03 August 2023

The Irish diplomat and
aristocrat who refused
a posting to Athens
150 years ago in 1873

The Brabazon wyvern fountain and the Town Hall in Bray … recalling an Irish diplomat who refused to be posted to Athens in 1873 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I was in Southwark Cathedral earlier this week, and as I walked around Southwark during the day I was reminded of how the Irish philanthropist Lord Brabazon played an instrumental role in saving the Cross Bones Graveyard near Southwark Cathedral and how his diplomatic careeer came to an end when he refused to go to Greece 150 years ago.

Lord Brabazon, who eventually succeeded as the 12th Earl of Meath in 1887, was an Irish diplomat and aristocrat who turned down the opportunity to become the Ambassador to Greece in 1873, and so may have missed the opportunity to join the ranks of the Irish Philhellenes a century and a half ago.

Reginald Brabazon (1841-1929), 12th Earl of Meath, was an Irish politician and philanthropist, was born in London on 31 July 1841 into the Brabazon family of Killruddery House, near Bray, Co Wicklow.

He was the son of William Brabazon, 11th Earl of Meath, who laid the foundation stone of the first Catholic church in Rathmines, Dublin, after the site was bought from his father 200 years ago in 1823.

When his father succeeded as the 11th Earl of Meath in 1851, nine-year-old Reginald Brabazon became known as Lord Brabazon. He was educated at Eton and in 1863 he became a clerk in the Foreign Office, and as Lord Brabazon, he became a British diplomat.

He married Lady Mary Jane Maitland, daughter of the 11th Earl of Lauderdale, in 1868. But, in response to pleas from his wife’s family, Brabazon refused to go to Athens 150 years ago when he was posted to the Greek capital in 1873.

Many diplomats who were Irish-born or from Irish families had served as diplomats in Greece in the immediate preceding years, and had earned for themselves reputations as Philhellenes. The most notable of these predecessors was Sir Thomas Wyse (1791-1862) from Waterford, who was the British ambassador in Athens in 1849-1862, and who died at Athens on 16 April 1862.

It is doubtful whether Brabazon would have ever gained a reputation as a Philhellene, unlike many of his Irish predecessors in Greece. He was given offered no alternative to that posting in Athens and, indeed, because of his refusal he was suspended from the Foreign Office. Brabazon was still suspended when he resigned from the Foreign Office in 1877.

A plaque on the former town hall in Bray recalls Lord Brabazon’s gift to the town (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Brabazon now took a new interest in his home town in Co Wicklow. Bray had been without a market house since the old one was demolished in the 1830s, and in 1879 Brabazon wrote to the town council offering to build a covered market house for about £4,000 – the final cost turned out to be £6,366.

The building was designed by two of the leading architects of the day, Sir Thomas Newenham Deane (1827-1899) and his son Thomas Manly Deane (1851-1932), with input from Sir Edward Guy Dawber (1861-1938), later a prominent figure in the Arts and Crafts movement in England.

The Market House is built of local red brick, with timber framing to projecting first floor bays and gables. The pitched roof is tiled and the two-storey portion facing the Main Street is surmounted by a tall copper-clad fleche, complete with clock. The wrought iron gates in the north porch are dated 1881, although the building was largely built in 1882-1883. The town council first met in the new chamber in 1884.

Looking at the building from the side, it is still possible to imagine the original busy market area, 62 ft long by 50 ft wide, with its arcades opening onto the street.

The upper floor is reached by a stone staircase at the east side and with an open timber roof and oak chimney-pieces with carved panels. In the south porch, there is a battered mock Tudor inscription:

Who traffic here beware no strife ensue
In all your dealings be ye just and true
Let [justice] strictly in the scale be weighed
So shall ye call God's blessing on your trade.

On the north front there are relief carvings on the gables of the Brabazon coats of arms, and 30 stained-glass panels in the windows display the heraldic arms of the Brabazon family and their wives from Norman times on.

Brabazon and his wife then decided to devote their time to working with ‘social problems and the relief of human suffering.’ His charities included the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association which he founded in 1882. The association created public parks and gardens in London.

Brabazon leased Ottershaw Park from Sir Edward Colebrooke in 1882-1883, and he was High Sheriff of Co Wicklow in 1883. He wrote to The Times that year to protest against the planned sale of Cross Bones Cemetery as a building site. He urged the public ‘to save this ground from such desecration, and to retain it as an open space for the use and enjoyment of the people.’

Brabazon succeeded his father as 12th Earl of Meath in May 1887, and returned to Ireland with his wife, promising to devote their considerable energies to ‘the consideration of social problems and the relief of human suffering.’

Brabazon was Chancellor of the Royal University of Ireland in 1902-1906. His principal titles were Irish, but he held a seat in the House of Lords with the title of Baron Chaworth. He became a prominent Conservative in the Lords and an ardent imperialist, and was responsible for introducing Empire Day, which was recognised in 1916.

He was a member of the London County Council, the Privy Council of Ireland and the Senate of Southern Ireland, which only existed in 1920-1921. But he did not attend either of the meetings of that short-lived senate in advance of the formation of the Irish Free State.

Lord Meath died on 11 October 1929 and is buried with his wife and son in the churchyard of Christ Church, the Church of Ireland parish church in Delgany, Co Wicklow. The streets and squares in The Coombe, Dublin, named in his honour include: Reginald Street, Reginald Square and Brabazon Square. Meath Gardens in Bethnal Green is a public park.

There is a Portland stone memorial to him by the artist Joseph Hermon Cawthra (1934) outside the Columbia Hotel in Lancaster Gate, London, and a stained-glass window in Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

As for Cross Roads burial yard, it only received the Church’s first official blessing eight years ago on Saint Mary Magdalene’s Day, 22 July 2015, when the recently-retired Dean of Southwark Cathedral, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn, conducted ‘An Act of Regret, Remembrance, Restoration.’ Today, this burial ground saved by Lord Brabazon is home to a garden of remembrance that has evolved into a contemplative space and a memorial shrine created by local people.

The present sad commercial use of the town hall in Bray is hardly a fitting tribute to a man who had a genuine sense of public duty, despite scuppering his diplomatic career by refusing to go to Athens 150 years ago.

Killruddery is the ancestral home of the Brabazon family and one of Ireland’s great historic houses (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (67) 3 August 2023

The East Window or ‘Te Deum’ window in Saint Peter and Saint Paul Church, Buckingham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford
We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and this week began with the Eighth Sunday after Trinity (30 July 2023).

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning for prayer, reading and reflection.

Having looked at the ‘Te Deum’ window in Saint Editha’s Collegiate Church, Tamworth, on Monday (1 August) at the end of a series of reflections on the windows in Tamworth, I am continuing my morning reflections for the rest of this week in these ways:

1, Looking at a depiction of the canticle ‘Te Deum’ in a church;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The top panels in the ‘Te Deum’ window by Clayton and Bell in Saint Peter and Saint Paul Church, Buckingham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The ‘Te Deum’ Window, Saint Peter and Saint Paul Church, Buckingham:

The East Window (1877) by Clayton and Bell in the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul depicts the canticle Te Deum.

The London stained glass firm of Clayton & Bell was founded in 1855 and continued until 1993. The founders were John Richard Clayton (1827-1913), and Alfred Bell (1832-1895). Bell worked in the studio of George Gilbert Scott before entering into a partnership with Clayton in 1856. The firm was pre-eminent among the stained glass designers and manufacturers by 11859.

Clayton and Bell produced decorative schemes for churches and grand secular buildings. The firm once had 300 employees in its Regent Street workshop. The firm continued under Bell’s son, John Clement Bell (1860-1944), and then Reginald Otto Bell (1884-1950) and finally Michael Farrar-Bell (1911-1993) until he died.

The Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, known commonly as Buckingham Parish Church, is prominently located on Castle Hill in the centre of the old town of Buckingham.

There has been a church in Buckingham, since Saxon Times. The old church stood further down the hill, at the bottom of what is now called Church Street, in Prebend End.

Most of Buckingham’s town centre was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1725. Then, in 1776, the spire on the old church, fell down for the second time and caused so much damage that it was decided to build a new church on the vacant site of Castle Hill.

Castle Hill was the site of Edward the Elder’s stronghold against the Danes during the 10th century. Later, a Norman castle was built on the site, giving Castle Hill its name.

The earlier church located in Prebend End and dated from before 1445. However, no records have been found before this date, apart from a reference to it in the Domesday Book of 1086. The old church had a history of the tower and spire collapsing several times and it collapsed for the final time in 1776.

Browne Willis (1682-1760), the MP for Buckingham (1705-1708) and antiquarian who tried to rescue Saint Mary Magdalene Church and its tower in Stony Stratford after it was destroyed by fire, also wanted to restore the church in Buckingham to its former glory following the last repairs in 1698, but the new spire was too ambitious.

A letter to the Bishop of Lincoln explained that after the church tower had fallen and destroyed the church, and the inhabitants of Buckingham were unable to rebuild the parish church.

A new site became available on Castle Hill. It is said that much of the fabric of the earlier church was reused in building the new church and that Church Street was given its name because the old church was carried up it to be rebuilt on Castle Hill.

Richard Grenville-Temple (1711-1779), 2nd Earl Temple and William Pitt’s brother-in-law, undertook to build a new church and the site was donated Ralph Verney (1714-1791), 2nd Earl Verney, an Irish peer previously known as Lord Fermanagh.

The foundation stone was laid by Robert Bartlett, bailiff of Buckingham, on 25 November 1777. The church was completed by Lord Temple’s nephew, George Nugent-Temple-Grenville (1753-1813), 3rd Earl Temple and 1st Marquis of Buckingham, later Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1787-1789).

The new church in the ‘Debased Gothic’ style, was consecrated by Thomas Thurlow, Bishop of Lincoln, on 6 December 1780, and was dedicated to the Apostles Peter and Paul.

The present Victorian Gothic Revival church is the result of many 19th-century alterations by the local-born architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, who added buttresses to prop up the building and redesigned the church in late 13th century geometrical style.

Scott remodelled and extended the church in 1862-1867, with the addition of the south porch, the chancel and chancel aisle, and a decoration scheme in the Gothic style. His alterations left little of the original 18th-century church untouched, although the tower and spire remain unchanged since 1780, and the windows were slightly altered.

The new chancel was funded by a £358 donation from the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. The refurbished and rebuilt church were consecrated by the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, in 1867.

The doorway of the south porch has cusped heads and there are statues of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the paired niches above. A convex shield above the west door shows the Swan of Buckingham in relief.

Inside, the chancel has a two-bay arcade with shafted piers at the north aisle, which houses the organ chamber and the vestry. The oak reredos dating from 1904 is by John Oldrid Scott, and has painted panels of the Nativity and angels. The prayer desks in the Lady Chapel incorporate late 15th and early 16th century pew ends from the old church. There is an oak pulpit and an oak lectern.

Much of the stained glass in the church is by Clayton and Bell, including the East Window (1877) depicting the canticle Te Deum.

The lower panels in the ‘Te Deum’ window in Saint Peter and Saint Paul Church, Buckingham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Matthew 13: 47-53 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 47 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51 ‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ 52 And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’ 53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.

The ‘Te Deum’ window, reredos, high altar and choir in Saint Peter and Saint Paul Church, Buckingham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Reflections from the International Consultation.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by the Very Revd Dr Sarah Rowland Jones of the Church in Wales.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (3 August 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

We pray today for the survivors of human trafficking. For God’s healing of their bodies, their minds and their spirits. Bring joy and care where there was shame and fear. May all around them keep them safe.


Almighty Lord and everlasting God,
we beseech you to direct, sanctify and govern
both our hearts and bodies
in the ways of your laws
and the works of your commandments;
that through your most mighty protection, both here and ever,
we may be preserved in body and soul;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Strengthen for service, Lord,
the hands that have taken holy things;
may the ears which have heard your word
be deaf to clamour and dispute;
may the tongues which have sung your praise be free from deceit;
may the eyes which have seen the tokens of your love
shine with the light of hope;
and may the bodies which have been fed with your body
be refreshed with the fullness of your life;
glory to you for ever.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul stands on Castle Hill in the centre of Buckingham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org