History of All Saints Bisham

The History of All Saints Bisham

Bisham village, which has been known by various names down the centuries, was recorded in Domesday with its villagers, cottagers, slaves, vines and meadowland. A church was also recorded there, no doubt on the beautiful riverside site of the present building, the oldest part of which is the 12th century tower, the parapet, battlements and brick quoins of which were added in the 15th century. The tower contains three bells dating from 1840.

The church has been considerably enlarged over the centuries. In Elizabethan times Lady Hoby (pronounced Hobby) of neighbouring Bisham Abbey was responsible for the building of the Hoby chapel to house the magnificent tomb of the Two Knights, her husband Sir Thomas and his half-brother Sir Philip. Major changes took place with the arrival of a new vicar in 1849.  This was The Reverend Thomas Powell who was to remain at All Saints Bisham for over half a century.

At the joint cost of Mr Powell and Mr G H Vansittart, patron of the living and the then owner of Bisham Abbey, the church was reconstructed in the Decorated style, the chancel extended by ten feet, and two roofs replaced the one flat span ceiling. Further alterations were made in 1856 when the south aisle was rebuilt and the south gallery erected. This gallery contained the pew of the Williams family who lived at Temple House (now demolished) where they were visited by the future King Edward VII who worshipped in the church on those occasions. The final major structural alteration was the addition of the north aisle in 1878 by Col (later Gen) Owen Williams in memory of his parents and first wife who are buried in the vault beneath.

The Hoby Chapel – The tomb of the Two Knights, of exquisite workmanship and carved by members of the Cure family, features the armoured figures lying on rush matting, their heads propped on their helmets, and at their feet hobby falcons, a play on the name of Hoby. These falcons also appear on the armour, which is carved in intricate detail. Long verses in Latin by Lady Hoby and in English by Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, are carved on this monument.

The chapel also houses the impressive canopied tomb of Lady Hoby herself and the sons and daughters of her two marriages, all kneeling but for one infant lying at her knees. This baby and the three daughters behind her all pre-deceased their mother. Her surviving daughter, Anne, Countess of Worcester, in peeress’s robes and coronet-crowned, faces her, and to the rear are Sir Edward and Sir Thomas Posthumous Hoby – the latter so called as he was born after his father’s death, and said to be the original of Malvolio or Sir Andrew Ague-cheek in Twelfth Night. The metal banners on the iron railings enclosing the monument feature the armourial bearings of the Hoby family, the Cooke family from which Lady Hoby came, and the Russell family into which she later married.

Lady Hoby, who was the aunt of Sir Francis Bacon, was a learned and formidable dame. An unproven story relates that she caused the death of another son for blotting his copybooks, and is consequently said to haunt Bisham Abbey.  In 1840 some blotted Tudor copybooks were apparently found under a floor when alterations were made at the Abbey, but subsequently disappeared.

The chapel also contains the ‘swan’ monument, an obelisk at the base of which are four swans and which is surmounted by a flaming heart. This commemorates Margaret, the wife of Sir Edward Hoby. To the north side of the chapel is the monument of George Kenneth Vansittart-Neale, the heir to the Bisham estate, who died at Eton in 1904 aged fourteen. He kneels beneath a Gothic canopy with his spaniel Norman (representing fidelity) lying before him.

A memorial plaque on the south wall of the chapel records the death in the Second World War of Berkeley Henry Vansittart Paget and his brother Guy Leo Paget, the last male heirs to the estate. Other plaques of special interest include that of various members of the Vansittart and Vansittart-Neale families on the the north wall of the chancel. They include Admiral Edward W Vansittart, C B (1818 – 1904) who when a Captain in command of H M Sloop Bittern in 1855 performed ‘distinguished service….in the suppression of piracy in the Chinese seas’, in recognition of which he was presented with a monetary gift by the residents and merchants of Shanghai and vicinity.  This he gave to the church to pay for glazing of the east window of the chancel. It was replaced in 1914 by the present glazing.. A memorial on the north wall of the church commemorates the 8th Earl of Plymouth who died at Bisham Abbey in 1843.

Among those commemorated in the Williams chapel are Owen Gwynydd St George Williams, ‘handsome genial, kind and accomplished’, who was killed aged 28 in action with the Matabele; the Countess of Aylesford, the central figure in a famous Victorian scandal; and Miss Eliza Hughes, related to the Williams family, tragically drowned in 1810.

The beautiful heraldic window containing enamelled glass dates from 1609 and is one of the glories of the Hoby chapel. The small window above commemorates George Kenneth Vansittart-Neale, its subtle colouring toning with that of the heraldic one beneath.

The east window of the chancel includes the kneeling armour-clad figure of Thomas Montacute, 4th Earl of Salisbury, the Salisbury of Shakespeare’s ‘band of brothers’ speech, Lord of the Manor of Bisham. He is shown holding a model of the tomb in which he is buried with his first wife to one side. The division on the other side was intended for his second wife (Alice, Chaucer’s grand-daughter), but she re-married and was buried at Ewelme. The centre light at the base of this window shows Bisham Abbey supported by angels, and is flanked by the coats of arms of the various Lords of the Manor – the Thomas Montacute mentioned above; Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury and father of Warwick the Kingmaker; and the Hoby and Vansittart-Neale families.

Also worthy of note is the signature of the artist (M F Bell) in the form of a rebus in the modern St Clare window in memory of Lady Barrie in the south wall of the church.

The two most interesting brasses are those of Thomas Crekett and John Brinkhurst. Crekett was ‘somtyme fysshemonger of london’ and died in 1517. His brass is on the west wall of the nave, with a ‘dabbing’ of that of ‘Annes his Wyf’ above it. Brinkhurst’s brass, showing him flanked by his two (consecutive!) wives, has been moved twice and is now on the south wall of the tower. He was sometime citizen and Mercer of London, a “Marchavnt Adventvrar” who founded the quaint almshouses in Oxford Road, Marlow, which were demolished to be replaced by the Brinkhust old people’s home in 1970.

Other items of interest are as follows.

The war memorial is guarded by statues of St Michael and St George. Their heads were replaced in the 1980s, having been maliciously broken off. The Royal Arms of George III on the south wall of the church can be dated from between 1801 and 1816 as they include the Hanoverian cap or bonnet, not the crown. In the Williams chapel are a monument of the Tudor period which came from Anglesey; and a medieval altarpiece, thought to be Flemish. The latter is the only item in the chapel having no connection with the Williams family.

The organ is a Johannus 2-manual.

The churchyard is full of interest and contains a number of beautifully-carved tombstones, most of the best of these dating from the first half of the 19th century. The oldest surviving stone is dated 1682.

Notable burials include those of:

  • Sir Robert Hart (1835 – 1911), Inspector General Imperial Chinese Customs, and adviser to the Manchu Dynasty.
  • Edward Vansittart-Neale (1810 – 1892) enthusiast for and benefactor of the Co-operative movement.
  • Edward Riley, FIC (died 1914) a well-known analytical chemist who carried out the first experiments for the Bessemer process. He donated Crown Meadow to Marlow as a recreation ground. Riley Road, Marlow, is named after him.
  • Dr Sydney Shaw, CMG , OBE, eminent geologist. (1903 – 1991)
  • Oscar Asche (1872 – 1936), actor-manager, famous for ‘Chu Chin Chow’
  • Lily Brayton, his wife (1876 – 1953), eminent actress.
  • Mary Frances Ann Westropp (died 1972) widow of Brig.-Gen. Westropp, aged 101
  • Ann Green (died 1862) housekeeper at Temple House, aged 106
  • Edith Marion Rosse (Milady) (died 1932) suspected murder victim