Rarely one comes upon a monument that gives details of an incident in the life of someone. Just such a rare monument can be found on the western face of the tower at Keysoe in Bedfordshire. This relates the curious tale of William Dickins, a stone mason, who fell from the tower and not only survived but went on to live another 41 years. The inscription is as follows:
In Memory of the Mighty hand of the Great God and Our Savour Jesus Christ, Who Presurved the Life of Wilm. Dickins Aprl 17th 1718 when he was Pointing the Steepol and Fell From the Rige of the Middel Window in the Spiar Over the South West Pinackel he Dropt Upon the Batelment and their Broack his Leg and foot and Drove Down 2 Long Copein Stone and so fell to the Ground with his Neck Upon one Standard of his Chear When the Other End took the Ground Which was the Nearest of Killing him Yet when he See he was Faling Crid Out to his Brother Lord Daniel Wots the Matter Lord Have Mercy Upon me Christ Have Mercy Upon me Lord Jesus Christ Help me But Now Almoust to the Ground Died Nov. 29th, 1759. Aged 73 Years.
It appears there was more to this story than the tablet records. Notes and Queries 1884 6th S. x. 244, pp174-5, prints a letter from W. J. Webber Jones who provides additional information. Apparently the incident was recorded in a book (c.1820) which, unfortunately, Webber Jones could not remember the title of although he had copied the entry down. In his letter he writes the following:
“… The height from which this person fell was 132ft. His leg and foot were exceedingly fractured, but his damage in other aspects was so trifling that he not only lived forty years afterwards, but within seven months from the time of his fall he was capable of ascending the steeple a second time, and he then finished pointing the spire. The chair in which he sat was suspended by a strong rope of four strands, yet it parted evidently through the rocking of the spire occasioned by the striking of the church clock at 8am. Upon examining the rope it appeared that three of the strands out of the four which composed it had been purposely cut through with a knife, supposedly by one who was annoyed at Dickins being ordered to do what he wished to do; this man after finishing building a stack of chimneys climbed to the top of them to give an exulting cheer to the persons assembled there, when the work, being wet, gave way, and falling with him he was dashed to pieces.”
I have been unable (with an admittedly cursory search) to find where this information originated – whether the book it came from exists or whether Webber Jones made it up. One indication that Webber Jones did copy it from a book is that he says “…the copyist says the inscription now (1820) is very nearly obliterated”. The tablet is original and, as the photo shows, while the inscription has been eroded at the bottom it is still legible. This is 127 years after Webber Jones wrote and he wrote 125 years after the tablet’s installation, so one would expect it to have been in better condition in 1884 and as such would have been easily verifyable because the inscription is outside the church. This does throw doubt upon the story that he copied down, but without knowing the source no more can be said.
Mounted on the north aisle wall of the church of St Mary, Therfield, Hertfordshire, is one of the most unusual and elaborate wooden monuments in England. It is to Ann Turner and was placed in the church soon after her death in 1678 by her husband, the Reverend Dr. Francis Turner, who later became the Bishop of Ely and was one of the Seven Bishops imprisoned by James II in the Tower of London.
The monument is made from cedar wood and is constructed in a four by three configuration. The largest panel is a black central plate with an inscription in black lettering on an oval gold background. The oval is surrounded by a sparse wreath tied with a ribbon at the bottom. Originally the oval was bordered by a coloured surround but much of this has now faded. Flanking the central panel are figures of Time and Death in round-headed niches. The figures are meant to stand on corbels but, in the current form of the monument, they have been pushed back inside their niches. The niches are surrounded by garlands of fruit and flowers and each has a cherub’s head at the apex.
Above the central section is an unadorned open pediment flanked by flaming urns decorated with swags. The central section of the pediment has a shield in a cartouche. The shield is gold and may have always been like this. Flanking the shield and reclining on the pediment are two female figures, both with one arm raised and the other resting on a skull. The heads of the figures are replacements and now look outward to the viewer, but originally they looked upwards. The sub-section below the pediment is adorned only with a strip of acanthus and is curiously bald. It may once have carried further decoration, although there do not appear to be any fixing points on the original woodwork and, in any case, any such decoration had disappeared before the first picture of the monument was made in about 1874.
The three sections immediately below the central band consist of an inscription plate flanked by stylised flowers in raised decorative surrounds. The inscription consists of black lettering on a gold background. The original inscription plate had disappeared by 1874 and the current inscription is a modern replacement quoting the inscription given in Cussans’ History of Hertfordshire.
The bottom of the monument is composed of a central shield in a cartouche flanked by swags. The central shield is gold but may once have displayed the arms of Turner. The shield once had leaves extending from it on each side but these disappeared at some time between 1874 and 1908 when the Royal Commission visited and photographed the church.
Until 1874 the monument was located on the north wall of the chancel. In December 1872 the ceiling of the chancel began to collapse and the chancel was blocked off. Most of the building was subsequently demolished to be replaced by a new church designed by G. E. Pritchett which was completed in 1878.
The monument ended up, as so many monuments did after Victorian “restorations”, under the tower. The Royal Commission’s 1908 picture strongly suggests that the monument suffered most of its damage by being removed from the wall where it had been mounted for 200 years. This is understandable; no doubt the back of the monument had rotted due to damp through the wall. The ribs of the skeleton may have disappeared long before because of their fragility. An oddity is the clean diagonal cuts – as if made by a long bladed cutting device – through the female figures at the top. Both lost their heads and the tips of their upraised hands.
The monument stayed mounted on the north wall of the tower from 1878 until 1965 when funds were found to have the monument restored. This was carried out by H & K Mabbitt of Colchester under the direction of David Atwell of Donald Insall & Associates. Nearly all of the missing parts were replaced, copies being made either from surviving parts or by replicating what appears in the 1874 pictures. The monument was placed in a new position on the north wall of the north aisle so that it may be seen and appreciated by all who enter the church.
Why is the monument made of wood and who made it? Unfortunately there is no documentary evidence to answer these questions. The author is unknown. It seems reasonable to suggest that he was very good but not great; the figure of Father Time with his wind-swept beard is notable and very finely carved. The surrounding garlands are not in the Grinling Gibbons league but are excellent nevertheless. Further light might be shed if other examples of this carver’s work can be found. Perhaps examples exist in country houses in Cambridgeshire or Hertfordshire.
(This entry is an abridged version of the study published in The Digital Atlas of England Annual Report 2011)
The church of St Peter and St Paul at Exton (Rutland) contains some outstanding monuments. The largest and most spectacular of them is to be found on the east wall of the north transept. This is the monument to Baptist Noel, Third Viscount Campden (c.1612-1683). This formidable structure, squeezed in to a space too small to adequately display it, is of white and black marbles and shows the Viscount and his fourth wife, Elizabeth daughter of Montague Bertie, 2nd Earl of Lindsey and his wife Martha. Reliefs on various parts of the monument depict his three other wives and their nineteen children. It was made by Grinling Gibbons, perhaps better known for his carvings in wood.
The massive white marble base features a relief showing six of the children, two sons and four daughters along with his third wife Hester Wotton, flanked by inscription plates of black marble. The inscription on the left gives brief biographical information on Baptist, while that on the right gives the names of his children by his four wives.
Centrally placed on the base is a sarcophagus with a relief of nine children, three sons, three daughters, and three babies, along with his fourth wife Elizabeth, all surrounded by an oval wreath. Upon this is a pedestal surmounted by an urn and flanked by large standing statues of the Viscount and his fourth wife. On the pedestal is a black marble inscription plate recording that the monument was erected by order of Elizabeth and carried out by her third son, John Noel, in 1686.
Flanking the figures are two large truncated pyramids on balled feet surmounted by wreathed urns of black marble and decorated with garlands and two oval wreaths depicting the remaining wives and children. That on the left shows his first wife, Ann Fielding,with three babies while that on the right shows his second wife, Ann Lovet, and one baby.
Above the ensemble is an arch supporting an open pediment upon which are draperies and a shield in a cartouche with the arms of the Third Viscount.
As was the fashion for the age, all of the figures are depicted in Roman dress.
The monument is well-balanced given its size and level of fine detail. The reliefs and garlands are excellent – not surprising given that they are by Gibbons – but the figures, to my mind, are not particularly successful. No doubt it cost a pretty penny.
Baptist Noel was a Member of Parliament for Rutland between 1640 and 1643. He succeeded to the title of 3rd Viscount Campden, 3rd Baron Hicks of Ilmington and 2nd Baron Noel of Ridlington in March 1642/3. During the Civil War he sided with the King and it was during this time that he ordered his house at Chipping Campden (Glos) to be burnt down so as not to be of use to Parliamentary forces. He was subsequently fined £9000 for his support of the King. Baptist Noel died on the 29th of October 1683.
The monuments in Exton church were restored by the Exton Monuments Restoration Fund between 2000 and 2002. The Viscount’s monument apparently cost £49,000 to restore. The work was carried out by the Skillington Workshop of Grantham (Lincs).