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.

No comments:

Post a Comment