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Newsletter No. 9 September 2020

Updated: Apr 20, 2021

· A Gravestone Selection

· Getting Bisham Church Friends Online

· The Heraldry of Bisham Church

· Service times


Our banner photo for this issue represents life and hope, in a surprising context. If you are able to visit the Bisham churchyard at this time, with a glorious summer extending into the autumn, you will find it a peaceful place for reflection, where you can gather inner strength to face the uncertain months ahead. I do hope that you, your families and friends have been managing since our last newsletter in April, when we were locked down and wondering where the pandemic was taking us. My thoughts continue to be with all our community of Friends, locally and across the troubled world.

Bisham churchyard holds a wealth of stories, going back for hundreds of years. Some of this is revealed in the inscriptions on the gravestones, but these are gradually being eroded and the details are left for others to fill in. Sheila Featherstone-Clark, a regular contributor, has access to records and has selected some of the more interesting graves for her article. Among others, she mentions faithful servants, industrialists, farmers, a doctor and children. Through the paragraph on the Dormer family, one can sense the happiness in a village when living conditions could be quite simple. Equally one can only guess the unhappy circumstances in which a Catholic lady died in London and was suspiciously buried in Bisham.

Moving us well into the 21st century, our honorary consultant Melissa, my generous and able daughter-in-law, explains the rationale behind the automation of the Bisham Church Friends scheme. This has been a lengthy and tortuous process, but we feel sure that the new way of promoting the aims and benefits will be recognisable and relevant to people of all ages and backgrounds, when access to information is commonly sought through smartphones, Instagram posts and QR codes. Those who might wish to join the scheme and possibly donate a small amount (not a prerequisite but always appreciated) will find us just a click or two away, wherever in the world they might be.

Events are an important part of what we do, to bring the community together to enjoy each other’s company and to learn new things. We aim to arrange at least two events each year. Our website lists four. Sadly, all have been affected by the ongoing crisis. We were particularly sorry to have to cancel the Friends Summer Garden Party scheduled for 11 July, which happened to be a beautiful sunny day. However, as soon as the way is clear for us to do so, we shall resume arrangements for the other three and consider another party by the river next year. We have some expert cake-makers amongst the Friends, a skill which can be very appealing.

The door of the church has not been closed all the time since March. Everything possible is being done to open it from time to time, within the present constraints. You will find details about this in this newsletter. Roll on the day when we will be able to welcome you again as we would wish. Our aim is to see the church open even more frequently than it was before, allowing residents, researchers and all sorts of visitors to enter on weekdays as well as at weekends. Perhaps the crisis will have ignited our determination to see this happen. A special place like Bisham Church should be accessible and seen, inside and out, if it is to thrive well into the future, as it has done for so many years in the past.

Robert Frost


A Gravestone Selection Sheila Featherstone-Clark

Photos Sheila Featherstone-Clark (SF-C) and Robert Frost (RF)


The churchyard at Bisham lies next to the church on the south bank of the River Thames, between Marlow Bridge and Temple Lock. Also on this stretch is the Stoney Ware mansion and Bisham Abbey, best seen from the opposite side of the river. At this point the river is busy with rowers, despite the bend which made it unsuitable for the Marlow rowing regatta held for many years; the churchyard was a great place to take a picnic and watch the start. The land for the churchyard was of course part of the Bisham Estate and the Lord of the Manor held the Advowson (the right to appoint the vicar) until it was returned to the crown in 1970. A range of people have been interred in this hallowed ground, some of whom we can no longer know of as there is no record and some have been mentioned in previous newsletters. The splendid variety of gravestones still in situ gives us a glimpse of who lies here. Mention must be made of the work done by the late Patricia Burstall who recorded and sketched the gravestones between 1993 and 1997, providing a priceless record, now in the Berkshire archives, of some of the stones that can no longer be read. I have selected a few to give a flavour of the story that is told in this beautiful space.

A fine clean slate stone with a carved Celtic style cross from 1862, yet in pristine condition, marks the grave of Ann Green, “for many years the faithful housekeeper at Temple House”, which was then occupied by the wealthy and influential Williams Family, who had major slate and copper interests. Her age of 103 years is remarkable for that time, although there are other examples of old age in the graveyard. The high quality of the slate for the headstone, which undoubtedly came from the family’s mines in Anglesey, suggests that she was a valued member of the Williams household, having been with them for many years. We do not know if she was a local girl, although there are other Greens in the churchyard.

A large stone casket next to the church bears the name of Owen Lewis Cope Williams 1836 to 1904 of Temple House. A Lieutenant-General in the army, he sat as MP for Marlow from 1880 to 1885. The Williams family vault under the church, now filled with concrete due to the proximity of the river which tended to flood it and make the coffins float about, holds the remains of others, including his sister Edith, the Countess of Aylesford. The family members also have large copper plaques inside the church in the Williams Chapel, which was built on the river side of the church. The Williams family came to the area in the early 1800s, when Thomas Williams, later known as the Copper King, bought the mill at Temple and built Temple House for his son, Owen’s father. They were also responsible from bringing the unusual slate fence at Temple to the area. Lt Gen Williams would have been Ann’s employer at the time of her death and she may have been part of the household for all of his life.

Arthur Dormer (1923-1998), who lived in the village all his life, has a stone with a simple curved top. It marks one of the older families in the village, known for growing bountiful produce that is credited with the longevity of many of the village inhabitants. Arthur and Dorothy married on Saturday 30th May 1936 and celebrated with a big dance at the Wethered Marlow Brewery, as Dorothy worked there. The couple moved into a house in Bisham Village, where there were no taps in the houses and water had to be collected from a pump at the back door. Number 39 Bisham Village was part of a small hall house with tall chimneys known as the Nook. They later moved to Number 2, where they raised their family. When the Maidenhead Advertiser wrote about their Golden Wedding celebration, Dorothy reflected that they loved Bisham so much that they never went on holiday.


Frederick William Harding – Palm Sunday 1877 to Palm Sunday 1936 - and Frances Harding 1876-1949. There were many Hardings in Bisham over at least three generations. Frederick served as the butler to Bisham Abbey, as part of the staff of twelve, until the Vansittart-Neale family moved out to The Grange. His father and brother were carpenters and George ran a ferry across the river from the boathouse on the parish land. This was a time when many of the villagers were employed by the Bisham Estate.


The pair of tall Randall family stones decorated with a floral motif are worthy of mention. Henry Randall of Woodside Farm died in November 1907, having sadly been pre-deceased by his son aged 25 in the September; perhaps a farm accident. The Randall family have been associated with the Bisham Estate farms for four generations. They were originally farm tenants when Henry was able to buy Temple Farm. The family continue to live at and farm Hyde and Temple Farms.


Mary Clark died as a child age 8. Her family lived at Park Farm and later Town Farm until 1910; above is the family’s gravestone. There are a number of children buried in the churchyard, as would be expected over the years when death from illness was common.


The most infamous grave is that of ‘milady’, Edith Marion Rosse, from 1932. There was speculation that she was a victim of poisoning but nothing was ever proven, as the grave position close to the river made sure that the body had been thoroughly washed by the time it was exhumed. The fact that she died in London and was a Catholic made her burial here unusual. It is alleged that a payment of £100 was made to facilitate the burial!


Jack Barnshaw, who died in 1941, has a simple standard war cemetery headstone of Portland stone; unusually his name is also on the memorial in Marlow church. It seems that he had a brief marriage to his Bisham sweetheart, a Harding, before being killed in the war.


Bridget and Naomi (known as Nicky) Clarke died in 2003 and 2002 respectively. Colonel Clarke DSO and his family came to live in the newer part of the village, in what is now White Lodge. Col Clarke had fought in the Boer War and was the ARP Officer for Bucks in WWII. The sisters were heavily involved with the church for much of their lives, including Nicky serving as churchwarden for 21 years until 1992. They moved briefly to Marlow before their deaths.

These are just a few of the people who loved Bisham in life and now remain in these beautiful surroundings. Take a stroll round and see who else you meet.

Getting Bisham Church Friends Online Melissa Frost

When Robert told me that the number of Bisham Church Friends was approaching the three-figure mark, I was interested to know how he was managing to keep up with all of the admin and paperwork? What goes on behind the scenes to keep everything running so smoothly is very time consuming and includes managing all financial transactions, compiling regular newsletters, overseeing events both in Bisham and elsewhere, attracting new Friends to the scheme, and keeping in touch – often one to one - with existing Friends. I suggested that moving to a more automated system to manage some of the membership admin might be worth considering. As a willing amateur keen to brush up on my digital skills, I offered to have a go at getting the Friends online.

Robert and I worked together to agree how best to present Bisham Church Friends online. There are so many considerations: a visual identity in the form of a logo and colour scheme; a tone of voice; wording and content; photos and imagery; the menu and layout of the site; how to tackle online payments and so much more…

We started with the logo. Robert was keen to keep it simple, so we went for the initials BCF (Bisham Church Friends). The colours in the logo, which also works in greyscale, were determined by looking at the various monuments and treasures within All Saints’ Church. We noticed a predominance of muted reds and blues and felt that these would represent the important historical items that we Friends are so keen to preserve. We then decided that using a font similar to that of the hand-carved lettering found in so many of the stone monuments and tomb stones would be fitting. Finally, to differentiate the Friends from the Church itself, we opted for the ‘BC’ (Bisham Church) in blue and the ‘F’ (Friends) in red.

The new logo

This helped us to create a palette of colours for the website, which includes blues, reds, blacks and greys and complements the various images of the church, both inside and out. The majority of the images on the website are photographs taken by Robert over the years. We are lucky to have such a prolific and talented photographer who is willing to share his photos for use online.

The HOME page is designed to explain and promote the aims and benefits of the Friends scheme. We wanted to ensure that it would be attractive to all ages and all backgrounds and have a welcoming feel, with a focus on the Friends rather than on the church itself.

A section of the HOME page

As so many people ask us about the history of the church, we wanted the newsletters to be readily accessible online, so these appear on the HOME page as well as in the NEWSLETTERS section and can be accessed by all. These have been set up as a ‘blog’ and there is an option for you to comment on each one. You can also see at a glance how many other people have read and commented on each newsletter online. We would love to see your comments, reactions to the various articles and any suggestions you may have. Your comments will in turn encourage others to share their views, which will add to our sense of community.

The newsletters as they appear on the HOME page

All Friends events can now be booked online with an automated invitation, reservation and ticketing system.

Our automated events system as it appears on the HOME page

At the bottom of the HOME page is a link to our new Instagram page. Instagram is a great way of sharing images, thoughts and ideas over social media; promoting and raising awareness of everything we have to offer at All Saints’ Church. It’s exciting to include Bisham Church Friends on this channel and we hope that, as it gains traction – and followers – this will be a valuable means of communicating the benefits and actions of the Friends to younger generations and widening our community even further.

Our new Instagram profile

While we are keen to emphasise that payment is not necessary to become a Friend, donations and contributions do help us to preserve All Saints’ Church and its treasures. With pressure on congregations pre-Covid, no services during lockdown and only gradual reopening thereafter, the need for these small monetary gifts has increased. More widely, the Covid situation has seen a rapid change from cash to digital and contactless payment systems, so it is definitely the right time to offer online payments!

Introducing the payment feature was perhaps the most challenging aspect of pulling the website together. Very few online payment providers are willing to offer off-the-shelf solutions to charities. World Pay, who receive payments from anywhere in the world as the name implies, are one of the few, but their background checks are stringent. In our case – and not helped by lockdown – it took 6 months for our application to be approved. During this time, we were asked for more and more information, with approval coming through only after every request had been complied with in every detail.

We had hoped to offer online auto-renewal subscriptions to our members, but discovered at the end of the application process that this is something World Pay do not offer. A compromise has been to set up a BCF ‘SHOP’. We hope you will like the way that we have done this, with a selection of donation amounts, each named after an historical benefactor or Bisham Church personality. Each donation includes a year’s membership to The Friends.

A screenshot of our online SHOP

Our online shop also features our new gift cards. You can choose how much you wish to spend and all proceeds go towards the Friends. Each gift card includes a year’s membership. These are lovely presents to give and perhaps an idea to keep up your sleeve this Christmas – perfect for those friends and relatives who are so difficult to buy for!

There are opportunities for us to extend our online shop offer and we have various ideas for merchandise and fundraising solutions. Watch this space…

The website cleverly keeps a log of all donors and anyone who signs up to our newsletter online. It has also been configured to send reminders to each online donor every year in the hope that people will consider another donation and extend their membership for another year. This automation will be invaluable as our member numbers increase and will make us all the more efficient.

We are delighted to be online at last and to be able to offer all Friends, both current and future, the ease and convenience that this brings. It’s great to have somewhere tangible to direct people to as we increase awareness of the Friends scheme. We need your help with this, so please do encourage people to follow us on Instagram and visit us online.

Future plans for the website include a ‘History’ page detailing the fascinating history behind our unique monuments and stained glass; video tours of the church and churchyard; a gallery of photographs and images and recordings of some of our history talks.

We would very much welcome your feedback on the website and any ideas you may have to make it even better. It is there for you and for our community.

The Heraldry of Bisham Church John Harper

Towards the end of last year, Ann Darracott, of the Maidenhead Civic Society, kindly drew our attention to a monograph by a local genealogist, Peter Begent, on the extensive heraldic decoration of the late Elizabethan/early Jacobean Hoby monuments and window installed in the Hoby chapel of Bisham church.  This work had been completed in 1979 and never been openly published - indeed, the copy which she offered us was a photostat of a carbon copy of the typed manuscript.

Peter Begent was co-author of a definitive history of the Order of the Garter, and had also written further works on Windsor Castle.  He died in 2001.

Whilst the copious and highly technical details are interleaved with interesting passages relating to the church itself and its history, the publication is probably of attraction mainly to aficionados of either heraldry or the fashion  in ecclesiastical statuary and glasswork of the period.

The whole work (originally 55 pages of A3) has, without alteration to the text, been transposed into a more easily digestible Word version, and a few printed copies are also available, for easy consumption; we are indebted to Mandy Robson Brown for her assistance in this respect and also for helping painfully to decipher some of the less clear words which carbon copies inevitably throw up.

A copy will be held in the church, for those interested in reading the esoteric descriptions in the text.  Heraldry is expressed in what seems, at times, to be a different language, with a vocabulary very much its own!   Copies will not normally be for sale, but can be borrowed for extensive periods by arrangement.  Please contact me (John Harper 01628 624677) or one of the church officers.

Service times

Having been closed during lockdown, the church was able to reopen for private prayer on a few Sunday afternoons from 5 July. Subsequently Sunday services at 09:30, alternating between Morning Prayer and Communion, resumed under careful safety conditions. Digital services arranged by the Marlow team throughout the pandemic have continued. This is still the position. However, the situation is fluid, so those wishing to worship at All Saints’ Bisham, where members of the public are welcomed along with the regular congregation, are advised to refer to the following website:

Revd Sarah Fitzgerald, Team Vicar for All Saints’ Bisham, gives a warm welcome at the door of the open church on 5 July

Robert Frost


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