An uninteresting artist in a Hertfordshire church

SAWBRIDGEWORTH IS AN ATTRACTIVE small town with many picturesque old buildings and a parish church, St Mary’s, whose construction began in the 13th century. It is an unusual edifice, being about as wide as its length, rather than longer than its width as is the case for most English churches. It contains a fine selection of elaborate funerary sculptures.

The most impressive funerary monument is the memorial to John Leventhorpe and his wife Joan, who died in 1625 and 1627 respectively. Within a multi-coloured marble frame, both of the deceased are depicted reclining on their left sides with their heads propped up by their left hands. John holds a sword in his right hand and Joan a small book in hers, Beneath the two statues, the couple’s six sons (one of whom, Arthur, died as a baby) and eight daughters are depicted in bas-relief, all kneeling in prayer. Baby Arthur is also present on the memorial but has been sculpted much smaller than his brothers. The whole sculptural ensemble is magnificent, and if you had time to see only one thing in Sawbridgeworth, this should not be missed.

High on the wall facing the Leventhorpe memorial, there is a smaller one, commemorating Jeremiah Milles (died 1797) and his wife Rose, who died in 1835. It is typical of early 19th century memorial art. It shows a female mourner in Hellenic dress kneeling in front of a sarcophagus. It was sculpted by John Termouth (1795-1849) of Pimlico (London).

The sculptor of the Leventhorpe memorial has been forgotten, but Termouth, who sculpted the Milles memorial, has not been consigned to obscurity. A notice in St Mary’s revealed that Termouth was:

“… an uninteresting artist whose symbolism was always obvious, hackneyed, and uninspired.”

Missing on a flight over the Atlantic

ST COULOMB MAJOR is a small town in north central Cornwall. It has a beautiful gothic parish church, St Columba, which dates to the 13th to 15th centuries. Inside, on the north wall of the church, there is a memorial plaque that caught my eye and roused my curiosity. It lists 18 people, members of the Royal Air Force (‘RAF’) along with their ranks. The plaque was place in memory of:

“Members of two crews of No. 42 Squadron Royal Air Force missing on a flight over the Atlantic. January 11th 1955.”

I was both horrified and intrigued by this.

Both ‘planes that were lost were Shackletons. At 10.14 am, Shackleton WG531 took off from RAF St Eval to commence a routine 15-hour patrol over a part of the Atlantic. At 10.20, Shackleton WL743 took off from the same airfield to join WG 531 on patrol in the same area. At 20.00, the two planes were 85 miles apart. At 20.58, a ground-based radio operator tried to make contact with WL 743, but was unable to do so. This was not cause for alarm because contact was often difficult when planes were at normal operating altitude.

After both aircraft failed to return at the expected time, a search and rescue operation was launched. An extensive search failed to discover either of the aircraft or any bodies of the crew members. In July 1966, one of the engines of WL 743 was caught up in a trawler’s net. Despite a thorough board of inquiry, no plausible explanation of the planes’ disappearances was provided.

St Coulomb Major is 4 miles southeast of RAF St Eval (as the crow flies). There is a church, St Mawgan, between these two places, but that in St Columb Major is larger. Maybe, that is why the memorial to the airmen is where it is. Apart from the RAF plaque, the church contains many other items of interest including its font (c. 1300), which has several faces carved on it.

A slave owner in central London

THE TALL GREY GRANITE drinking fountain that stands on the southeast corner of London’s Lincoln’s Inn Fields is no longer in use. The inscription carved on its base reads:

“In memory of Philip Twells. Barrister at law of Lincolns Inn and sometime Member of Parliament for the City of London. 8 May A.D. 1880”

Born the son of a banker John Twells (1776-1866), Philip (1808-1880) attended Oxford University and then was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1834. His father was a partner in the private bank of Spooner Attwood & Co. In 1863, that bank was taken over by Barclay, Bevan & Tritton & Co, a precursor of the modern Barclays Bank. It was then that Philip became a partner in the enlarged banking concern. He was MP for the City of London from 1874 to 1880.

A website (www.layersoflondon.org/map/records/philip-twells-mp-banker-and-slave-owner-of-stoke-newington-church-street) recorded that Philip Twells owned 252 slaves in Jamaica, and added:

“The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 had made the ownership of slaves illegal within the British Empire although servitude was replaced by ‘apprenticeship’ for at least five years. The 1837 Slave Compensation Act provided compensation to owners for the loss of their business assets.”

Another website (http://wwwdepts-live.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/46210) noted that Philip Twells was:

“Awarded part of the compensation for the Islington estate in St Mary Jamaica with his brother Rev. John Twells …”

The slave-owner compensation awarded to Philip was £4207, which is worth well in excess of £300,000 in today’s money. On his death, Pholip left a substantial fortune to his wife.

The fountain commemorating Twells in Lincoln’s Inn Fields was a gift of his widow, and was erected in 1882. Sadly, this memorial to a former owner of slaves can no longer refresh the passer-by. However, during weekdays, food and drinks can be obtained at a café in the middle of Lincolns Inn Fields. And while you are in the area, do not miss seeing the magnificent Sir John Soane’s Museum on the north side of the Fields.

From Piccadilly to New Delhi

APPLE TREE YARD is a cul-de-sac near London’s Piccadilly. It runs east from Duke of York Street and parallel to Jermyn Street. On its south corner where the Yard meets Duke of York Street, there is an interesting monument consisting of three slightly separated carved basalt slabs with letters inscribed in them. The letters make up the following words, all in capital letters:

“SIR EDWIN LUTYENS ARCHITECT

DESIGNER OF NEW DELHI

LAID OUT HIS PLANS HERE IN APPLE TREE YARD”

Although I have never been to Delhi, I am familiar with the work of Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944). I was brought up in north London’s Hampstead Garden Suburb not far from its Central Square, which is surrounded by buildings that Lutyens designed before embarking on his projects in New Delhi. Although the above-mentioned basalt blocks were completed in 2015, I had not been past Apple Tree Yard  until yesterday (13th September 2022). Next to the inscribed blocks there is an attractive figurative bas-relief carving, also in basalt, mounted on a wall.

The carvings were made by Stephen Cox and he describes them in detail on a web page (www.lutyenstrust.org.uk/portfolio-item/apple-tree-yard-sculpture-honours-spirit-lutyens/). Here is a brief summary of what he wrote. The bas-relief sculpture is called “Relief; Figure emerging”. It was inspired by sculptures in Hindu cave temples, especially those around a town near Chennai (Madras): Mahabalipuram. The basalt that can be seen in Apple Tree Yard was quarried near the south Indian temple town of Kanchipuram. Cox, who has a studio in Mahabalipuram, was assisted by local carvers, when he created the bas-relief.  In summary, the monumental slabs and the nearby sculpture have their roots in India, which is highly appropriate as they commemorate an architect, who worked in India.

I must admit that amongst all the foreign architects, who have made significant buildings in India, Lutyens is not my favourite. Those, whose works I have seen in India and liked, include William Emerson (1843-1924), Frederick W Stevens (1847-1900), Le Corbusier (1887-1965), and Louis Kahn (1901-1974).

Lutyens, who was a former Viceroy of India’s son-in-law, drew up the plans for New Delhi in an office at number 7 Apple Tree Yard. Hence, the location of the monumental stones. Number 7 was for a long time the home of the Royal Fine Art Commission, but it exists no longer. It is now covered by a new building. However, his work in both India and the Hampstead Garden Suburb can still be admired by those who like Lutyens’s work. I feel that Cox’s memorial to him is much more elegant than much that I have seen of his buildings.

A Boer War warrior in Warrington

PALMYRA SQUARE IS a delightful rectangular piazza in the heart of Warrington in Cheshire. I use the word ‘piazza’ because the English word ‘square’ includes many squares which are anything but square. The centre of this open space is filled with the pleasant Queen’s Gardens, the Queen in the name being Victoria. It was near the end of her reign that the 2nd Anglo-Boer War (‘Boer War’; 1899-1902), a bloody conflict between the British Empire and the Dutch speaking colonists in what is now South Africa, occurred. In the middle of the eastern half of Palmyra Square there is the statue of a man in a helmet carrying a rifle in his left hand. His right arm points forward, as does his right index finger. The other fingers of his right hand clutch a pair of binoculars. He is wearing knee high boots, standing on a sculpture of a rock, and dressed in an old-fashioned military uniform. As soon as I saw this statue, I guessed (from the style of the uniform) it was connected the Boer War, and when I looked at the plinth upon which the military figure is perched, I discovered that I was right.

The monument was unveiled by General Sir Redvers Henry Buller (1839-1908), in the year before his death. Buller commanded British forces in South Africa during the Boer War. The man depicted on the plinth is Lieutenant Colonel MacCarthy O’Leary (1849-1900). He was killed on the 27th of February 1900 whilst leading men of his regiment (The South Lancashire) during the Battle of Pieters Hill. Richard Danes in his “Cassell’s History of the Boer War” (published 1901) pointed out that the 27th of February was Majuba Day, which was when the British were soundly beaten by the Boers at the Battle of Majuba Hill in 1881. The battle at Pieters Hill, which led to a British victory, facilitated the opening of the road to Ladysmith, which was being besieged by the Boer forces. An informative website (www.alamy.com/stock-photo-statue-of-lt-col-william-mccarthy-oleary-in-queens-gardens-warrington-54385554.html) revealed:

“The Regiment drew many of its recruits from the then-South Lancashire town of Warrington, where Colonel O’Leary was very well known. When the town erected a memorial to the men of the Regiment who died during the war, it chose to feature a sculpture of Colonel O’Leary on campaign in South Africa.”

The statue was sculpted by Edward Alfred Briscoe Drury (1856-1944). Amongst his many other creations is the South Africa Gate on The Mall in London.

The plinth upon which O’Leary stands forever motionless bears a large plaque on which the many members of the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the South Lancashire Regiment, who died during the Boer War, are recorded. These include a few officers and too many men of lower rank. Another plaque records the campaigns in which the regiment was involved. Apart from Pieters Hill, these were: Spion Kop, Vaal  Krantz, Colenso Kopjes, Tugela Heights,  Relief of Ladysmith, Botha’s Pass, Laings Nek; and the occupations of Wakkerstroom, Utrecht, and Vryheid. In other words, they took part in most of the important struggles during the Boer War.

The monument stands in a peaceful square in a small town, once in Lancashire but now in Cheshire, just about 400 yards from the River Mersey. As I stood looking at it during an unusual heatwave when the air temperature was between 35 and 37 degrees Celsius, I wondered how the brave men recorded on the plinth, who would have been encumbered with military equipment and inappropriate uniforms, managed to keep on going during the hot weather that they would have encountered whilst struggling against the Boers in the south of Africa.

Alice through the stained glass windows

CHARLES LUTWIDGE DODGSON (1832-1898), better known as Lewis Carroll, author of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, was born in the village of Daresbury in Cheshire. During his first few years of life, Charles’s father was the curate of the local church of All Saints.

When he was 11, the Dodgson family moved away from Daresbury. Eventually, Charles entered Christ Church College in Oxford. It was here that he met the young child Alice Liddell, daughter of the Dean of Christ Church. It was this young child who inspired Dodgson to create and later publish his famous story. Unlike many other Victorian tales for children it was free from moral instructions.

Dodgson/Carroll died in Guildford, where he was buried. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth, money was raised to create a window in the church in Daresbury to commemorate him. Known as the Lewis Carroll Window, it allows light into a Chapel in the southeast corner of the church. Designed by Geoffrey Webb, it was dedicated in mid 1935.

The stained window incorporates depictions of both Carroll and Alice Liddell, as well as some of the creatures drawn originally by John Tenniel, who illustrated the book about Alice.

A modern addition to the church was built onto its North side. This contains a Lewis Carroll exhibition. One of the exhibits is an old Bell. This used to be attached to a barge that served the religious needs of the people who lived and worked on the canals near Daresbury. This floating chapel was the creation of Lewis Carroll’s father.

We visited Daresbury on a July day when the air temperature was 37 degrees Celsius. Fortunately, it was cooler inside the church. I am grateful to Christine Casson for encouraging us to visit the church with the Wonderland window.

The oyster merchant’s clock tower

BURNHAM-ON-CROUCH in Essex is a picturesque port on the River Crouch. Currently, it is a leisure resort and a centre for ship maintenance and boating. It was once famed for what grew in great numbers on the muddy bed under the water of the Crouch: oysters. For several centuries before the river became polluted in the 19th century, the oyster beds in the Crouch (and a few other places in Essex) were very profitable, providing much employment.  

“On the shores of England the principal nurseries of oysters, not only for the English markets, but also for the foreign, are those on the coast of Essex and the estuaries adjoining: those taken there are called ‘ Natives/ Mr. Sweeting claims the name as peculiarly applicable to his fishery, as within his memory no strange oysters have ever been introduced…”

Men were required both to dredge the oyster beds and process the molluscs as well as to protect the precious creatures from thieves based in other places on the Essex coast.

Today (11th of July 2022), we visited the small but excellent museum in Burnham-on-Crouch. On the ground floor, we saw a retired mechanised oyster grading machine (made in France and capable of sorting 7000 oysters per hour) amongst the exhibits. On the upper floor of the museum, which is housed in a former boat repair building, we met the museum’s treasurer, who is a mine of interesting local history. He told us several things about Burnham’s oyster heydays. I hope that what I am about to tell you is a reasonably accurate summary of what he told us. If it is not totally accurate, I hope that he and you, dear reader, will forgive me.

For 10 years, I used to live in north Kent and often visited Whitstable to enjoy eating oysters for which this Kentish seaport is famous. The treasurer in Burnham told us that many of what are described as ‘Whitstable oysters’ were born in the mud beneath the river in Burnham-on-Crouch. From what I can recall, the young oysters, which grow in the mud beneath the Crouch, are dredged and then placed on boards to which they attach themselves. Keeping them submerged in seawater, the boards to which the young oysters are attached, were transported to Whitstable where they matured in its waters. The Burnham oysters were ‘native’, meaning that they began their lives there; they were not imported, as Thomas Campbell Eyton described in “A history of the oyster and the oyster fisheries” (published in 1858):

“On the shores of England the principal nurseries of oysters, not only for the English markets, but also for the foreign, are those on the coast of Essex and the estuaries adjoining: those taken there are called ‘Natives’. Mr. Sweeting claims the name as peculiarly applicable to his fishery, as within his memory no strange oysters have ever been introduced.”

One of the exhibits in the museum is a large model of the octagonal Victorian clock tower that dominates Burnham-on-Crouch’s High Street. The tower stands next to the building that used to house the former St Mary’s School. It was erected in 1877 to honour the local philanthropist Laban Sweeting (1793-1876). So, what, you might ask, and what has he got to with what I have been writing about?

Laban Sweeting, mentioned in the quoted from Eyton’s book, was a philanthropist; a member of The Burnham River Company; and he was one of the town’s oyster merchants. The museum has amongst its exhibits a small barrow, which used to be wheeled around Burnham by a member of the Sweeting family. It would have carried baskets of oysters ready for sale to the town’s populace.

We had visited Burnham once before, and although I was impressed by the clock tower, I knew nothing of its history. Neither did I know about the town’s association with oysters, which were poor people’s food in the 19th century, when chicken was a luxury. How times have changed.

Dusty no more: a town on the Thames

HENLEY-ON-THAMES is located at the Oxford end of a bridge across the River Thames, which separates the county of Oxfordshire from its neighbour Berkshire. Located on the old main road between London and Oxford, it retains much ‘olde-worlde’ charm. Its streets are lined with many buildings that were constructed in the 18th century and before. Some of these used to be coaching inns but are no longer. However, some of the hostelries that served wayfarers in times long ago are still serving thirsty and hungry customers today, for example: The Red Lion, where William III might have visited, now an upmarket restaurant; and The Catherine Wheel, now a branch of the Wetherspoons company. On a recent visit in April 2022, we enjoyed superb coffee at Pavilion on The Market Place, close to the Town Hall.

Beer lovers will not need reminding that Henley is the home of Brakspear & Sons, the brewery company. Founded in Henley in 1722, beer was brewed in the town since then, although some of the comapany’s products are now brewed elsewhere. Many of the brewery’s older buildings, now converted for new purposes, can be seen alongside New Street. The company’s offices are now located on Bull Courtyard off Bell Street.

The stone bridge across the river was built in 1788. It is the finishing place of the annual Henley Royal Regatta held in summer, ever since its inception in 1839. Near the bridge, stands Henley’s parish church of St Mary the Virgin, which has a 16th century tower. The exterior walls of the southeast corner of the church is an eye-catching chequerboard of alternating masonry and flint squares. The church’s interior has been much modified by the Victorians. The churchyard north of the church is surrounded mainly by almshouses. Immediately next to the north side of the church stands a two-storied, half-timbered building, the Chantry House, some of whose beams come from trees felled in 1461 (according to scientific dating methods). Between 1552 and 1778, this edifice housed a school. Since 1923, it has housed the Parish Rooms.

The churchyard is filled with many gravestones. One of them immediately attracts the visitor as it is surrounded by generous amounts of fresh flowers. It is a memorial to the singer Dusty Springfield (1939-1999), who died in Henley. In the 1990s, Dusty lived by the Thames at Hurley near Henley. While in the area, she suffered from several bouts of breast cancer, the cause of her demise. Her funeral at St Mary’s in Henley was attended by many of her fans and leading lights in the British popular music scene including Elvis Costello, Lulu and the Pet Shop Boys. According to her wishes, Dusty was cremated, and some of her ashes were scattered in Henley and the rest in Ireland.

Dusty was not the only music celebrity to have lived in Henley. A man we met outside his house in the town reminded us that the Beatle George Harrison (1943-2001) had also lived in the town. He also mentioned that Henley’s former MP, the present Prime Minister Boris Johnson, had attended meetings in his home, and that he could tell us a thing or two … but he did not!

Remembered with yellow flowers

THE NORTH FLOWER Walk in Kensington Gardens runs east from the Italian Gardens. It is both close to, and parallel to, Bayswater Road. About 280 yards west of the Italian Gardens, there is a small, low rectangular memorial stone in a flower bed next to the North Flower Walk. In springtime, a large bush behind it bursts into yellow flowers. It is a forsythia plant.

The North Flower Walk used to be a part of what was once the ‘berceau’ or ‘walk of shade’. According to a document published on the Royal Parks website, this was:

“… a delicious and appealing place to stroll for the monarch on the way to … the site of the Bayswater ‘Breakfasting House’…”

Today, the Walk is filled with walkers, their children, their dogs, joggers, and the occasional cyclists.

The memorial stone celebrates the botanist and horticulturalist William Forsyth (1737-1804). A founding member of The Royal Horticultural Society (founded 1804), he was also the Curator of The Chelsea Physic Garden (from 1771) and Superintendent of various royal gardens including those of Kensington Palace (from 1784). The plant genus Forsythia, a member of the olive family (Oleaceae), was named in his honour.

A poet in Hampstead and Rome

THE SHORT-LIVED POET, John Keats (1795-1821) resided briefly in Hampstead in what is now called Keats House. In my new book, “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs” *, Keats:

“… took a great liking to Hampstead and settled there in 1817. He lived in Wentworth House, which was later renamed ‘Keats House’. The house in Keats Grove was built in about 1815 and divided in two separate dwellings. One half was occupied by Charles Armitage Brown (1787-1842), a poet and friend of Leigh Hunt and the other half by Charles Wentworth Dilke (1789–1864), a literary associate of Hunt and a visitor to his home in the Vale of Health. Keats became Brown’s lodger. This was after Keats had visited his neighbour Dilke, with whom he became acquainted following an introduction by the poet and playwright John Hamilton Reynolds (1784-1852), who was part of Leigh Hunt’s circle of friends.”

Keats remained in Hampstead until 1820, when, ailing, he left for Italy to try to improve his health. Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), who lived in Hampstead’s Vale of Health, noted in his autobiography that Keats died in Rome and was buried in the English Protestant cemetery near the monument to Gaius Cestius. Amongst his graveside mourners was the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), who also had spent time in Hampstead.

Had Keats not travelled to Italy, he would have probably died in Hampstead. If that had been the case, it would have been likely that he would have been buried in the graveyard of St John’s, Hampstead’s parish church on Church Row, where the artist John Constable rests in peace.

Bust of Keats in St Johns, Hampstead

Within the church there is a memorial to Keats, a bust, dated 1894, within 100 years of the poet’s birth. A gift from admirers of Keats in the USA, it was the first memorial to Keats in England. The story of the bust is related on the church’s website (https://hampsteadparishchurch.org.uk/data/keats_bust.php) as follows:

“Anne Whitney, a Boston sculptor (1821-1915) carved her original bust of Keats in 1873. The marble bust was inscribed Keats and not signed. It was exhibited the same year at Doll and Richards, Boston. It was owned by the artist until 1915 when it was bequeathed to Fred Holland Day. Day exhibited it at Boston Public Library in the loan exhibition of his Keats memorabilia in 1921 to mark the centenary of the poet’s death. The Keats bust was given by Fred Holland Day to Keats House and Museum shortly before he died, and its arrival was acknowledged by Fred Edgcumbe the curator of Keats House and Museum on 2 November 1933, the day of Day’s death. The marble replica of the bust inscribed KEATS AW (monogram) 1883 was carved by Anne Whitney in 1883. It was exhibited by F. Eastman Chase, Boston, and presented by Americans, as the first memorial to Keats on English soil, to Hampstead Parish Church on 16 July 1894. The bust remained in position until March 1992 when it was stolen. It was seen by Judith Bingham, the composer, when it was about to be auctioned at Finchley in May 1992. It failed to reach its reserve, Judith Bingham recognised its identity and it was returned to the Parish Church.”

The Keats bust is near the Lady Chapel, in which I saw a remarkable painting by Donald Chisholm Towner (1903-1985), who lived in Hampstead, in Church Row from 1937 until his death. The church’s guidebook revealed:

“The Altar Piece in the chapel was painted by Donald Towner of Church Row, in memory of his mother. True to the medieval tradition Towner used a local resident as the model for Mary, his nephew for John and his own mirror image for Christ.”

What is remarkable is that the three figures are depicted standing in Church Row. St John’s church can be seen in the background.

Apart from the bust and the painting, the church is well worth visiting to see its lovely architecture and to enjoy its peaceful atmosphere.

*My book is available from Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92