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Newsletter No. 6 April 2019


The aim of the Friends scheme is to promote a shared sense of community, both locally and universally, centred on a beautiful historic building in a peaceful Thames-side setting. The Register of Friends, made up of some who worship regularly at Bisham and others who don’t, now stands at 65. Anyone interested in this special place is welcome to join.

Our main form of communication will continue to be our illustrated Newsletters. Social gatherings and presentations are encouraged and new facilities, about which our Church Warden provides an update in this Newsletter, help to make the church a valuable resource for community activities. An event to look forward to on Sunday 12 May will be the first of two history talks being given under the auspices of the Friends but open to all. You will find the details below, and the subject ties in well with the first article.

Bisham is mentioned in Pevsner’s The Buildings of England, Berkshire (1966), and the highlight of our Grade II* listed building is the Hoby Chapel, which also forms the bulk of Simon Jenkins’ entry in his acclaimed book England’s Thousand Best Churches (1999). Hamish Hunter gives us an introduction to the monuments there, which attract visitors from far and wide.

As David Pascall writes in his article, a churchyard is much more than a garden around a church. All Saints’ churchyard is more than most. It receives the care and attention that it deserves and is a place where people can come and reflect, even when the building itself is closed. In addition to mentioning people buried there many years ago, David looks to the future through his description of the Millennium tree, which might outlive us all by a thousand years. You may have heard Tony Hall, Arboretum and Gardens Manager at Kew, talking recently about his book The Immortal Yew, which has been very well reviewed. It’s worth learning more about this magnificent and intriguing tree, and why it is so often found and protected in churchyards. We shall certainly by nurturing ours for future generations.

I mentioned in our last Newsletter that plans are afoot to open the church more often, to enable visitors to explore the building or to sit quietly and pray if they wish at times when no service is taking place. The District Church Council is considering doing so, perhaps on one weekday initially and then more frequently. One afternoon when I know the church will be open is Sunday 23 June, from 1:30 to 5:30 pm, when the church will form part of Bisham Open Gardens. That is an event to be enjoyed by all ages, especially if the weather is kind.

“And what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversation?” All Saints’ Bisham is so picturesque and so interesting that finding material to fill these pages is never difficult. I do hope you enjoy the Newsletter.

Robert Frost


The monuments in the Hoby Chapel (Hamish Hunter) Photos Robert Frost

The Hoby Chapel in the church houses three splendid, partially polychromed, carved alabaster monuments. They comprise

· Tomb of Sir Philip and Sir Thomas Hoby (c1566)

· Tomb of Lady Elizabeth Russell (Lady Hoby) (c1607)

· Monument to Margaret Hoby (c1605)

Singly, the monuments are of considerable historical and stylistic significance. However, in this collective group, they demonstrate some of the best and most innovative sculptural work produced in this country in the half century around the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries.

Elizabeth Cooke married Thomas Hoby of Bisham Abbey, to become Lady Hoby, in Bisham Church in 1558. They had two daughters, Elizabeth and Anne, and two sons, Edward and Thomas. She was widowed in 1566 but remarried John Russell in 1574 with whom she had a further daughter and son.

The tomb of Sir Philip and Sir Thomas Hoby, carved exquisitely by members of the Cure family, represent two armoured knights, being Lady Hoby’s husband and his half brother, lying on rush matting with their heads propped on their helmets and falcons at their feet. These falcons also appear on the armour. Long verses in Latin by Lady Hoby and, in English, by Thomas Sackville (Lord Brockhurst) are carved on the monument.

Lady Hoby, an aunt of Sir Francis Bacon, was renowned for her musical and linguistic achievements. She was a formidable dame. She died in 1609 aged 81. The very elaborate monument to Lady Hoby consists of her and her children from two marriages all kneeling, with one infant lying at her knees. Only one of her daughters survived her. Anne, Countess of Worcester, is portrayed in peeress’s robes and coronet facing her. The metal banners on the iron railings enclosing the monument feature armorial bearings of the Hoby, Cooke and Russell families.

Lady Margaret Hoby, wife of Sir Edward Hoby and Lady Hoby’s daughter-in law, is commemorated by an impressive armorial obelisk, surmounted by a flaming heart and featuring four swans.

To the north side of the chapel is a further monument of George Kenneth Vansittart-Neale, heir to the Bisham estate, who died in Eton at the age of fourteen in 1904. He kneels beneath a Gothic canopy with his spaniel lying before him.

All these pieces of art represent great local history and are masterful in their craftsmanship. It is well worth a visit to All Saints’ Bisham to study them.

The churchyard and the Millennium tree (David Pascall) Photos Robert Frost

A churchyard is much more than a garden around a church. It is a burial ground but also a place of quiet reflection and recreation, a habitat for rare plants and animals and the setting for the church building. It is basically unchanged for hundreds of years.

Bisham churchyard is in an unrivalled setting, being on a quiet reach of the River Thames with only occasional rowers and motor boats to disturb the waters, a wonderful place for quiet contemplation and of course the perfect setting for the all-important wedding photographs. The views not only across the river but in each direction  are superb and the Norman tower makes for a lovely backdrop for viewing from the Thames Path on the opposite river bank.

Many water birds can often be observed, from terns, ducks and geese to Great Crested Grebes, while occasional Ring Necked Parakeets fly overhead.

There are a number of beautifully carved tombstones, the best being from the first half of the 19th Century, the oldest dated 1682. One of the tombs is to the memory of Edith Rosse (Milady), who was allegedly murdered in 1932 and the body exhumed later to establish the possibility of poison. Another is to the memory of Sir Robert Hart - Inspector General of Imperial Chinese Customs and adviser to the Manchu dynasty. This grave was recently refurbished and a ceremony, attended by members of the Chinese Embassy, marked the occasion.

A Parish yew tree was planted in Bisham churchyard on 11th March 2000 to commemorate the Millennium. A short service was conducted by the then Vicar, Rev Sue Irwin, to bless the tree and there were two readings by the church wardens about the expected long life of the tree and its rightful place in a churchyard. The tree can be located on the Stoneyware side of the churchyard adjacent to the Bisham Parish land.

A Parish yew tree was planted in Bisham churchyard on 11th March 2000 to commemorate the Millennium. A short service was conducted by the then Vicar, Rev Sue Irwin, to bless the tree and there were two readings by the church wardens about the expected long life of the tree and its rightful place in a churchyard. The tree can be located on the Stoneyware side of the churchyard adjacent to the Bisham Parish land.

Because of their great age, yews were associated with pre-Christian burial grounds. Research shows that the Bronze Age round barrows were consecrated with yews. In symbolic terms, yews not only represent death but also resurrection. Their evergreen foliage was highly valued and used for religious and secular festivals. Yews are still being planted in churchyards today and serve as a reminder of an earlier pagan age.

Many specimens are now over 1000 years old and measure some 30 feet in girth. Yew wood was used in the manufacture of longbows from the 13th Century and after stocks of the wood were exhausted, wood was imported from Spain and Germany to service the requirements of war archery. However, poison is found in all parts of the tree and is fatal to humans and some animals.

Do come and visit the beautiful Churchyard, perhaps just to while away an afternoon watching the river traffic and wildlife. You will not be disappointed!

Finally, the question is often asked - who can be buried in All Saints’ Churchyard? Parishioners who are currently on the Parish  Electoral Roll are eligible. All other requests go to the Vicar, who has the ultimate decision.

History talks in the church

Under the auspices of the Friends but open to all, two history talks will be given in the church this year. In May Sheila Featherstone-Clark will talk about some of the prominent people associated with the abbey, the manor and the church over the centuries. These were mainly from the Hoby and Vansittart families, but Elizabeth I will receive a mention, as will John Cordery, the Abbot of Bisham, who is said to have cursed the abbey building thus: “As God is my witness, this property shall ne’er be inherited by two direct successors, for its sons will be hounded by misfortune", as he was dragged from it.

A second talk is being planned for a date in the autumn. This will also focus on the church and the people who used it, but will draw specifically on the abundant historical records from the War Years.

On Sunday 12 May, tea and home-made cake will be available from 4:00 pm, followed by the talk from 4:30 to 5:30, with time for discussion until 6:00. All are welcome and a donation would be appreciated, so do please bring a note or two with you. £5 for the talk has been suggested, or £10 for talk, tea and cake.

Facilities project (message from the Church Warden)

The new toilet installation was completed at the end of October and Blessed by the Archdeacon of Buckingham, The Very Rev Guy Ellsmore, on 4th November, which this year was the patronal festival day for our church. It is very noticeable the difference it has made to the use of our church and one could say a Great Relief!  A big thank you to all who contributed in every way to this project. We are a little short on the fund-raising which is still open.

The next phase is discussion on the kitchenette in the tower vestry, how to achieve this and what we can afford, together with what we need.  Of course what we need is related to the use and users of our church building and ideas are very welcome. Please contact Rev Sarah Fitzgerald, Stewart Featherstone-Clark (Church Warden) or myself.  

Whilst the work for the toilet was under way we were also working on a faculty request that would give us permission to install a memorial plaque on the North Wall of the North Aisle in memory of the life and commitment to the community of Patricia Burstall BEM. This has now been granted and fund raising is under way so that this project can be completed. The estimated price for this is £2,500.

Rod Stevens

Church Warden

Service times

1st Sunday in the month 8.00am Holy Communion

9.30am All Age Service

Other Sundays in the month 9.30am Sung Eucharist

Church opening and guided tours

Anyone wishing to visit All Saints’ Bisham outside service times should call the Parish Office, 01628 481806, and arrangements can then be made to open the church at an agreed date and time. If required, a guided tour of the church and churchyard can be organised, depending on the availability of volunteers.

Even if the church is not open when you visit, the churchyard is an experience to be savoured and enjoyed, and you will find plenty of benches with views in different directions, especially of the river.

Joining the Friends

If you know of others who might like to join, whether they live in Bisham, Marlow or further afield, please do encourage them to do so. Your help in spreading the word would be invaluable. Please also let us know if there is anything you would particularly like us to try and do.

For further information, including an application form, prospective Friends should email us at, write to Friends of the Church of All Saints Bisham, c/o Parish Office, Parish of Great Marlow and Marlow Bottom with Little Marlow and Bisham, The Causeway, Marlow, Bucks SL7 2AA, or telephone me on 01628 476772. If they live in Marlow or Bisham and would like me to visit them personally to discuss the Friends, including ways in which they might help, I should be glad to do so.

Robert Frost


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