Friday, 29 May 2020

The crème de la crème; St Mary's Churchyard, Wimbledon

The tomb of William Mansel Phillips of Coedgair in Carmarthenshire, second son of Sir Wm Mansel baronet of Iscoed in the same county, and of Caroline his wife, only child of Benjamin Bond Hopkins Esq

St Mary’s in Wimbledon was my first stop on a day of cemetery touring – from here I planned to walk on to Gap Road Cemetery and then to Lambeth Cemetery in Tooting. St Mary’s was only on the list because I had wanted to see the tomb of Sir Joseph Bazalgette for some time; I didn’t expect to spend long in the churchyard, a quick look around to see if there was anything else of interest and then 15 minutes to take a few photos of the Bazalgette mausoleum.  The entrance to the churchyard is at the end of a short road with an open field to one side and an eye catching Victorian stuccoed hunting lodge to the other with its larger than life reclining stag staring impassively from the roof top cornice.  St Mary’s, with its 196 foot spire, is a Sir George Gilbert Scott gothic revival rebuild from 1843 of an older, Georgian church though there has probably been a church on the site since before the Norman Conquest.  As I had done no research I was taken by complete surprise at the variety and quality of the memorials in the churchyard. According to the church’s website “along with Chiswick and Hampstead, Wimbledon churchyard possesses the highest concentration of listed monuments anywhere in Greater London.” There are 25 Grade II listings in total for headstones and memorials in the churchyard which, given that the old part of St Mary’s where all the listed memorials are, is far smaller than St Nicholas’ in Chiswick or St John-at-Hampstead probably means more listings per square foot than either of its rivals.

The tombs of Louisa and Margaret Bingham (Countesss Lucan) and of Georgiana Charlotte Spencer Quin

In the 1810 edition of The Environ’s of London Daniel Lyson says “in the church-yard are tombs of Gilbert Smyth, M.A. of Christ's College, Cambridge, who died in 1674; John Simpson, "a zealous "minister of Christ, who was blessed with the conversion of very many souls in the city of London;" he died in 1662; Thomas Pitt of London, merchant (1699).” I couldn’t find anything quite that old but there are many finely preserved 18th century headstones. The first monument that really caught my eye was because of the surname; Historic England list it as the Bingham tomb and describe it as a “pedestal tomb. Circa early C19. Portland stone. Greek Revival manner. Stepped base with circular pedestal surmounted by triangular block, inscribed, corniced, having low pedimented projections and corner acroteria. Urn finial on cylindrical pedestal.” The inscription on the front says ‘Louisa Bingham second daughter of Charles Earl of Lucan and of Margaret his wife. She died in 1784 in the 20th year of her age.’ Also buried here is her mother; the inscription on the reverse reads ‘Margaret Countess of Lucan, Widow of Charles Earl of Lucan and daughter and coheiress of James Smyth of St Audries in the County of Somerset Esq. and of Grace Dyke of Pixton in the County of Devon his wife. She died in 1814 in the 73rd year of her age.’ Margaret Bingham (1740-1814) was the wife of the first Earl of Lucan and was much admired by Horace Walople for her beauty and her talent as an amateur artist. Just a few yards away is the memorial for Georgiana Charlotte Spencer Quin, a “tall rectangular pedestal surmounted by rectangular inscribed block with quilloche frieze and cornice, and corner acroteria,” according to Historic England. Georgina was Margaret’s granddaughter who died in childbirth at the age of 29 in 1823. Her baby only survived 9 weeks and was interred with her mother. Georgina’s mother was Lavinia Bingham, Margaret’s eldest daughter, who married George Spencer, Viscount of Althorp and 2nd Earl Spencer. Margaret’s descendants include her great great great great great granddaughter Princess Diana (daughter of the 8th Earl Spencer)  and her great great great great grandson Richard John Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan who was, of course, notorious for allegedly  bludgeoning the family nanny to death with a piece of bandaged lead pipe in 1974 and never having been seen since. I didn’t realise the two of them were related.

Vulture Hopkins

During the 1869 Christmas holiday the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, who was then a Jesuit novice at Manresa House in Roehampton, walked across Wimbledon Common to St Mary’s  to take a look at the church and churchyard. He was delighted to come across the tomb of William Mansell Philips of Coedgair in Carmarthenshire and his wife Caroline, only child of Benjamin Bond Hopkins. Although born in Stratford in East London Hopkins was proud of his  Welsh lineage – he also had Mansel cousins – and he felt that the occupants of the fine chest tomb with its imposing coat of arms must be distant relatives. As he wandered around the churchyard he also came across the grave of John Hopkins, known as Vulture Hopkins. On 30thh December he wrote to his mother thanking her for her Christmas present of flannel shirts (his old ones really were, he said “very absurd things, for they were so small that the waists were somewhere near my shoulders, and they were rotten with age…”) and telling her about his discoveries in St Mary’s:

I have found out something which may interest my father. In Wimbledon church near here there is a marble tomb on which our arms and crest caught my eye. It is, so far as I remember the names, the tomb of William Mansel Phillips of Coedgair in Carmarthenshire, second son of Sir Wm Mansel baronet of Iscoed in the same county, and of Caroline his wife only child of Benjamin Bond Hopkins Esq. It would look as if he wore his father-in-law’s arms and crest. I know I have some cousins the Mansels but I cannot remember anything about them. Besides this there is in a comer of the same churchyard a tombstone full of Hopkinses beginning with John Hopkins familiarly known as Vulture Hopkins’ (they should have left his nickname rest with him. I think he is mentioned in Pope’s satires). The stone is modern, no doubt replacing some old ones. One would not wish to have anything to do with the bird but it looks very much as if the Hopkinses had an old connection with Wimbledon I should like to hear about this anything you know.

John ‘Vulture’ Hopkins was a city financier and speculator, also known as ‘the Putney Usurer’, who made a fortune speculating in the South Sea Bubble and died in 1732 leaving a fortune worth £300,000. G.M Hopkins was correct in thinking that he is mentioned by Alexander Pope. He is also mentioned by Dickens in Our Mutual Friend, a passing reference which he had got from Frederick Somner Merryweather’s Lives and Anecdotes of Misers. Merryweather only mentions Vulture Hopkins when discussing the even more tight-fisted Thomas Guy, in public a philanthropist (and benefactor of the hospital that still bears his name) but in private a notorious skinflint;  

It is said that one evening he was sitting in his little back parlour meditating over a handful of half lighted embers, confined within the narrow precincts of a brick stove; a farthing candle was on the table at his side, but it was not lit, and the fire afforded no light to dissipate the gloom; he sat there all alone planning some new speculation; congratulating himself on saving a pennyworth of fuel, or else perchance thinking how else he could bestow some thousand guineas in charity: his thoughts, whether on subjects small or great, were interrupted by the announcement of a visitor; he was a shabby, meagre, miserable looking old man; but compliments were exchanged, and the guest was invited to take a seat; Guy immediately lighted his farthing candle, and desired to know the object of the gentleman's call: the visitor was no other than the celebrated Hopkins, who on account of his avarice and rapacity had obtained the name of Vulture Hopkins. "He lived," says Pope, "worthless, but died worth three hundred thousand pounds, which he would give to no person living, but left it so as not to be inherited till after the second generation." His counsel represented to him how many years it must be before this could take effect, and that his money would only lie at interest all that time. He expressed great joy thereat, and said they would then be as long in spending as he had been in getting it. But the Chancery afterwards set aside the will, and gave it to the heir at law. The reader will probably remember the lines in Pope's Moral Essays—

"When Hopkins dies a thousand lights attend, 
The wretch that living saved a candle's end."

"I have been told," said Hopkins, as he entered the presence of Thomas Guy, "that you are better versed in the prudent and necessary art of saving, than any man now living, and I now wait upon you for a lesson in frugality, an art in which I used to think I excelled, but I am told by all who know you that you are greatly my superior." "If that is all you are come about," said Guy, "why then we can talk the matter over in the dark;" so saying, he with great deliberation put the extinguisher on his newly lighted farthing candle. Struck with this instance of economy, Hopkins acknowledged the superior abilities of his host, and took his leave imbued with a profound respect for such an adept in the art of saving.

Vulture Hopkins’ heir at law was one Benjamin Bond a clerk to a city attorney, whose mother was the daughter of John Hopkins of Bretons in Dagenham and distantly related to the deceased miser. It took him forty years to inherit; Vulture died in 1732 but Benjamin didn’t come into his fortune until 1772. To comply with the terms of the will he took Hopkins as a surname. He bought an estate at Painshill in Surrey and became a member of Parliament and a financier and speculator in his own right. He married three times. Daniel Lyson’s says, intriguingly, that at St Mary’s “At the entrance of the church-yard, on the right hand, is a large columbarium made by Benjamin Bond Hopkins, Esq. for the interment of his family. Within it are inscriptions upon tablets of white marble to the memory of Benjamin Bond, Esq. of Clapham, who died in 1783; his wife Elizabeth, who died in 1787; and Eliza and Alicia, wives of Benjamin Bond Hopkins, Esq. of Painshill, who died in 1771 and 1788.” There seems to be no trace of this columbarium (surely a mausoleum or possibly a vault?). In the tomb of William Mansell Philips of Coedgair which so intrigued G.M Hopkins is buried Caroline, William’s wife, and only daughter of Benjamin Bond Hopkins. She would have been a real catch for William; the Gentleman’s Magazine commented in 1794 “we doubt whether Mr Bond Hopkins's oldest daughter was not by his first wife. Be that as it may he has left to his surviving and now only daughter £50,000 when she attains the age of 24 over and besides 8ool per annum of her mother's jointure.”  Benjamin also had an illegitimate son who also received a considerable inheritance but the majority of the fortune went to Caroline.    

The tomb of Gerard De Visme Esq of London, Lisbon and Wimbledon

Apart from Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s the other remarkable monument at St Mary’s belongs to Gerrard De Visme who died in 1797. Historic England says the tomb “consisting of a square plan, rusticated pyramid with corner acroteria to the base. An acroterion has fallen due to movement in the stone blocks, and another is dislodged. Slow deterioration continues. A condition survey has been carried out, funded by Historic England. The church, Local Authority and Historic England are working together to secure funding to enable the necessary works to be carried out.” De Visme was a London born merchant of Huguenot descent who spent most of his life in Lisbon and built a castle at Sintra. He returned to England to retire at Wimbledon. There will be more about De Visme to come in a separate post about his tomb and his life. 

St Mary’s has, by and large, managed to keep itself out of the newspapers. One of the few even remotely interesting stories I could find about it was published in the Gloucestershire Echo on Monday 07 September 1936;

At the end of a marriage ceremony at St Mary's Parish Church, Wimbledon, last Saturday, the organist, Mr. Henry Ralph Wagstaff, aged 65, of Wimbledon, collapsed and died. The congregation was unaware of his death. Mr. Wagstaff had been acting as deputy for the regular organist.

Monday, 18 May 2020

The man who took the piss out of London; Sir Joseph Bazalgette (1819-1891), St. Mary's Churchyard, Wimbledon

The hygienist is a hero. He overcomes the most visceral repugnance, rolls up his shirt sleeves, and takes on the cloaca. He faces the foul unnameable and speaks of that thing of which no one else will speak. No one else dare name it for fear of soiling the image of his knowledge. He alone speaks of it; he alone makes it speak.

Blood, milk, shit, sex, corpses, sperm, sewers, hospitals, factories, urinals – for three quarters of a century, the hygienist has spoken of these ceaselessly. He is the prince consort of bourgeois civilisation, of colonialist Europe as embodied by Queen Victoria. Excremental issues are at the heart of his accounts, memoirs, observations, reports, letters, essays bulletins, etc.

Dominque Laporte ‘Histoire de la merde: Prologue’ (1978)

A tap dripped in the sink behind the counter. Albert thought with awe of the vast resources behind that tap: the miles of pipes, of mains, the reservoirs, the rivers, the rain. He imagined with what wonder an African immigrant must regard the water supply: “It comes in pipes, you just have to turn a tap thing, man. And that same water is the same as the Queen drinks. When I turn that tap thing, man, I’m connected with the same water that she uses. And the sewers, man, thy connect, too, she don’t use no special sewer, they all connect up and side by side hers and mine come out at Barking Creek. That’s a democratic country for you, man.”
B.S. Johnson ‘Albert Angelo’ (1964)

The death of Sir Joseph Bazalgette removes from this generation one who must be memorable in its annals. What Baron Haussmann was to Paris Sir Joseph Bazalgette was to London. He drained and purified London, and he did much to beautify it giving the Thames a swifter course, by building Embankments planted in boulevard fashion with trees, and by constructing bridges. The main system drainage, defective as theorists may call it, is his. The theorists can do nothing better practically, or they would have given their views application long ago. Sir Joseph Bazalgette liberated London from many nuisances. That London has still a few nuisances left is not his fault. Complete success is impossible. There is one monument of his skill as engineer that will endure as long as any monument in Venice. That is the Embankment between Blackfriars Bridge and Westminster. The health of London was advanced immensely by this great work and its consequent enterprises.

Montgomeryshire Echo - Saturday 21 March 1891

The cathedral of sewage - Abbey Mills pumping station in Stratford
Before the Metropolitan Board of Works’ chief engineer, Joseph Bazalgette, was called upon to solve the problem, London’s waste had gone straight into the Thames converting the river into the world’s largest open sewer. Because it is so strongly tidal a turd dropped into the Thames at Westminster can take up to a fortnight to travel out into the open sea. When the tide is flowing out anything riding it will make good progress downriver for six hours or so before the tide turns, at which point it will gaily journey back almost to the point at which it originally embarked. A river full of faeces can swish up and down on the current for days on end, gradually rotting and becoming increasingly offensive. In 1858 London suffered the notorious ‘great stink’ when low rainfall lowered the level of the Thames and weak tides failed to carry away the sewage lying in the river. Unusually hot weather fermented the faecal soup until it was so rank that huge swathes of the population fled the city to escape the stench that led to an epidemic of giant bluebottle flies, necessitated curtains soaked in chloride of lime being hung in the Houses of Parliament to allow the business of government to continue and saw tons of chalk lime, chloride of lime and carbolic acid dumped into the river in a desperate and futile attempt to treat it and make it less noxious.

The cholera epidemics that periodically swept London and killed hundreds were bad enough but Parliamentarians incommoded by the vile stink of rotting faeces was the last straw. Clutching hankies doused in eau de cologne to their faces the Commons passed the Metropolis Local Management Amendment Act which gave the capitals Metropolitan Board of Works the powers necessary to construct drainage and sewerage systems that would finally rid the Thames of filth for ever. Work started in 1859 on the construction of 82 miles of intercepting sewers north and south of the river which would link 1200 miles of sewers and drainage channels and carry it to one main outfall sewer and treatment plant on either side of the river. Abbey Mills pumping station was completed in 1868 and originally powered by steam. Its job was to pump the effluent in the low-lying intercepting sewers up to the main outfall sewer. From here it would flow downhill to Beckton for what was, in the early days, mainly cosmetic treatment, aimed at making the odour of the sewage as unobjectionable as possible before pouring it back into the Thames at Barking Creek.

There are early photographs of Bazalgette inspecting the progress of work on what is now known officially and euphemistically as the Greenway, but was once more bluntly and honestly called the Great Northern Outfall Sewer on Plaistow marshes. The chief engineer of the Metropolitan Board of Works stands proprietorially in the foreground in top hat, frock coat and muddy trousers with the gaping mouths of the huge brick-built tunnels behind him.  This massive raised sewer carries the flushed evacuations of the 3 million bowels and bladders of London north of the Thames down to Beckton Sewage works at Barking Creek for treatment and disposal. When HRH's are in residence in Buckingham or Kensington Palace it is only a matter of time, if one stands for long enough on the Greenway, before a royal turd passes a mere yard or two beneath one’s feet. Good form would, surely, be to salute it on its way but of course it is impossible to be exactly sure when the monarchical movements are in the vicinity. B.S. Johnson has a character note in Albert Angelo that her majesty “don’t use no special sewer, they all connect up and side by side hers and mine come out at Barking creek. That’s a democratic country for you, man.” Rather than a sign of egalitarianism the identical treatment of plebeian, aristocratic and royal bodily waste is an indication that faecal matter, no matter what its origin, is never more than just shit.  

Bazalgette was born in 1819 in Enfield; the unusual surname is the result of his Huguenot ancestry. His grandfather was an émigré tailor and his father a Royal Navy Captain who saw service in the Napoleonic wars. He became articled to the celebrated Irish engineer Sir John Benjamin MacNeill in his mid-twenties and went to work in Ulster and China where the practical experience of drainage and land reclamation he gained would prove invaluable in his later career. He set up his own civil engineering practice in 1842 and married in 1845. He suffered a nervous breakdown in 1847 as a result of overwork and when he returned to work it was as the assistant surveyor to the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers. The Commission was in the midst of a crisis when Bazalgette joined in 1849; the previous year the commission had ordered the closing of all cesspits and the connection of all domestic drains to the sewage system which discharged all its effluent directly into the Thames. The decision led to an outbreak of cholera which killed 14,137 people. Bazalgette was in his element. He became the chief engineer for the Commission in 1852 and then for the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1856. His main works were all done under the aegis of the latter organisation and included not only the whole scale reform and rebuilding of London’s drain and sewage systems but the construction of the Albert, Victoria and Chelsea embankments, Putney, Hammersmith and Battersea Bridges and the remodelling of Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue. He had a vigorous constitution and fathered 11 children and rode for two or three hours a day during his retirement in Wimbledon saying “I find it splendid exercise for counteracting the effects of a sedentary life.” He also kept cows and made hay. He would have been startled on Monday 02 March 1891 to read in the newspapers that he had died the previous Saturday but once he got over the shock would have been gratified by the flattering eulogies and obituaries in the newspapers. The newspaper accounts of his death proved to be only marginally premature, he died on the 15th March.

The foundation stone of the Western Pumping Station in Grosvenor Road, Pimlico was laid in 1873 and was completed in 1875. The pump house is 71 feet high and the chimney 192 feet (just ten feet shorter than the Monument) and cost £183,000. The Pumping Station was part of Bazalgette’s improvements to London’s sewage system and could lift 38,000 gallons of raw sewage an hour 18 feet from the local drains and sewers to the main Low Level Sewer which runs from here to Abbey Mills in Stratford. 
The Surrey Comet of Saturday 28 March gave a detailed account of Bazalgette’s funeral;

The remains of the late Sir Joseph Bazalgette C.B, whose death was chronicled in our last issue, were interred on Saturday afternoon in the family vault at the parish church, in the presence of a large assemblage of persons of every class and creed, the poor, in whom the deceased was specially interested, being very fully represented. The funeral was a walking one, the deceased’s late residence being only a short distance from the church. The body was enclosed in coffin of polished oak with brass fittings, and was covered with a purple pall. The inscription on the plate was "Sir J. W. Bazalgette born 28th March, 1819, died 15th March, 1891." The principal mourners were deceased's five surviving sons… [there follows a long list of persons present at the funeral]. As many of the deceased’s servants as could be spared were also in attendance to pay a last tribute of respect to the memory their honoured master. The procession was met at the western entrance by the Vicar of Wimbledon, the Rev. Canon Haygarth, who read the opening sentences of the Burial Service as the coffin entered the church, where it was deposited on trestles in the nave, while the first portion of the service was conducted. The family vault is situated at the back of the church, the last interment having been that of Mr. Norman Bazalgette, M.A., Sir Joseph’s son, in December 1888. The coffin having been placed in position on the tomb, the Vicar concluded the funeral obsequies. The deceased was always of a very retiring disposition, having a great aversion to ceremony and publicity, and in accordance with his desire no wreaths were placed on the coffin, but several floral designs were afterwards laid on the tomb.

The imposing Portland stone mausoleum is actually second hand. Sir Joseph seems to have acquired it a few years earlier when his son Norman died from the heirs of John Anthony Rucker who had died in 1804. Rucker commissioned the mausoleum (described as a 'pyramid with an iron railing and vault underneath', by  W A Bartlett in The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Wimbledon, Surrey in 1865) from a Mr Gibson of Hackney. Rucker was born in Hamburg in 1718 and naturalised in 1745 and was part of a large merchant family with extensive banking interests. He never married and when he died left £53,000 in cash to various nephews and nieces. His estate at West Hill , his slaves in Grenada and Tobago and his mausoleum he left to his favourite nephew Daniel Henry Rucker. Daniel was happy to spend his uncle’s fortune but not grateful enough to even consider being buried with him. Rucker lay alone in his vault for almost seventy years until Sir Joseph bought it and put Norman into the niche at Rucker’s side. When his own turn came his coffin was placed above Rucker’s.  

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Hic! Hic! Hic! - the Martyrdom of St. Edmond and St. Andrew's Church, Greensted-juxta-Ongar

Greensted-juxta-Ongar is a hamlet 23 miles from central London and deep in the Essex countryside. Until it closed in 1994, it was just a 20-minute walk from what was then the last stop on the eastern section of the Central Line at Ongar. It is a bit more difficult to get to these days; it is a 6-mile trek on foot from Epping station or 9 miles from Brentwood. It is famous for having the world’s oldest wooden church and for being one of the overnight resting places of the miracle working remains of St Edmund the Martyr as they were taken from London to Bury-St-Edmund’s. “The church is famous all over England as the only survivor – and what an unlikely survival – of a log- church. Moreover, it can with some probability be dated c. 1013, the year of the passing through of St Edmund’s body,” says the great authority on English architecture, Nikolaus Pevsner in the Essex volume of ‘The Buildings of England.’ Since 1954 when Pevsner wrote the date of the wooden nave has been pushed forward by half a century to the early 1060’s but there is no disputing that the existing building predates the Norman conquest and is the only surviving log built Saxon Church in England and that it is the oldest wooden church in Europe.

A wooden church has been on this site since the late 7th century shortly after St Cedd, a Saxon trained in the monastery at Lindisfarne, was sent south to convert his pagan brethren in the land of the East Saxons, Essex. Earlier wooden buildings have been uncovered beneath the chancel of St Andrews and are probably the remains of these earlier churches.  The nave walls, as can be seen in the photo, were built from vertically split oak logs and held in place by an oak sill. The sill was replaced in a major restoration in 1848 and a brick plinth was added to strengthen the walls. The dormer windows are Tudor, the brick chancel dates from the early 16th century and no one is sure when the Tower was built but like many church towers in Essex it is a timber construction with clap board laid over an oak frame. Although dedicated to St Andrew the church has strong links with St Edmund, and a carving on one of the roof beams at Greensted shows a wolf guarding his severed head.

According to Edmund’s earliest biographer, Abbo of Fluery who wrote his Passio Santi Eadmund over a hundred years after the King had supposedly been martyred, he was crowned King of East Anglia at the age of 15. In 869 Edmund was captured by the marauding Danish army of Ubbe Ragnarsson and Ivar the Boneless.  Abbo relates how Edmund refused to fight Ivar, and was beaten senseless with cudgels in the hall of the Dane. When Edmund called on Christ for help, he was taken outside and lashed to a tree. The Danes were curious to see if his God would save him. They then shot him full of arrows “as with bristles of a hedgehog,” as Abbo put it. His corpse was then decapitated and the head flung deep into the woods. When his subjects recovered the corpse, they struggled to find the missing head. The men looking for the head became separated and began to call ‘Where are you?’ to their companions. ‘Hic! Hic! Hic!’ a voice replied, ‘Here! Here! Here!’. Following the voice, they discovered the severed head of the king lying between the fore paws of a wolf. The ferocious animal appeared to have been guarding the holy man’s head as it relinquished the relic without so much as a growl and walked off into the forest. St Edmund was buried at the Benedictine Abbey at Bury St Edmunds but his body was later exhumed and removed to London for safekeeping. Legend has it that all traces of the arrow wounds had disappeared from the corpse and that the head has miraculously re-joined to the body with only a thin red line to show that they had ever been severed.  The body was returned to Bury St Edmunds in 1013 and it was during this second journey that the remains of the martyr rested at Greensted.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Diocesan Graveyard Law; St Peter's Churchyard, Aldborough Hatch

Maybe it is my imagination but the London sky looks bluer to me during lockdown than it ever did in normal times. It is quite frustrating to be stuck indoors hunched over a laptop, trying to work from home, when the sun is blazing in a perfect cerulean sky. Particularly when you are only allowed out an hour at a time. A couple of weeks ago I used my hour (well, maybe a bit more than an hour, please don’t tell the police) on a beautiful spring morning to take a long stroll to St Peter’s churchyard in Aldborough Hatch.

Aldborough Hatch is one of those rare places in London where the city abruptly ends and the country suddenly begins. St Peter’s is a brisk ten minute walk from Barkingside Underground Station and the Central Line, across a footbridge, skirting a golf course, passing through a farmyard and by a converted chapel, then along a footpath that runs along the side of a field to where the church stands alone on the edge of Fairlop plain facing the open Essex countryside. At the back of the church is a Council Estate, the perimeter of the great Wen – from here it is 27 miles of concrete, cement, brick and tarmac all the way through the centre of London, across the Thames and out the other side to suburban Kent and Surrey. The unchecked expansion of the capital stopped here early in the last century, as if London had suddenly lost its appetite for further growth, and the hamlet became a frontier town with commuters in its semi-detached villas and resentful farmers vigilantly guarding their fields and livestock against further incursions of the city. 

In the 1860’s when St Peter’s was a hamlet a typical mention in the newspapers would have been; 

Six fine agricultural horses, valued at £240, were stolen the other evening from a farm at Aldborough Hatch, Essex. The animals were traced in the direction of London for some distance, and then the clue failed. (Western Daily Press - Monday 15 March 1869)

Fifty years later, in the golden years prior to the first world war, the stories reflected that clash of city and country cultures that signalled Aldborough Hatch’s transformation into a London suburb. In February 1911 the Chelmsford Chronicle reported on a case in Ilford County Court. Henry Charles Pawsey a farm labourer of Aldborough Hatch was suing Dr Frederick McKee of Cranbrook Road, Ilford for damages for injuries sustained when the good doctor’s motor car had knocked him down on 08 October the previous year. Mr Metcalfe, Henry Pawsey’s barrister said that his client had suffered a broken leg and that the “circumstances were made additionally serious by the fact that defendant had chosen to excuse himself by saying that the plaintiff was drunk at the time. Witnesses would say that plaintiff was a very respectable man, that he was the best workman his employer had ever had, and that he was absolutely sober.”  The court heard from George Manning, a baker, that his horse was standing on the main road at the time of the accident when Dr McKee had roared past him in his motor car “at about eight miles an hour.” Shortly afterwards he heard a car horn sound three times and a shout. In the witness box Dr McKee explained that two men had been in the middle of Aldborough Road as he drove in the direction of the Hatch. He sounded his horn for the men to clear out of the way but just as he was passing one of the men swayed into the roadway and was caught on the mudguard of the car. Dr McKee put on his brake and went to the assistance of the fallen man, asking his name and address “but he was unable to give them. He assumed that the man had been drinking; both men in fact were drunk.” Dr McKee put his medical expertise into practice and finding that the man’s leg had been broken put it into a splint and then got him into his car and drove him home. On the way Mr Pawsey sang songs and thoroughly enjoyed the novel experience of whizzing along in an automobile. Judge Tindal Atkinson told the court that the plaintiff had “not brought satisfactory evidence of negligence. People must be cautious, he said, in crossing the roads nowadays, even in the quietest parts of the country.”   

An 1851 act of Parliament ‘disafforested’ nearby Hainault and 100,000 trees were felled in just two years creating open farmland. Large farms were laid out with housing for farm labourers. The act allowed for land to be set aside for a church and in 1861 the Crown Commissioners of Woods and Forests granted £1000 for the building of a church to replace a nearby chapel of ease and £20 a year towards the salary of a rector. The building was designed by Arthur Ashpitel, a Hackney born architect who was friendly with the artist David Roberts and travelled to Rome with him, who designed the ornament cast on Big Ben and who built churches, almshouses, schools and pubs, almost exclusively in the predominant gothic revival style. St Peter’s is one of six churches in London built from the Portland Stone debris of the Old Westminster Bridge. Wikipedia repeats the speculations of Ron Jeffries, author of ‘Aldborough Hatch, The Village in the Suburbs’ that the builders of the church “also had the contract to demolish Westminster Bridge, which was built of Portland stone. Rather than use bricks from the brickfields of Ilford, it was cheaper to transport the stone by barge and horse and cart.” Ashpitel would never have designed his gothic church to be built in brick, it was clearly always meant to be a stone building. Luckily Westminster Bridge was being demolished at the same time and the rubble being sold as building material. See Bell's Weekly Messenger of Saturday 25 August 1860;

Sale of Old Westminster Bridge.— On Tuesday the sale of old Westminster Bridge, to clear the way for the completion of the new structure, was commenced at the bridge by Messrs. Eversfield and Horne, of Parliament street, when several hundred tons of Portland stone in blocks, granite kerb, pitching, etc., forming the material of the old bridge, were sold by auction. The different lots all fetched good prices, the stone being in first-rate condition, a great portion of it was purchased for the railways now in construction in the metropolis. The sale is to be continued from time to time until the entire bridge is disposed of. The works of the new bridge are advancing steadily; it is anticipated that New Westminster Bridge will be entirely finished the autumn of 1861. 

Construction of old Westminster Bridge commenced in 1739 and wasn’t completed until 1750. It was considered a modern wonder of the world at the time, an unrivalled feat of engineering, the building of which was painted by Richard Wilson, Samuel Scott and, on numerous occasions, the Venetian maestro Canaletto. In the early morning of 03 September 1802 William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy were driven in a post chaise over the stones of which St Peter’s is built on their way to Calais to visit William’s illegitimate daughter Caroline and her mother Annette Vallon. The Napoleonic wars had stopped the poet seeing his 9 year old daughter for several years but the peace of Amiens had been signed the previous year and William had a final chance to see her before his marriage. That early morning glimpse of London as William drove over the bridge inspired one of his most famous poems; Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802

Earth has not any thing to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still! 

By 1850 the old Bridge was developing serious structural defects and subsiding badly. Plans were made to build a new bridge immediately to the west of the old, adjacent to Charles Barry’s newly built Houses of Parliament. The old bridge was demolished as the new bridge was nearing completion and divers used to dismantle the piles driven into the bed of the Thames.   St Peter’s was consecrated on 6 May 1862 and the new Westminster Bridge opened on 24 May.

The oldest grave I could find in the churchyard was for Lydia Sarah, wife of Walter Goodman of Clapton who died aged 23 on April 28 1880, 160 years ago. Walter remarried and lost his second wife, Mary (affectionately known as Pollie) at the age of 37 on November 30 1984. He economised by sticking her in the same grave as Lydia and popping her details onto the same headstone. The original churchyard wasn’t big but it still took the 1920’s to run short on space. An extension was added in the early 1930’s (judging by the dates on the oldest memorials). There are no memorials of any note, for the most part they are mass produced slab headstones which the odd angel and a couple of Christs from the 1950’s. There was a wooden cross marking a burial from 1916 but surely it could not be the original grave marker? There were two subsequent burials in the same grave, from 1925 and 1941 and even that seems too long ago for a wooden marker to have survived in good condition, even one as well looked after as this one seemed to be with its relatively fresh coat of paint and new white lettering.      

There are a number of commonwealth war graves, more than you would expect in a small rural churchyard. There were nearby airfields at Hainault in the first world war and at Fairlop in the second and in the old part of the churchyard is the grave of 2nd Lieutenant Harry Walter Jassby a Canadian RAF officer from Montreal who died just a week before the end of WW1 when his Sopwith Camel was involved in a mid-air collision with another aircraft.  Harry Jassby was Jewish, a fact which was overlooked when the decision was taken to bury him in a Church of England churchyard. His commonwealth war grave headstone bears a Star of David and a Hebrew inscription, the epitaph 'in life he flew  the azure sky, in death he flew to heaven high' and there were three pebbles carefully placed on the top which means someone is maintaining the Jewish tradition in this Anglican place of burial. There was also a poppy wreath laid on Remembrance Day last year by the South West Essex & Settlement Reform Synagogue Bnei Mitzvah Class 2019 on behalf of the synagogue and the local Jewish community. 

In the extension close to the new vicarage is a memorial to Rose Jacobs who died in 1961. On the base of the statue of a man waiting to be given water from a jug by a woman modestly clutching a shawl over her breast is the inscription “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.  John XiX” from the Kings James Bible. The vicar who would have buried Rose was the rather endearing sounding Lawrence Pickles who liked to swim in the lake that still existed then in the adjacent meadows and wasn’t averse to gardening in the nude. 

Whether the poor man who was found dead in a nearby field in October 1907 is buried in the churchyard I don’t know:

POISONED IN A FIELD at ALDBOROUGH HATCH. An inquest was held at Ilford, on Monday, by Dr. Ambrose, on an unknown man, aged about 55, who was found dead in field at Aldborough Hatch. P.C.  Woolmer said there was nothing identify the body. Near it was lying a book with the title, "British Rule in India." The following day a bottle which had evidently contained laudanum was found. —Dr. Drought said an examination showed that death was due to laudanum poisoning. The man had probably been dead hours when he was found. —The jury returned a verdict that death was due to overdose of a narcotic poison, self-administered.

Chelmsford Chronicle - Friday 11 October 1907