Just over a year ago, Clive posted an item on his research into the possible siting of a vault under an area of the chancel which he thought might contain the bodies of members of the Pickering family. He had concluded that there was sufficient written evidence to justify a search for the vault
A major difficulty is that the most likely location of the vault is beneath the plinth on which now stands the church organ, an exceedingly difficult place to access given the size of the plinth, 5.2m x 2.7m but only 10cm high.
The problems notwithstanding, it presented an unusual – but tantalising – challenge which we thought might be solved using a camera probe. In October, using one such camera and calling on the expertise of its owner Paul Ollett, Clive inserted the probe through one of the existing ventilation holes in the sides of the plinth and revealed … 148 years of dust and debris covering the floor! Sylvia and Terry hastily set up a Heath-Robinson-type rig to effect some cleaning and, as a result, it was possible to make out a small area of lettering, disappointing in its extent but sufficient to warrant further exploration.
Undaunted the team is anxious to undertake further searches and remains optimistic about solving this intriguing mystery. So watch this space as we progress further. It may not be on the same scale as Tutankhamun but it is no less fascinating.
The History Association played an active role in the village’s commemorations of this important period in our history.
Apple trees: Key to our involvement was the planting and dedication of an apple tree grown from a cutting taken from one of the trees given to soldiers returning from what was to be known as the Great War. On 9th November the tree was planted in a key location in the village, on the corner of Park Road and opposite the school, a site prominent enough to remind people of its significance for years to come, potentially even for the next hundred years. The tree was one of forty produced from similar cuttings, the others being distributed elsewhere in the village.
The commemorative tree was planted by villager Alan Jackson, an ex-soldier who himself was seriously injured in a recent conflict. The choir from the school sang the wartime favourite ‘Blue birds over the white cliffs of Dover’ and the duo Red Velvet reprised a song written by Les Ray from letters written by his uncle Walter Mabbutt, one of the fallen.
The song was also sung at the dedication of the tree by the rector Canon Withington after the Remembrance Day service on 11th November.
Why two events? The planting was brought forward to fit in with the needs of the media, specifically a series of interviews for radio and television whose interest had been piqued by the uniqueness of the project. Terry Higgins and Derek Ellis spoke about their trees, Michael Alderman about the original story as told by his father, and Sylvia Prestwich about the project itself.
There are still a few trees available for sale at £12. If you are interested, please contact Sylvia on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Exhibition: The Association also mounted an exhibition about the apple tree project, putting it in the context of the impact of the war on the village. The stirring stories of some of those who died – as relayed through their letters – were a poignant reminder of their great sacrifice, but the display also focused on the pain suffered by those who were left, the wounded and the bereaved. Also featured were the many types of support provided by those at home and the inauguration of the village memorial in 1920.
The exhibition was set up in the church in time for a performance of The Armed Man and for the Remembrance Day service. It was then moved to provide a reminder of the reason for the anniversary tea party in the Clubroom.
Did you know that there is a booklet prepared by Northamptonshire Family History Society in 2006, which records the inscriptions on the gravestones in our churchyard? We now have a stock of these booklets. If you would like us to check if there is an entry; or if you would like to buy a booklet (cost £5 including postage), then please get in touch. email@example.com
We are compiling a comprehensive register of burials in our village churchyard, using information from burial registers over the years, parish magazines and from Northamptonshire Family History Society’s “Memorial Inscriptions at The Church of St Mary The Virgin, Titchmarsh”.
Our alphabetical burial register, and a summary of the inscriptions from gravestones, is accessible below. It will be updated from time to time. If you have any questions about burials or inscriptions, please do not hesitate to contact Sylvia on 07850 841696, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by post to 6 North Street, Titchmarsh, Northants NN14 3DH
We are pleased to report that, thanks to funding from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, good progress is being made on our Hundred Year-Old Apple Tree project.
The story goes that Canon Luckock (Rector of Titchmarsh from 1912 to 1962), or possibly Lord Lilford (the Lord of the Manor) gave an apple tree to every soldier who returned home to the village from World War 1.
It’s such a lovely story: at a time when the village was mourning those lost in the war and deciding on a fitting memorial for them, that thought should also be given to those who survived and came home. What a poignant gift: an apple tree that would fruit every year and feed the family in the difficult times ahead.
This village legend has been retold over the years and Titchmarsh History Association set out to see if any of these special trees survive to this day. Members of the association:
delivered a questionnaire to every house in the village, asking about old apple trees. Specifically, have you heard of ‘the story’? Do you have an old apple tree in your garden? If so please send a picture.
searched parish magazines over the years before, during and after World War 1, looking for a reference to ‘the story’.
searched the national newspaper archive for references to ‘the story’.
looked to identify the soldiers who returned and to track down where they lived in the village, with a view to matching them to our old apple trees.
From the 22 responses, a number of trees would seem to fit the criteria and a pomologist (fruit tree expert) was invited to give a more informed estimate of their ages. In his opinion, he felt that several of the trees were around a hundred years old, a couple were younger and a few were considerably older (about 150 years old!). New stock is now being produced from cuttings taken from those trees which are most likely to have been planted around 1918/19.
In 2018, to mark the centenary of the end of the Great War, the association will plant some of the new young apple trees around the village. These will be a living link to this momentous period in our history, the memory of which would otherwise inevitably fade in the collective memory of future generations.
The work has been made possible as a result of a generous award of £750 from the Postcode Lottery Trust, a grant-giving charity funded entirely by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.
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 withinthe 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.
We are frequently asked to help people trace information about their ancestors in the village. One of the most positive – and sometimes emotional – pieces of evidence can be showing them a gravestone inscribed with the name of an ancestor. On the other hand, it can also be a considerable disappointment if the gravestone is missing or no record appears to exist.
With the co-operation of Julia Powell, Sylvia and Terry have been trawling though all the available records in order to come up with a comprehensive and accessible inventory of village burials. This has entailed looking at plans, church records, earlier surveys of the churchyard and documents such as the church warden’s log.
This very much still a work in progress but it has already begun to produce results. For example, very recently a visitor from Surrey was disappointed that she could not find any trace of her family’s final resting place. From this new record, we are now at least able to give an idea of who lies where, even if there is no headstone
On October 23rd, members of the Association met with the archaeologist Steve Parry to discuss their research and to seek his advice on how to progress. Steve now works for the Museum of London Archaeology but was previously with the county’s archaeology unit and so knows a great deal about the local scene.
The projects that we outlined for him were the exploration of Roman settlements, the manor house site next to the church, and the possible shrunken village area off London End. The intriguing prospect of there being, somewhere under the church floor, a hidden vault that houses the remains of the Pickering family was also discussed.
Steve was very encouraging in his evaluation of what we had achieved but pointed out that there was little funding available to progress the work, most funding these days being directed to sites threatened by development. He suggested that we apply for funds ourselves from organisations such as the Heritage Lottery in order to hire equipment and to access training in its use.
Short of digging up a site, there are three main ways of examining what lies under the surface: magnetometry, resistivity and ground penetrating radar. He thought that we could consider any of the techniques and identified organisations that could help us. He also expounded the benefits of field walking and drone surveys as means of collecting further evidence.
His observations gave us a useful agenda for what we do next and will be discussed at the next full meeting of the Association.
Over fifty people attended the presentation on the latest findings of the Association.
Nigel Howe opened the evening with a comprehensive review of the many sites of Roman occupation in the parish that he has surveyed. The surprise was the extent of the settlements, there seemingly being few fields where artefacts of one kind or another have not been found. He identified a parcel of land between the A605 and Nene lake (more specifically, behind the Fisherman’s lay-by on the A605) as being the most significant site, identifying its location at the junction of two major routes as the reason for its importance. Nigel backed up his talk with an impressive display of Roman pottery that he had uncovered.
In her talk on the hundred year-old apple trees, Sylvia Prestwich outlined the purpose, scope and progress on this fascinating project. Whilst it is difficult to find hard evidence of the rector’s original gift in 1918 of trees to returning soldiers, questionnaires returned by villagers have identified a number of candidate specimens. Sylvia then went on to describe a meeting with an eminent pomologist – a specialist in apple trees – who toured the village and confirmed that possibly 70% of the trees could indeed be of the target age. The next stage in the project is to produce saplings from material taken from the trees in readiness for the commemoration in November next year of the end of the conflict.
Clive Carter brought the evening to a close by taking everyone on a journey through sixteenth century history as revealed by the documents of the time that he has amassed and analysed. He described the complexities of working with the material – deciphering medieval handwriting, reconciling conflicting accounts etc. – before revealing his reconstruction of the family tree of Gilbert Pickering I, the Lord of the Manor in the 1550s. His research shows that Gilbert Pickering’s rise to fortune was more than simply as a result of marrying well (to James Staynbanke’s daughter): he was bailiff of Titchmarsh, of Oundle (owned by Katherine Parr), collector of taxes for the hundred, deputy collector of the Queen’s rents, and involved with provisioning Henry VIII’s ships. Much of this in one way or another relates to Katherine Parr, probably via the Tyrwhitts and other Pickering family connections.
Clive concluded his talk by outlining the tantalising evidence of the existence of a Pickering family vault somewhere under the church floor. He also believes he knows where it is!
Members of the Association have been very busy over the summer and are keen to share their findings with the village. This they will do at 7.30 on Thursday, 12th October in the Clubroom.
Nigel will be talking about his work in identifying the surprisingly large number of sites of Roman occupation in the parish. Among his many finds have been literally hundreds of coins bearing the images of a range of emperors.
Sylvia will reveal the number of apple trees in the village still bearing fruit a hundred years after they were given to returning soldiers at the end of World War 1. She will then go on to discuss what we intend to do next to preserve the legacy represented by the trees.
Following his recent revelations about the Manor House, Clive’s presentation will focus on Gilbert, the first of the Pickering dynasty in the village. Using centuries-old documents, he will challenge some of the previous research into the subject and provide a picture of a complex and ambitious man.