small hill obscuring the tomb so it’s much easier to see during the winter die-off.

PHLS_900 Patch’s Tomb Kelsey Park Beckenham 1790
©Bromley Historic Collections

The Burrells were a prominent, land-owning family in Beckenham during the 16th -19th centuries and some of their descendants are still in the area.   They have left a fine collection of monuments in the local church, St George’s.

 

The Burrells were also connected with Kelsey Park in Beckenham in that the site once formed part of Peter Burrell III’s 600 acre estate and it was a Burrell who built the first manor house there.  Confusingly, there were four Peter Burrells and, after exploring their various family lineage, I decided that one of Peter Burrell III’s four daughters was probably the most likely owner of Patch.  He also had a son who, strangely enough, became Peter Burrell IV but more of him later.  The third Peter Burrell (27/08/1724 – 06/11/1775) was a politician and barrister and in 1748 he married Elizabeth Lewis, daughter of John Lewis of Hackney.   There seem to be no pictures of him in existence and, instead,  photos of Paul Burrell, Princess Diana’s ex-butler popped up!

Peter Burrell III was called to the bar in 1749, became MP for Launceston in Cornwall 1759-1768 and then MP for Totnes in Devon from 1774 – 1752.  In 1769 Burrell was then appointed the Surveyor General of the Land Revenues  of the Crown.  So he was an ambitious man with considerable connections and wealth.  He was also involved with other prominent local land-owning families in Beckenham such as the Cators after whom  Cator Park is named.  Burrell’s estate in Beckenham is now buried under roads and desirable detached houses with large gardens. But there is a local road called Burrell Row after the family. Peter Burrell  I purchased the first Kelsey Park House and estate in 1690.  It was extended several times as can be seen in the 1790 watercolour and then became incorporated into the far grander, rambling Victorian Scottish baronial style mansion which replaced it.  The original house was a square, modest house which had several later additions.

The first Kelsey Park Manor House in the Georgian style. A square shape so easy to incorporate into the grander mansion that replaced it. This watercolour dates from 1790 and is the believed to be the earliest known picture of the Manor House which had been extended over the centuries. Friends of Kelsey Park newsletter Summer 2008

The four daughters were:

Elizabeth Amelia (1749-1837)      –            married a gentleman from Cambridgeshire.  Richard Henry Alexander Bennett

Isabella Susanna (1750 – 1812)    –             married Algernon Percy, Ist Earl of Beverley, ancestor to the Dukes of Northumberland

Frances Juliana (1752 – 1820)       –           In 1779 she married Hugh Percy, 2nd Duke of   Northumberland

Elizabeth Anne (1757 – 1837)        –              She married  twice – firstly to Douglas Hamilton, 8th Duke of  Hamilton and then secondly, to Henry Cecil, 1st Marquess of Exeter.

Marriages at that time were rarely for love but mainly for the joining of great houses, the exchange of land and also heirs. Frances had eleven children and Isabella had seven who all went onto more illustrious marriages and careers.

The Burrell girls seem to have been the ‘It’ girls of their day with their brilliant marriages into the aristocracy.  Peter Burrell IV, the son, achieved even more dizzying heights as he became the Lord Chamberlain of England and the 1st Baron Gwydir of Gwydir Castle.

Peter Burrell IV’s memorial tablet, St George’s Beckenham. Very plain in comparison to the other Peter Burrells recorded here.
©Carole Tyrrell

But it’s the eldest one, Elizabeth Amelia, who may have been Patch’s owner. Peter Burrell III built a house for her on his Kelsey estate where she lived with her husband, Richard Bennett.   He was the MP for Newport from 1770-1774 but didn’t seem to have the same illustrious career as his father-in-law and the notes on his political career are brief.   Elizabeth would have seen Patch’s last resting place from the house every day of her life as a reminder.   I haven’t been able to find a picture of Elizabeth as it would have been interesting to see what she looked like.   There’s no clue on the contemporary engraving as to the architect of the tomb and I wondered if Burrell paid for it or did Elizabeth?

So was Patch a young girl’s pet or a teenager’s source of freedom? We’ll never know and I was unable to source any pictures of Patch. It may seem strange to us to lavish such attention and money on a horse’s memorial.  But in those days a horse almost certainly gave its owner a certain amount of freedom and independence.  An earlier form of horsepower and being a good horsewoman at the time was a major attribute.

I like to think that, maybe when Kelsey Park’s closed and the lights have all gone out in the surrounding houses and apartment blocks, a spectral galloping can be heard.  A passing badger or fox may prick up their ears at the sound as a young girl shouts ‘Hi, ho Patch and awaaay!’

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

http://www.beckenhamhistory.co.uk/locations/kelseyestate

http://boroughphotos.org/bromley/category/date/1700s/page/4/

http://www.nwkfhs.org.uk/nwkfhs-01-01.pdf

http://www.beckenhamhistory.co.uk/locations/kelseyestate

http://www.london24.com/beckenham_s_kelsey_park_prepares_to_mark_100_years_of_opening_to_the_public_1_2214063

http://www.london-footprints.co.uk/artbeckestates.htm

https://laurengilbertheyerwood.wordpress.com/2013/01/01/the-infamous-mrs-drummond-burrell/

Peter Burrell IIIhttp://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1754-1790/member/burrell-peter-iii-1754-1820

Peter Burrell II http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1754-1790/member/burrell-peter-ii-1723-75

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

http://www.beckenhamplaceparkfriends.org.uk/history.html

Isabella Burrell: https://www.geni.com/people/Susannah-Countess-of-Beverley/6000000006444764952

Elizabeth image https://www.wikitree.com/photo/jpg/Burrell-883

Elizabeth info https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Burrell-1174

Richard Bennett info; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Henry_Alexander_Bennet_(senior)

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-kent/vol1/pp527-550