Could there be a Pickering family burial vault hidden somewhere beneath the floor of our parish church? That is certainly what some evidence suggests.
Sixteenth century wills of the Pickering family, lords of the manor of Titchmarsh for almost 200 years, specify that they were to be buried within the parish church (rather than the churchyard). In fact, when the dying William Pickering the younger wrote his will in 1542 – that’s some 11 years before his father Gilbert bought the manor – he was even more precise. He wanted to be buried before the Roode in the Northe yle of the same churche.
It is probable that these early Pickerings were indeed buried under the church floor, their graves originally marked by inscribed slabs or ledger stones; if so, these ancient stones have now long gone or been worn away.
Two later slate ledger stones can still be seen in a line to the side of the organ, the plinth of which hides many others. Though only partially legible, one appears to be that of Frances Byrd, buried in 1765; the other that of her sister, Dorothy Elizabeth Pickering, who died in 1766. She was the last of the family to own Titchmarsh before it was sold to Thomas Powys in 1771. Continuing the line, the top of a well preserved Pickering crest peeps out from under the plinth, possibly that of Sir Edward (d. 1749), their brother.
Two marble memorials located on the north wall behind the organ name nineteen Pickerings or their close family who lie here interr’d. To this, one of the memorials reminds us, we must add also diverse of the lineal ancestors.
So were they all buried under the church floor?
A letter published in a 1906 edition of Notes and Queries offers a tantalising alternative possibility. In it, John A. Rupert-Jones writes,
In Baker’s ‘History of Northampton’ is given the Dryden pedigree, in which Erasmus Dryden, of Titchmarsh, who was buried in the “Pickering vault,” 18 June, 1654, aet 66, married Mary, daughter of the Rev. Henry Pickering, rector of Aldwincle, also buried in the Pickering vault at Titchmarsh, 14 June, 1676.
A Pickering vault? The author offers no evidence for his assertion.
A more contemporary reference is to be found in a work written in late 1766 by the Rev. William Hanbury of Church Langton. He knew the Pickering sisters, Dorothy Elizabeth and the widow Frances Byrd, only too well, for they also owned the Langton manor and he records many run-ins with them in his History. He writes,
This summer died Mrs. Pickering. The sums she and her sister had accumulated by their penurious way of living were immense […] Their Langton estate they have given to a god-child; and the Tichmarsh estate, which is the old family estate, and in the church of which is the family vault, in which their remains lie reposited, they have left to be sold.
Whether Rev. Hanbury attended their funerals is unknown but, writing within a few months of the last sister’s death, his account of the family vault seems credible.
The Pickering ledger stones under the organ may well be above the family vault. Perhaps that of Dorothy Elizabeth, almost certainly the last Pickering to be interred in the vault before it was sealed for a final time, a little over 250 years ago, conceals the entrance?
To find out whether the Pickering vault really does exist, and if so where and how big it is, the Titchmarsh History Association will now look to get permission and funding to locate it using non-disruptive technology such as the underground mapping tools outlined in Ian’s earlier post. Meanwhile I shall keep trawling the archives.
Titchmarsh History Association
25 October 2017