05 March 2023

Old Father Time and some
old graves in the old
churchyard in Old Wolverton

Father Time with the Book of Life and a scythe on William Harding’s gravestone in Old Wolverton churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

The churchyard surrounding Holy Trinity Church in Old Wolverton, with its old gravestones, is almost as interesting to explore as is the church itself, which I described in a blog posting yesterday (4 March 2023).

The churchyard is an a sloping piece of land above the site of the lost mediaeval village of Wolverton, and includes the site of the original mediaeval parish church, which was almost completely levelled in the early 19th century when the church was rebuilt and extended, retaining only the church tower.

The funerary monument of Sir Thomas Longueville of Wolverton was relocated from the chancel of the old church to the chancel of the new church. But in the churchyard there are several old stones dating back to the mid-1700s commemorating tenant farmers who worked and lived on the Longueville and Radcliffe estate at the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries.

The churchyard surrounding Holy Trinity Church in Old Wolverton, with its old gravestones (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The 18th century antiquarian Browne Willis noted the tomb of Sir John de Wolverton, who died in 1376. However, this tomb was destroyed when the church was being rebuilt in the early 19th century, and parts of the slate top were re-used as paving outside the vestry door.

The first burial recorded at Holy Trinity Church was the burial of Hugo Revesse in 1536. The oldest gravestone in the churchyard is that if James Miller, who died on 1 February 1690 at the age of 63.

The grave of William Harding, who died on 9 June 1719, aged 76, shows Father Time sitting with the Book of Life in his hand and a scythe over his shoulder. Hour glasses decorate the sides of the inscription, and there are two small skulls on the sides of the gravestone.

The village blacksmith’s gravestone depicts a horseshoe and a farrier’s implements (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Ralph Abbott, the village blacksmith, died in 1776. His grave is marked with a stone that depicts a horseshoe and the implements of his trade.

On the left side is his first wife Mary, with some of their children. To his right is his second wife Martha who died on 25 January 1760 aged 31.

An old gravestone with emblems of the crucifixion (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Close by, the head of a gravestone bears emblems of the crucifixion, including a cross mounted by two ladders and two spears, one bearing a sponge, as well as a crown of thorns and a pelican feeding her young.

A wreath of corn and a bunch of grapes hang on the right arm of the cross, with a cock standing crowing, while a jug and a chalice are suspended from the left arm of the cross.

One of the chest tombs belong to the Ratliffe family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Two large chest tombs belong to the Ratliffe family of Stone Bridge Farm. One tomb completely surrounded by railings is the grave of Thomas Ratliffe of Stone Bridge Farm, his wife Emma, and their daughter Emma.

The second large chest tomb is the grave of Thomas Ratliffe who died in 1774, his wife Elizabeth who died in 1746, and Edward Cooke who died in 1794 and his wife Mary who died in 1809.

Conrad Dietrich Eugen von Voight (1836-1867) married Isabella Mary Harrison of Wolverton House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Nearby is the grave of Conrad Dietrich Eugen von Voight (1836-1867), a Prussian officer and aristocrat who married Isabella Mary Harrison of Wolverton House in 1865. Isabella was 19 when they married, and their marriage involved a complicated, pre-nuptial legal agreement. They had one child when Conrad died two years after their wedding.

There are two war graves for Staff Sergeant Christopher John Arnold, who died on 19 November 1918, eight days after the end of World War I, and Arthur Leonard Hazell of the Merchant Navy who died on 15 December 1940, during World War II.

There are many gravestones too recalling people who died in accidents, including two Irish labourers, John Nicholls and John MacDonough, who were ‘burnt to a cinder’ as they slept in a barn on Wilkinson’s farm on 5 November 1860.

One of two skulls on the grave of William Hardings in the churchyard at Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

A journey through Lent 2023
with Samuel Johnson (12)

Inside Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare … Samuel Johnson was a friend of Thomas Barnard when he was Bishop of Killaloe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on words from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield-born lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

This morning [5 March 2023] is the Second Sunday in Lent, and I hope later this morning to attend the Parish Eucharist in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Parish Church, Stony Stratford.

For five years, until I retired last March, I was the Precentor of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare, and Saint Brendan’s Cathedral.

I preached, spoke and took part in services regularly in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, during those five years.

Samuel Johnson’s circle of friends in London included Thomas Barnard (1727-1806) while he was Bishop of Killaloe (1780–1794). Barnard, who later became Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe (1794-1806), was a member of the Literary Club, and his other friends in London included Johnson’s biographer James Boswell, and their friend David Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Edmund Burke, Bishop Thomas Percy, and other literary figures of the day.

In conversation with Boswell, Dr Johnson once said of Bishop Barnard: ‘No man ever paid more attention to another than he has done to me … Always, sir, set a high value on spontaneous kindness. He whose inclination prompts him to cultivate his friendship of his own accord, will love you more than one whom you have been at pains to attach to you.’

Barnard, for his part, wrote some verses about Johnson that conclude:

Johnson shall teach me how to place
In fairest light each borrow’d grace;
From him I’ll learn to write:
Copy his clear familiar style,
And by the roughness of his file
Grow, like himself, polite.

In 1783, Johnson wrote a charade as a tribute to Bishop Barnard:

My first shuts out thieves from your house or your room,
My second expresses a Syrian perfume,
My whole is a man in whose converse is shar’d
The strength of a Bar and the sweetness of Nard.

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s reflection

The Precentor’s stall in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)