Saturday, October 6, 2018

Hurstbourne Tarrant, Hampshire


Look on my works…

Churchyards are often interesting places and you never know quite what you might find in them. Having admired a number of memorials in the churchyard at Hurstbourne Tarrant, including some near the church that dated to the early 19th century, I walked towards the northern edge of the graveyard, through trees, and up a considerable slope. I wasn’t quite sure where I was going as I picked my way through windfall apples. What I found was a further section of churchyard, screened from the church by the trees, and at its far edge this mausoleum, with classical pilasters and a pyramidal roof, itself almost hidden by vegetation.

At first I thought I’d found a bit more funerary architecture of the Regency period, a squire’s tomb of c. 1820, perhaps, with a nod to the Egyptian taste on a firm classical base with a couple of bands of rusticated masonry. But there was something not quite right about it. Weren’t those wrought-iron gates with their curvaceous metalwork rather Art Nouveau in appearance? And inside I made out a plaque recording a death in 1935. Yes: didn’t the details look a bit like 1930s Georgian revival in places?

They did. There seemed to be nothing about the building in the church, nothing in my old Pevsner volume*, and, when I got home, it didn’t seem to be listed either. Odd. Eventually I turned up the story in an online copy of an old newspaper, the wonderfully named Kingston Daily Gleaner, for February 23, 1935.†

At some point in the early 1930s, Henry Wykey Prosser was told by a London specialist that he had less than five years to live. He immediately began putting his affairs in order, a process that involved drawing up a will providing a fund of £2000 so that elderly residents of Hurstbourne Tarrant could have Christmas provisions and leaving the then considerable sum of £100,000 to his housekeeper (provided that she remained unmarried and continued to live in his house). His last years were also spent supervising the construction of this mausoleum.

The newspaper records that although Prosser spent a lot of money improving his house and estate, he was not well liked in the village, because he was constantly arguing with local people, particularly about rights of way, drove a hard bargain, and went to law if he did not get his way. He was also obsessed with security, overseeing a nightly ritual of door locking and shuttering before taking his loaded revolver to bed with him.

The position of the mausoleum at the far end of the churchyard at the top of the slope suited Prosser because he could see it from his house – and keep an eye on its builders without leaving home. For visitors, however, it means that this little structure, which down near the church would look bulky and assertive, is out of the way – and for many I’m sure, completely unregarded. The atmosphere felt for me like one of those lesser known London cemeteries – Nunhead, say – where among the ivy and leaning gravestones, one comes across the mausoleum of some Victorian worthy, once famous or notorious, now forgotten. Look on my works, ye mighty…

*Note to self: I must invest in the updated edition.

†Yes, a Jamaica newspaper. Postscript: One of my readers wonders whether Kingston, Jamaica, was named after the Duke of Kingston, of Thoresby Hall: She notes: ‘He was still an Earl in 1703. He was a (very?) rich man, and a Tillemans painting of him of c. 1726 shows him with a black servant… Very possibly, he was a plantation owner/slave trader. He laid out a vast landscape at Thoresby on the 1700s.’ If anyone knows more about him, this reader would love to know more, so did please reply via the Comments section of this blog.


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A couple of other unexpected things in churchyards: a bee shelter and a beautiful sculpted seat.






1 comment:

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

The surname Prosser suggests he might have had Welsh ancestors. Not a nice man, but a nice mausoleum: some outright rotters in the past made some nice buildings e.g. Cardinal Wolsey.
There used to be an edition of the Gleaner available in the UK: The Weekly Gleaner. One issue waxed lyrical about the health hazards of eating potatoes - the Irish Potato, as it was rather tactlessly called, considering what the failure of the potato crop did for Ireland in the 1840s! Having a fashionable African servant in the 18th century did not necessarily make you a slave owner, though very many were, and a lot of families had West Indian connections. Some of the family histories are not easy to trace, I found, as records in some places are minimal, if they were ever kept properly in the first place. Jamaica is full of fine old English place-names, e.g. Malvern. Some of the fine houses in the Bristol and Bath area owe their existence to treating fellow human beings like animals. Some West Indian proprietors came home to die, and are buried in Bath Abbey.