Some days don’t quite go to plan, eh?! Well, yesterday was – in part – one of those days! Travelling 80 miles for a late afternoon appointment only to be stood up by my client, I was presented with a rather long – well, clearly 80 mile – return trip back home, empty handed and a rather emptier tank of fuel. Determined not to have made an entirely wasted journey, what would a good family historian do? You guessed it…. find a churchyard!
Yes, I know…. normal people would find a pub, shopping centre or similar. But, let’s face it…. I am never going to be considered as normal. Having lived in Reading for longer than I care to remember, yesterday I realised just how little research I have ever done in the surrounding area. Without any kind of plan as to where I was heading, I found myself in Rotherfield Greys – a quaint little village (and civil parish) in the Chiltern Hills in South Oxfordshire, about two to three miles west of Henley-on-Thames. The church, located on the main road, dates from Norman times and appears, on the surface, to be just another village church.
Pottering around the churchyard, distressed at how few Guild names were evident but more so at how badly worn the gravestones were, I was spotted by a gentleman walking up the front path. It transpired that this chap was Graham Ethelston, the Treasurer to the PCC. He was delighted to allow me into the locked side chapel which houses the magnificent monument to Sir Francis and Lady Knollys, which has recently been refurbished. Extraordinarily, they managed to have seven sons and seven daughters, so around the sides of the monument are the kneeling effigies of fourteen brothers and sisters each with very individual characteristics. Having lectured at Corsham Area Heritage and Information Centre earlier in the day – waffling on about the memorials inside the church indicating the more wealthy members of the community back in history – Rotherfield Greys certainly did not break the mould.
Whilst carrying out my initial potter outside in the ‘yard, my eyes had wandered to a small area cordoned off and marked ‘dangerous’. Being the nosey type, I asked about this tomb. To cut a long story short, the parish had traced the family line and contacted the descendants of the individuals buried in the tomb and surrounding family graves. They were not interested in restoring the tomb and gravestones to their former glory and the local stone mason had not given the parish a quote for repairs as it was ‘out of their budget’. How sad to think that when I am gone, my descendants might not care enough to restore my resting place…. come to think of it, I don’t have any descendants …. hmm….