Thursday, 8 December 2011

Monuments on the Isle of Wight

Saint Boniface
© Godric Godricson

When we look at funerary monuments on the island we are inevitably drawn to the Churches themselves and particularly Saint Boniface.

Without documentary evidence we are compelled to rely on legend and myth in relation to the foundation of this magical  Church set on the quiet and often moody wooded slopes. The most accepted legend is that monks from the Abbey of Lyra, in Normandy, travelled to the Island, and built a small structure on the woody plateau where the Old Church now stands. They dedicated the Church to St. Boniface a popular saint of the period who was renowned for teaching and conversion. The legend  indicates that the monks selected the ruins of a previous Saxon Church for their new foundation and this is supported by the fact that they dedicated their Church to a Saxon Saint. The most memorable statistic from the Church is the small size of the building. The Church is  48ft in length by 12ft wide and the interior feels more like a private chapel rather than a communal building for the whole village and community. It may be that the Church was once the chapel of a local lord and became by degree a village resource although it clearly remained small and undeveloped. There are no monuments of any size in the Church and this may indicate the lack of any noble family in the area.

William Dier d 1681
© Godric Godricson

As a personal observation, I really like Saint Boniface as a Church and as an archaeological site and I commend the Church Authorities for their care and attention of the building and the Churchyard which is ‘under-conserved’ as befits such an ancient monument.

Saint Boniface Church has a number of ancient Chest tombs which are a specific sort of monument now a part of English funerary monuments and they can be seen across the UK. Table tombs are often stark and concrete in the early 20th Century and florid and baroque in the 18th Century Have a look at these links for a description of table tombs   [1] [2]    The United States has its own experience of table tombs and we can see the huge size that these monuments have aspired towards on this site American Chest tombs.

Victorian 'stele' type monuments
© Godric Godricson

In addition to table tombs in Saint Boniface we have Victorian monuments of the ‘stele’ type and this type is pretty standard for the period and for the island. We also have larger monuments from the better off citizen.The sandstone monuments are quite well preserved in the cemetery of saint Boniface and still have legible inscriptions that reverence the memories of the departed. The site of the Church on the wooded hillside protects the moss and lichen and we find a beautiful balance between accessibility for the visitor and a sense of the untouched woodland glade.

We also find the cemeteries that have been cleared and destroyed as a unified place of repose. We find the Church at Niton largely obliterated apart from some interesting monuments that stand out from the crowd.

Mary Stuart Maitland
Makgill Somerville
© Godric Godricson
 The monument of Mary Stuart Maitland Makgill Somerville (1829-1895) at Chale is an example of the person of greater affluence who came to live on the island in the 19th Century as the tourist trade increased. Mary's monument is larger than the average on the island and the size and style of the monument speaks of her wealth and the aspiration of the contemporary family even in death.

Mary married Vice-Admiral Philip Horatio Townsend Somerville. (1808 - 1881) is an example of the more expensive interment on the Isle of Wight being sited in Chale. The monument is listing heavily and we note that Mary Stuart is a person who had a 'soft spot' for the French language and her last will and testament refers to her as 'Marie Stuart'. Like many Scots away from home they perhaps hanker after the old country and a popular monarch

© Godric Godricson
Whilst the island is replete with chest tombs and stele for the individual it is also home to more modest communal monuments within the Church itself that reflect on the collective efforts of the citizenry. Such monuments speak of wars and conflict and of the communities that people were forced to leave and we find them throughout the island and the UK. They are as important to the genealogist as any individual grave and they are often a source of information for the social and economic historian. The First World war was an exercise in futility when many good men died for no purpose and there cannot be said to be any purpose for a war that saw the overturning of certainty, established monarchies and which made way for the even bloodier Second World War

This monument to the fallen pictured above is fairly typical of the type and it is evident that the monument has a 'tryptych' construction whereby the monument references the medieval style of altar found in pre-Reformation Churches. This indicates the strength of the Anglo-Catholic tradition in the Church of England in the period and of a wish to tie the monument into a sense of traditional piety. However, the location of the monument into the corner of the wall is strange and it seems squeezed into the building and its significance is marginalised although I'm sure that is not at all the sentiment of the time.

James Arnold Hearn
© Godric Godricson

Out of all the collective monuments, I like the stained glass that we find around the island which marks war and peace and also the 'local man makes good' sort of story as in this example. See Mr Hearn's monument at 'Find a grave' Glass is a wonderful medium that engenders hope in the reflected light that shines around the room and the message in the words inscribed or painted onto the glass. This is art as propaganda or art as a plan for eternity. In this period perhaps no-one envisioned the end of a immobile world or the end of the Church as a carrier of tradition. The glass in the Church setting contains the idea of certainty, tradition and eternity.

Parish cemetery Niton
© Godric Godricson

Perhaps my favourite monument is the rather large and intimidating slab covering this grave and I'm ashamed to say that because I was in a rush, I didn't take the name of the person under the marker. I continue to like the Isle of Wight and the monuments of the island which are rich and diverse although also at risk from the Church Authorities as they seek to have maintenance friendly cemeteries.

Mary Stuart Maitland Makgill Somerville 1829-1895

Mary Stuart Maitland
Makgill Somerville
© Godric Godricson

Mary Stuart Maitland Makgill Crichton  (17 May 1829 - 1 June 1895). Mary married Vice-Admiral Philip Horatio Townsend Somerville (12 January 1808 - 12 May 1881) and this memorial is situated at Chale Church, Isle of Wight.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

"Exalt the brave, & idolize Success"

A measure of clean air in Norfolk
© Godric Godricson
 Cemeteries in England are massively important as wildlife reserves and natural corridors. This picture shows the encrustation that occurs on older monuments made from sedimentary materials such as limestone or especially sandstone. The cemetery often acts as an 'ark' where wildlife has a toehold in the City.
Ancient stonework on chapels and memorials, when undisturbed and unpolluted by chemical sprays etc, provide ideal habitats for growth and the clean air of Norfolk is wonderful for such growth.
The materials found in an English cemetery are often varied and comprised of limestone, sandstone, iron, marble, brick, mortar, slate and granite.  Granite is  one of the least changeable materials in nature and even here we find it possible for lichen to grow on Victorian monuments. Nature is a wonderful thing and  nature often conspires against  a sometimes undeveloped human idea of an unchanging immortality.
Each type of stone has its own special  lichen communities and we sometimes find that  lichens can be found on well-established trees and wooden structures such as memorial benches.
Lichens are wonderful things and we have to curb our enthusiasm when it comes to cleaning monuments. Leave the lichen in peace and see lichens as a positive comment on air purity in a beautiful county.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Robert Bennet 1811-1879

Robert Bennett 1811-1879
Sarah Bennett   1812-1892
John Bennett    1840-1864
© Godric Godricson

Robert Bennett is seen in the 1851 Census (UK) as an agricultural labourer and it is some surprise to find this designation. The reason for the surprise is the divergence between the idea of agricultural labour and the substantial gravestone in the cemetery at West Bradenham. The monument is no different from that of John Dawes who is described as a farmer.

Robert Married Sarah who originated from nearby Necton before having their family. The 1851 census shows William (17), John(11) Elizabeth (9), Phebe (7), Edward (4) and Anna (2). By 1861 we find only John and Anna are at home although we find that the couple now have James born abt 1854. It is James who is the last to leave the family home and he is still at home in the census of 1871 aged 17. By 1881 James is a butler in the home of Viscount Gort on the Isle of Wight. In 1891, he moves to Esher as a butler and he retains the role of butler in the 1901 census whilst in service in Watford.

Regrettably, John dies and we can only speculate on the reasons. John's burial along with his parents at West Bradenham is recorded on their headstone.

Henry Dawes 1788 - 1873

God's Acre Blogspot
© Godric Godricson

Henry Dawes was born in West Bradenham and left goods to the value of under £100 and a wife, Judith when he died in the same village.  The entry in the register of wills reads somewhat starkly as follows

"The will of Henry Dawes late of West Bradenham in the County of Norfolk Farmer who died 20 January 1873 at West Bradenham was proved at Norwich by Judith Dawes of West Bradenham widow. The Relict sole executrix. "

Henry married Judith in 1839. The 1851 Census shows that Henry and Judith had a son Frederick who had been born around 1841, again, in West Bradenham and it is clear that the Dawes family were locals.

Frederick H Dawes appears in the 1861 Census at West Bradenham as a "Farmers son" although the farm itself is only a small affair at 13 acres which may explain the relatively low amount left to Judith.