Updated: Sep 7, 2022
From the editor
Hello to all our readers. Hasn’t summer been eventful?
We have had extraordinary heat waves, which I trust you have all managed to get through without too much discomfort. We have a new prime minister. We have a new vicar at Bisham Church, (much more exciting) although one many will know already
We are now heading for Autumn. The National news tells us it will be a time of battening down the hatches financially, cutting our cloth accordingly, and bracing up.
Despite all of this, we are lucky, because we have our community to support us, whatever the last few months of 2022 bring. The Church has never been a livelier hub for meeting friends, whether it’s putting on a few pounds with the delicious cakes at our coffee mornings, learning about the history of our village, or being entertained by a great variety of local talent.
The events list is in the newsletter. Hopefully, you will come along to our fantastic mix of daytime and evening events through the autumn and winter and bring friends and family too. We love meeting you all.
This edition of the newsletter includes, among other articles, an encapsulation of Sheila Featherstone-Clark’s wonderful history sessions, and a piece on Alix French-Brown's house and its glamorous previous owners who are both buried in the churchyard….We have another hidden treasure – Barbara Case - and her favourite part of the church. There is also a special photograph of Lorraine Gill signing her Crucifixion artwork. Finally, there’s a note from our new vicar, John.
Enjoy reading it and do feel free to send me ideas for future inclusions. The next newsletter will be in the spring.
Chair of Bisham Church Friends Update
The Bisham Church Friends team has continued to be busy focusing on our 3 key objectives; raising awareness of our beautiful church, encouraging more people to come into the church, and helping to raise church funds.
It is hard to believe that it is just over a year since we hosted our first Friends event, with Lorraine Gill and friends talking about her life with Tony Buzan, inventor of mind maps, whose ashes are resting on our church grounds. This was followed by a 7-day exhibition of Lorraine’s work and images of her life with Tony. Since then, our relationship has blossomed resulting in Lorraine kindly sharing her painting “The Crucifixion”, one of her most treasured artworks, with the church.
We have had a great year. With your continued support, we have held 21 events including our popular coffee mornings with history on the church from Sheila (there’s more on this history in the newsletter), an afternoon of songs, arias, and show tunes from the talented Richard Brooman, a children’s Easter Egg Hunt, an evening with the brilliant BBO Big Band, several Marlow Riders fundraising coffee and cakes stops, two churchyard tidy ups and two Platinum Jubilee celebrations for the Village and Bisham School.
These events have helped us raise over £8,500 with around 1,100 people attending in total which is amazing.
To ensure we spend the money raised wisely we are in discussions with Stewart and the DCC to support both the church and the community. We are thinking about improving the kitchen facilities in the church, including a dishwasher and fridge, improving the sound system, and supporting the new church organ fundraising activity. Once these decisions are finalised we will let you know. Of course, we will continue to use the funds to be able to offer refreshments at our events for you to enjoy.
We have always tried to ensure we had something for everyone and that our events are always community-focused, which from the great feedback we’ve had seems to be working.
I would like to mention The Bisham Village Platinum Jubilee Event held on 5th June. This was a collaboration with Bisham Church Friends, the villagers, and the school.
It was a great family event, including live music from Spencer Chaplin (grandson of Charlie Chaplin), games and activities, amazing cakes and BBQ food, Rebellion beer, and an exhibition of images of Queen Elizabeth, kindly curated by Michael & Terry Smith, which then spent a month at All Saints Marlow so more people could enjoy them. While the weather was dull, we still had 150 attendees to join in the fun, and we raised over £500. Our hope is to build into our programme more village collaborations going forward, so Bisham Church really becomes the hub of our community.
While all our events are special, I would like to highlight our Friends Summer Event held on Thursday 18th August - a very warm and enjoyable evening of friends getting together over a drink and sharing news. Lots of familiar faces and some newer ones too. Wonderful! I wanted also to flag up the return of our Quiz Night which is on the 9th November at Bisham Abbey, which we hope will become another annual event with the village community.
Finally, thank you for your continued support to date; we couldn’t do it without you! We look forward to seeing you and your family and friends at our future events
Sean Wheeler BEM
Bisham Church Friends Chair
Future dates for your diary
FRIDAY – 14TH OCTOBER
Complimentary Community Coffee Morning - 10am - 12 noon
Homemade cakes & fresh coffee
10.45am our history talks continue with local historian, Sheila
Please let us know if you would like to bake a cake and/or join us.
SATURDAY – 15TH OCTOBER
Church Yard Autumn Tidy Up & bulb planting - 1.00pm – 4.00pm
Followed by tea & cakes to thank all the hard workers
Looking for friends, families & keen gardeners to volunteer to help tidy up the grounds
Helpers needed, let us know – details below - bring your own cutters, weeders, and brushes etc.
SUNDAY – 23RD OCTOBER NEW DATE - DCC Event supported by BCF
A Mostly English Afternoon of Music - 3pm - 5pm
Richard Brooman returns, accompanied by Graham Barker
Fund raiser for Church Organ Fund - tea & cakes at 4.30pm
Please let us know if you would like to bake a cake and join us.
WEDNESDAY – 9TH NOVEMBER
Quiz Night at Bisham Abbey is back!! –-6.30pm – 9.30pm
Drink on arrival & Supper included - Ticket price £20 pp and includes x2 raffle tickets. (More raffle tickets can be purchased on the night)
Open to all villagers, family & friends, create a team or join a team on the night
Fundraising event for the new Bisham Church Organ
Please let us know if you would like to join us.
MONDAY – 12th DECEMBER
Complimentary Festive Community Coffee Morning - 10am - 12 noon
Joined by Bisham School Children for carols & nativity Homemade cakes & fresh coffee
Please let us know if you would like to bake a cake and join us.
SUNDAY - 18th DECEMBER – DCC Event
Christmas Carol Service – 5pm
Everyone is welcome
Refreshments after the service
SATURDAY - 24th DECEMBER – DCC Event
Crib Service – 3pm
Everyone is welcome
SUNDAY – 25TH DECEMBER – DCC Event
Christmas Day Service – 9.30am
If you & your family would like to become a Friend, join our events or bake a cake, please send details to email@example.com (BCF Secretary) or alternatively call/email Sean (BCF Chair) 07808094777 / firstname.lastname@example.org
A summary of our History talks
Sheila Featherstone-Clark is our resident historian. Sheila came to Bisham village in 1981 and is passionate about researching the village's history and telling its stories, not just about the Abbey. Sheila has enjoyed talking to local residents and digging for snippets in the archives to share at the coffee mornings. You can listen to more in her podcast: In The Shadow of the Abbey https://podcastaddict.com/podcast/3194005.
Everything Sheila’s told us so far has been precised below between us – a whistlestop tour through the church and the very exciting families who have influenced its evolution and health
Chronology of families in Bisham Abbey
Earls of Salisbury (Montacute/Plantangnet ) 1301 -1540
Hoby 1554 - 1758
Vansittart (Neale) 1780 - 1965
1. 24/9/21 The development of All Saints Bisham church:
Sheila told us about the overall evolution of the Church from 1066
The Knight’s Templar held the Bisham Estate from 1140 with All Saints as the basic village church.
The Earls of Salisbury held the Abbey from 1335 – 1540; the church was where they worshipped
The Bisham Abbey Estate was given to Ann of Cleves – Henry VIII’s 4th wife - as a divorce settlement in 1540. It was swapped with Sir Philip Hoby’s property in Suffolk as Bisham was too close to Windsor and Court. She gave Temple to her purser. (Sir Philip was a diplomatic courtier and had gone with Holbein to paint the portrait of Ann of Cleves). The Hobys held Bisham Abbey for 200 years
Jump to 1566 and the Hoby chapel was built. Plaques of members of the Hoby family can be found here, recognising their contribution to sustaining and developing the Estate over 2 centuries. (The chapel houses the tomb of the 2 worthy knights. Lady Elizabeth Hoby built the memorials to her brother-in-law Sir Philp and her husband Sir Thomas)
Margaret Cary – Lady Hoby’s daughter-in-law and 1st cousin to Elizabeth I – had swans as her family symbol. The Square ‘swans’ monument was erected in 1570 on her death, now the village’s symbol
In 1609 the stained-glass Hoby window was installed by Edward, Elizabeth Hoby’s son, in her memory
New bells were hung in the tower in 1840, funded by George Henry Vansittart, Lord of the Manor
Benjamin Ferry, architect, designed a Gothic refurbishment of the church, including the pews and font and the South Aisle, which was extended for a new doorway and porch in 1849
The new East window was installed in 1855 – a gift from the people of Shanghai to thank Vice Admiral Edward Westby Vansittart, Captain of HMS Bittern, for suppressing piracy in the South China seas
In 1875 the Williams chapel was built for £2,000 in memory of retired Horseguards Major General Owen Lewis Cope’s parents, who were buried there originally. He also built the monument outside the church – the Williams monument, the entrance to the underground crypt
Moving on to the 20th century, George Kenneth Vansittart Neale died in 1904 and a monument of him kneeling with his dog was installed on the left of the chapel. He was only 14 when he died
In 1914 Edith Vansittart Neale replaced the East Window in memory of members of her family
In 1920 a War Memorial plaque was added by Sir Henry Vansittart Neale and the Reverend W Farrer on the back wall. It was further added after the 2nd World War, in memory of local people who gave their lives in pursuit of lasting peace
Fast forward again to 2019 when a new loo was installed in place of the old boiler
In 2021 an area of pews was cleared in order to make space for the church to host BCF community activities - and here we are!
2) 27/10/2021 The Hobys and the Burial Chapel
This family had the most significant influence on the church for over 200 years, from 1554 – 1780
It all began with Sir Philip Hoby in 1535 (trusted courtier to Henry VIII), who was the last papal legate to Rome. He was a wife hunter or matchmaker to the stars of the day! He was charged with overseas missions, including finding a wife for Henry VIII (a few times!)
He married Elizabeth Stonor in 1540, who was part of Catherine Parr’s inner circle. This was the beginning of a long relationship between the Hobys and the Stonors
In 1554 the Bisham Estate was swapped between Philip Hoby and the divorced Ann of Cleves
In 1556 Sir Philip died, Sir Thomas Hoby took the reins. Thomas (Philip’s younger half-brother) he was also a courtier
3 weeks after he inherited Bisham Estate, he married Elizabeth Cooke on 27th June 1556 – an Essex girl, but very well educated. Her father was tutor to Prince Edward and he believed in female education. She was a very early feminist and a feisty character - she even had a showdown with Shakespeare, moving the building of the Globe from one side of the river to the other, to avoid the hoy polloy hanging around her house in Blackfriars
Her sisters married Lord Cecil/Burghley and Lord Bacon and were close to Elizabeth I
In 1566 Thomas Hoby was appointed Ambassador to France and they moved to Paris. He died aged 36. Elizabeth built the burial chapel in the Church
In 1574 Elizabeth Hoby married John, Lord Russell, heir to the Duke of Bedford – which would give her the Countess’s coronet. She didn’t inherit it because he died 6 months before his father, but she included it on her monument nonetheless
In 1592 she mounted a Pageant on Bisham Hill – the first time that noblewomen had acted in a pageant - partly to find a husband for her daughter Anne, who went on to marry Lord Herbert, Marquis of Worcester (getting her coronet)
Her son Thomas Posthumus married Margaret Dakins of Hackness, Essex in 1591. She wrote a diary of a Protestant woman – the oldest diary of an English gentlewoman
The 17th Century became more male-dominated. Edward, Elizabeth’s son, became MP for Berkshire and Rochester. He didn’t have a legitimate son, but he did have an illegitimate son called Peregrine, by Catherine Pinkney. Do any of our readers know of a link with Pinkney’s Green? While Perigrine was recognised by society and allowed to take on the estate, he couldn’t inherit the title
In 1634 Peregrine had a son called Edward Hoby. A new title was created for him – and the Hoby Baronetcy continued. He died in 1675 and his younger brother John inherits it. Finally Sir Philip, Dean of Ardfert, became the last Hoby Baronet in 1766
Then succession was passed to his first cousin, Sir John Mill, on condition that he became ‘Hoby’
His wife then sold the estate in 1780. The Vansittarts took over and the commercial influence began
3. 01/12/2021 Vansittarts and Indian Money
The Vansittarts held the Estate for nearly 200 years, from 1780 to 1965 and had the right to appoint the clergy (advowson)
Arthur Vansittart of Shottesbrooke, had 6 sons, the youngest of whom was George Vansittart. He and his older brother Henry were Indian linguists. Henry owned Foxley at Bray and Reading Abbey.
Henry got George involved with the Hellfire Club - the centre of debauchery locally. His father was horrified and sent young George to India in 1761 to sort himself out. He was a close friend of Clive of India who founded the East India Company
He returned in 1780 with only a minor fortune, a changed and sensible man, marrying his cousin Sara Stonehouse. He decided to invest in the community. Others with Indian money settled nearby
George gave the estate a complete makeover, including the Church
His youngest son Henry became Vice Admiral and founded the Canadian branch of the family.
Edward Neale, another son, became Vicar of Bisham and trustee of the estate (not Vansittart, as he married the niece of Oliver Cromwell and had to drop the Vansittart).
George’s oldest son, called George Henry, became an army general but died before his father, so his heir was his grandson - baby George Henry…. aged only one
He needed a guardian – Henry Windsor took the role – 8th Earl of Plymouth. He was the last of the name of Windsor, leaving the Royal Family to be able to take the name
George Henry remained Lord of Manor for 64 years. He founded the school in 1840 and built the vicarage in 1860. He presided over church improvements including the new North Wing or Williams chapel, and a gothic makeover.
George’s brother Augustus left a legacy in 1896 to fund Victorian schoolrooms
Edward Ernest became Lord of Manor in 1885. He was a lawyer, and son of Vicar Edward Neale and was known as the father of the Co-operative Society, with a memorial in Westminster Abbey
He built the road from Quarry Wood to Cookham Dean to get to the new railway station.
4. 10/03/22 Thomas Williams: The Copper King at Temple Mill
Thomas Williams was born in 1737 and became a solicitor in Anglesea. Copper was found in Wales in 1760 and he took advantage of this, becoming part owner of the Paris Mountain Copper mine
He was very shrewd and had a good team around him. He reorganised the copper mine once he owned it, creating his own vertical manufacturing industry from smelting to manufacturing items
He moved the Welsh miners to Ravenshead in Lancashire. He then took on other sites in Wales and in Wraysbury Berkshire, ending up with the monopoly in the Copper trade in the UK. He was fantastically wealthy and influential.
Took on a fellow called Pascoe Grenfell, who ultimately bought Taplow House from the Earl of Orkney and rebuilt it. He was a very able salesman, son of one of the Cornish copper mining families, and was very smart. In 1784 They went on to run the business together – Pascoe was only 24 at the time.
By 1787 Pasco and Thomas had taken over every British mine
During this time, they won the contract for producing copper bottoms on navy ships, including the patent for copper bolts to secure the copper bottoms (probably most notably HMS Victory).
His business had capital of almost £1m in 1799
In need of more capacity, in 1788 he purchased 3 Temple mills to expand his capacity – a hammer mill, a flat rolling mill and a bolt mill, shifting 1000 tons of copper a year
In 1790 he built Temple house - designed by Samuel Wyatt. The slate pillar fence was his too. He upgraded Temple Lock. He was also voted MP for Marlow. His son Owen became the 2nd MP for Marlow in 1796, alongside his father, continuing after his death.
Thomas Williams died in 1802. At that time he was employing 1200 people across his 2 main mines. Only 10 years later the industry was decimated, with only 120 employees, due to the collapse of copper prices, due in no small way to Thomas’s death
All the copper tributes are in the Williams Chapel including plaques to Thomas Peers Williams – Owen’s son. He was described by his neighbour Benjamin D’Israeli, as a ‘nincompoop’. His daughter was Edith, Countess of Aylesford who married the 7th Earl of Aylesford – Heneage. While he was off galavanting in India with the prince of Wales, she had a dalliance with George Spencer Churchill, producing a son, who was Baptised and was titled 7th Earl, suggesting that he’d been accepted by his biological father but he was refused entry to the House of Lords.
In 1850 the mills turned to paper….
5. 25/05/22 Henry James- The last Squire - Tragedy, Honours and the Jubilee
Edward Earnest Vansittart-Neale, son of The Reverend Neale, inherited the Estate, from 1885 – 1892. He took over from George Henry who died in 1885 having inherited aged 1 but produced no children
Edward was a barrister, who founded the Co-operative movement and began to fund various commercial ventures. However, he wasn’t very commercially minded. Money was hemorrhaging until he inherited the Estate, age 75
He went to live in Manchester, HQ of the Co-operative movement, and left his family – Frances Sarah Farrah, their son Henry James and 3 younger sisters, Constance, Henrietta and Edith – in Bisham
Henry, had to get involved, therefore, in the absence of his father. He didn’t go to Oxford, instead getting a job at the admiralty, in order to earn income to support his mum and sisters
Gladstone brought in succession duties, levied on the life interest of the estate in 1894. With Edward extracting funds for his Cooperative interests, and an Estate needing continuous funding to remain viable, once Henry took over, the family would leave the big house whenever they could to let it
He was married in 1887 to Florence Eddis, who were both in their 40s. They had Phyllis (1889), George Kenneth (1890), who died at 14, and Elizabeth Francis (1893), who became Mrs Paget
Henry built in the village, experimenting with cement, a new material at the time. This construction included The White Cottages, and Warren Cottage, the home of the curate. He was awarded Companion of the Bath in Queen Victoria’s Jubilee list, for good work at the Admiralty
Edward had started the Bisham Club and Institute, (now the entrance to Bisham Court) and Henry gave them a billiard table and an extension, library and social spaces
4 working farms existed on the Estate, Town, Abbey, Park and Hyde
In 1897 Henry gifted a piece of riverside land to the villagers so they could have their own slipway…
Sir Henry was made Knight Commander of the Bath in the 1902 Coronation honours recognising 40 years of service
This set an important precedent – The Doctrine of Frustration of Purpose!
Henry continued to sell plots of land, including along New Road, specifying that they had to build to the value of £500
Meanwhile, Lady Florence was running bible classes, and training local lads in basket work. It was a busy village looking after itself, connected to the community
Henry was head of many local societies and wanted to be involved with no airs and graces. At Phyllis’s 21st birthday party held at the Abbey in 1910, the whole village was invited, all 400 people!
The 1st world war saw the Abbey offered as a war hospital to Belgian soldiers, with the church as a great source of solace. Both daughters became nurses
1918 Bridge House in Marlow was built, on land Henry sold
Elizabeth married Major Leo Paget in Bisham Church in 1917 – the first bride from the Abbey to be married at the church since Lady Hoby
When Henry died in 1923 Elizabeth had 2 sons – Berkeley and Guy. They would be the heirs
6. 26/07/2022 Life in Bisham at the turn of the century 1900 – 1905
Revd Powell had been vicar for 51 years until 1900 and had been busy during his half a century with the church:
He established the village school in 1848 to provide elementary and religious education 22 years before National Education Act. The school always got top marks in inspections and consequently maximum grants
In 1836 rebuilt and extended the south aisle of the church with a new entrance
Fast forward to 1849 a new pulpit and gothic pews arrived; poppy heads with carved foliage
In 1874 new Victorian classrooms were added to the school – a legacy of Augustus Vansittart-Neale
In 1875 the Williams Chapel was added, costing £2,000, thanks to Owen Lewis Cope Williams
The vicarage was extended during this time too
A new vicar came to the vicarage in 1900, Revd William Farrer and wife Edith. in 1901 there were 137 names on the school roll – 85 boys and 52 girls. (To give an idea of the times, the summer treat was a river trip to Temple in Mrs Taylor and Mr Riley’s electric launches). This was the year that the old schoolmaster John Yates died – he was the enumerator for the 1901 census
A collection for Revd Powell raised £49-17-6 which paid for a memorial tablet made of Sienna and green Irish marble with a Wheeled Bier
Revd Farrer started carving classes with prizes first given at the flower show in 1904. (The chest in the church was carved by them in 1908). The flower show cost £37 to put on and the new church boiler cost £38-19-06! The Easter offerings were given to the clergy and giving was generous enough to pay for the new boiler without additional fundraising.
1904 floods meant that the Temple children went to school in a wagon
Mothers’ meetings were held on Fridays run by Lady Florence Vansittart Neale and Mrs Farrer
Football and cricket clubs were doing well, playing on the most beautiful ground in England, courtesy of the Squire, Sir Henry
One Sunday school treat showed off Mr Nicholson’s Magic lantern and Fred Harding’s phonograph, invented by Thomas Edison
The Vansittart heir George Kenneth sadly died of appendicitis at age 14. A life-sized monument was erected in his memory. Lt Gen Owen Williams was put in the vault and the Admiral died too, at age 86. Many in the village lived to a good old age
The pulpit was raised in the church to avoid flood water and major external repairs to the tower happened in 1905, and inside the floor was replaced, twice, as it was rotten
The school continued to do well as a Church of England school educating all the village children to the age of 13
Everyone lived and worked together in the village, with the more affluent paying for community activities
Lorraine Gill donates Crucifixion to our Church
We are so delighted to have been given a work of art by Lorraine Gill, Tony Buzan’s lifelong friend.
The Crucifixion was painted in 1973 in the house of John Berger the Art Critic, in Bonnieux in the South of France. John Berger had written of Lorraine's work many times and became a mentor for over forty years.
The inspiration for the Crucifixion is an icon of suffering and redemption of the human condition - Darkness into Light. Lorraine chose to paint about light and beauty. Each facet is hand painted and the painting took over a year to complete.
The central panel represents Christ as pure light. The left panel has more red, indicating John the Baptist and the right panel more blue, indicating The Virgin Mary.
Tony Buzan, Lorraine’s lifelong companion and 'Inventor of Mind Maps’, always had this painting in his house as a symbol of humanity and potential.
In this Church now rests Tony Buzan and The Crucifixion due to Lorraine’s kindness and generosity
BISHAM CHURCH FRIENDS JUBILEE LUNCH
Sunday 5 June 2022
Bisham School was the venue for the Jubilee celebration lunch on a fine day with many friends and village families participating.
Sean Wheeler had arranged an array of amusements and selection of food. A long table was laden with tea, coffee, soft drinks, plus a barrel of Marlow’s local Rebellion beer and many homemade cakes, manned by Gina and Hilary. Stuart Featherstone Clark sourced sausages from Giles Philp at Town Farm and burgers on his barbecue and many families brought picnics and chairs and made-up sociable groups. Stuart also provided a gazebo canopy in case of inclement weather or shade and it was much appreciated.
There were games for the children, a tombola, an open frame for looking through and taking photos of faces.
Michael and Terry Smith had organised a wonderful display of framed pictures of Queen Elizabeth in each of her seven decades. They had chosen 7 interesting portraits and had made beautiful wooden frames with an appropriate description for each one mounted below, and all mounted on easels all done to the highest quality. They were subsequently displayed at All Saints’ Church, Marlow for a month, very worthy of extended display.
Sheila Featherstone Clark tested us on the knowledge of Bisham church, the Hoby and Vansittart families and the village, which she had mentioned in her very interesting talks over the previous months. Bruce and Jackie, keen supporters of the BCF coffee mornings, won the quiz having the best recall and memories of the talks.
We were very fortunate to be serenaded and entertained by a musician with a guitar, Spencer Chaplin, who sang non-stop from 11.30 to 2.30pm. His selection of songs from the 60’s through the decades had us all humming along and created a happy atmosphere. Spencer is a grandchild of Charlie Chapman, one of many, and he is one of a family of 8 children. We were delighted that Sean was able to organise Spencer to entertain us.
The event was a great success and we are all indebted to Sean for his organisation and to all the Bisham Church Friends committee and helpers who made a memorable Jubilee for us all. About 150 attended and donations amounted to £567.
19 August 2022
Russell King – Chair of Marlow Riders
Marlow Riders, the local cycling Club has about 350 members. On summer Saturdays the Club’s tradition is that every ride group congregates at the same Coffee Stop - which may be a pub, Village Hall, Sports Club or, as in the case of Bisham, a Church. Typically between 50 and 100 people ride every Saturday and one of our firm favourites is Bisham Church. Why? Well, we love supporting local good causes, everybody is so warm and friendly, the venue is wonderful and, of course, the coffee and cake are first class. We have even had members provided with a guided tour of the wonderfully historic church by Sheila! Our members really are appreciative of the care and effort that is made to make us feel so welcome. And it is lovely to see a precious community asset taking on a new look when mobbed by 60 or 70 Lycra-clad cyclists. We always vote on our favourite coffee stops each year and I’m pretty sure that Bisham Church will be a very strong contender.
Lily Brayton and Oscar Asche
Lived in The Thatched House Bisham in the 1920s, buried in the Churchyard at Bisham
The Thatched House sits by the river in Bisham and is in the process of being extensively refurbished by the family who has owned it for a few years. On exploring the history of the house, they discovered that it was built roughly a century ago and was originally lived in by actors Oscar Asche and Lily Brayton, who are both buried in Bisham churchyard, and whose story is glamour, success, and sometimes sadness. It’s with thanks to the current owners that this story can be told as they shared their research on Oscar and Lily with me.
Lily Brayton was born in Hindley, Lancashire in 1876, the fourth daughter of a Lancashire doctor. Her first stage performance was in Manchester in 1896, in the cast of a production of Shakespeare's King Richard II.
In June 1898 she married Australian Oscar Asche. Both were members of the same theatrical company, along with her sister Agnes Brayton (1878–1957). There are three portraits of Brayton in the National Portrait Gallery, and many photographs exist showing her in costume - a demonstration of her fame and success.
In 1904 she and Asche formed their own theatrical company, managing the Adelphi Theatre, London and later His Majesty's Theatre, where they put on a number of classical plays, including Shakespeare works and Laurence Binyon's Attila, in which Lily played the part of Ildico. She also performed for several seasons at the Stratford Festival.
Oscar made his London stage debut 3 years before her, in 1893, and played more than a hundred roles in his professional lifetime, including many leading Shakespearian roles.
In 1911 Edward Knoblock wrote the play Kismet for him; Oscar revised and shortened it, and the production enjoyed great success in London and on tour with Oscar in the leading role of Hajj.
Probably most notably though, Oscar wrote and produced the comedy musical Chu Chin Chow, starring himself and Lily, which ran for an unprecedented 2,238 performances, from August 1916 to July 1921. It was staged in London in 1916. Brayton played the female lead character, Zahrat-al-Kulub in nearly 2000 performances, a real feat of endurance.
Oscar became obese, unstable and violent in his later years, and he and Brayton separated for a time, and as a result of his high-spending lifestyle, he was declared bankrupt in 1926. Lily returned to Oscar for his 1928 play, The Good Old Days of England. Her last stage appearance was as Portia in Julius Caesar in 1932, directed by Oscar.
In 1936 he died at the age of 65 of coronary thrombosis.
After his death, Lil married Dr Douglas Chalmers Watson and moved to East Lothian. Following his death, she moved to Devon where she died at the age of 76. She was cremated and her ashes buried in the grave of her first husband in Bisham Church riverside cemetery. She had no children.
September 2022’s Hidden Treasures: Barbara Case and the Heraldic Windows
Barbara has been part of Bisham and the church for 70 years and lives in the house her parents bought when they first came here from London.
She tells me, “My parents moved here in 1952. My grandmother had died, so they could then move before my father retired. I was 21 at the time and at college”.
Barbara told me that when her parents moved to Bisham, to the houses near the bridge, they were not really considered part of the village and that her involvement with the village was only occasional – coming home for holidays between studies and then to visit her parents when she was living and working in London.
She remembers one very wet summer praying that it would be sunny for the summer fete. The sun duly shone, and the fete was a great success. They were all back in church the following Sunday in the rain, to give thanks for that one sunny day.
Barbara is a botanist. She began her career working for the Nature Conservancy (now known as English Nature). After meeting her husband-to-be, she married in Bisham in 1956 The Reverend Railston Brown taking the service.
“I can remember the pointed doorway of the vicarage where I had to go to have the ‘little talk’ before I got married…an old-fashioned talk as they were in those days!”
Indeed one of her fondest memories of the Church was on her wedding day, not just because of the occasion, but because of an unexpected guest: “It was the Tuesday after Easter and the church was warm(!). A beautiful butterfly flew around the church and settled on my veil during the service”.
Barbara didn’t stay in Bisham once she married, she lived in Crowthorne for many years and then in Remenham, but she visited regularly, and her sons, Richard (now 63) and George (now 61), have very happy memories of Bisham with their grandparents when they were young.
After Barbara’s children went to nursery, she went back to work as a science teacher at the Holt school in Wokingham – then a girls’ grammar school, now a comprehensive. Both her father and husband died during this period of her life. She decided to take early retirement from the Holt and then her mother died too. She returned to Bisham, to her parent's house, in 1985, where she has lived ever since.
I asked Barbara whether she’d always worshipped at Bisham Church, especially as she lives not far from the bridge into Marlow. “Absolutely, we always went to Bisham. The church over the bridge didn’t really exist if you lived the other side! It was only as I got older that I took the shorter walk over the bridge. I still feel very much a part of Bisham.”
She said “I hardly had a foot in the door once arriving to live in Bisham when The Reverend Peter Smith approached me saying he needed a new School Governor for Bisham Church School, and that I would be perfect as I lived in the parish, attended the church and was an ex-teacher. That was my first commitment to the school and Church.” Barbara also became a member of the DCC and served on the Deanery Synod.
One of her most enjoyable periods with the church was when “a wonderful young vicar arrived, the Reverend Charles Chadwick, who was so good at identifying the right people for the right jobs. He now works for the Oxford Diocese and is an honorary Canon of Christchurch. We are still in touch.”
Soon after his arrival, Charles asked her whether she would be in charge of church cleaning, which she agreed to. “My first move was to chuck out all the terrible old hoovers – that improved things. Then we set up ‘prayer and polishing’ one day a week during Lent. It was a spring clean for the Church and for the soul!”
After this, Barbara was a Parish warden for four years after the four parishes had come together.
I asked Barbara what her favourite part of the Church was, her Church treasure. She told me without hesitation that it was the Heraldic windows.
The windows were given to the church by Edward Hoby in 1609 in memory of his mother:
“I used to sit and stare at them with the sunlight shining through them. The windows went to Canterbury stained glass studio for conservation and restoration and while they were there, very generously Richard Brooman drove some of us all the way to Canterbury in a minibus to see the work in progress. It was a wonderful day.”
These windows inspired in Barbara a deep interest in heraldry. As a member of NADFAS (now the Art Society) she helped them with heraldry and recorded several monuments in many churches.
Barbara is clearly very much a fixture of Bisham and the Church. She has 5 grandchildren, 2 boys and 3 girls, who have many happy memories of so many stages of her life in the village.
Finally, I asked her about what she thought of the health of our local community, and she was very enthusiastic:
“Our community events are good news. The Bisham Church Friends bring together people of all faiths and none. It’s not about being deeply Christian (faith is something that’s caught, not taught), this is about the church for its history, as part of our culture, being here to provide a deep-seated sense of community for everybody so I’m all for it.”
Bisham District Church Council Report August 2022
By far the most important news from the DCC is that Rev John Smith is shortly returning to Bisham as part of the Ministerial team. As profiled elsewhere in this newsletter, this is very exciting news and we look forward to officially welcoming him back on 11th September at his Licensing Service when we hope many of you will be present.
Support for the new organ fund has been very encouraging in that over £17000 has now been raised, which means that we are over halfway to our target of £30000. Of course, it goes without saying that we still have the most difficult amount of the funds to achieve and so please give due consideration to contributing to this vital and important project.
The sound enhancement system in our church has been lacking in consistency for a while now and with improvement estimates, in place, we hope to right this situation shortly. BCFs have kindly indicated their financial support in this instance for which we are extremely grateful.
We have decided to remove the excess church path gravel to allow easier access for those with disabilities. Although aesthetically less pleasing, we must make the church as welcoming as possible for allcomers.
John Smith - introducing the new vicar
Dear Friends, it is a joy and privilege to be back in Bisham. I don’t fully understand why, but All Saints, Bisham has had a special place in my heart ever since I first came here in the summer of 2015. It has continued to feel like my ‘home’ church even when I was looking after the Church in the Luberon, France these last four to five years.
I particularly look forward to working with the Friends of All Saints Bisham. The major driving force behind us providing a loo in the church was our desire to engage more proactively with the community and make the church a community centre, or the centre of the community if you will, in addition to it being a place of worship. We, or at least I, never envisaged that so much would be achieved so soon by the Friends, initially under Robert’s leadership, and now with Sean and his wonderful team. Thank you, team, and every one of you members and helpers for all you have done and all your support but this is just the beginning.
I look forward to meeting each one of you in the coming months.
Rev John Smith
All Saints Bisham
Here’s a last thought from me… The April newsletter might have given you a hint of this, but I really like poetry, speeches, ditties. Last time I included Resistance by Simon Armitage, a very uplifting piece about the war in Ukraine.
For this one I thought I’d share excerpts from 'The Hill We Climb' by 24-year-old Amanda Gorman – the 110-line poem she wrote and performed at the President Biden’s inauguration. It’s written in free verse, so it doesn’t follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. To me it feels more like a hopeful prayer than a poem. I think it’s very moving, and some excerpts of it are here below. Enjoy!
When day comes, we ask ourselves where can we find light in this never-ending shade? The loss we carry, a sea we must wade. We’ve braved the belly of the beast. We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what “just” is, isn’t always justice. And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it. Somehow we do it.
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us. We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside. We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another. We seek harm to none and harmony for all. Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped. That even as we tired, we tried. That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade but in all the bridges we’ve made.
That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.
So while once we asked, ‘how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?’ now we assert, ‘how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?’
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.