Monday, September 23, 2013

'My worst of fates attends me in my grave': joining Lord Rochester at Spelsbury

An interesting weekend for me: on Saturday, I was one of the group of old members of the college had taken up the invitation to return to Jesus College on (just about) the 40th anniversary of our matriculation.

Here I am at breakfast: 'Self portrait in a convex teapot':

On Sunday morning, despite feeling that port has yet to have its moment as an energy drink, I drove out to Eynsham, got my second best bicycle out of the car, and headed off to Chastleton House (NT). It's a lovely old place, and my sister last year was re-gilding the clock face from the courtyard, so I was minded to see that back in place. But I got there early, and was going to have to wait three-quarters of an hour with a dreadful thirst, so I switched to Chipping Norton, where I felt sure there would be a cafe, and where I was minded to see the Rickards tomb in the church:

It is beautifully done, though like many of these things, it has attracted the graffiti of idling youths with knives in their pockets. I wonder if it were fully restored, would a restorer have to leave the incised graffiti, which have become a kind of town record?

The tomb side tells us that Thomas Rickards had died in 1579. Elizabeth Rickards, nee Fiennes, lived until 1603, but was still living when the monument was erected, and they never got round to filling in the blanks - but that she would not outlive the millenium had occurred to the person doing the lettering:

As usual, the drapery on the recumbent figures does not hang, and I can only suppose that this shows the strength of conventional depiction: whoever executed this fine piece of sculpture would have been able to render hanging drapery, but somehow that would not have done. Elizabethans liked the starchy look. This is the mastiff at Elizabeth's feet.

I then decided to loop back to Spelsbury, where John Wilmot, Lord Rochester is buried. I didn't know if there would be a ledger slab, or a wall memorial. In fact, neither: Rochester was placed in a vault under the church. This had been opened back in the 1960's or 70's, and the coffin lid's brass plate, a memorial plate from the coffin, and a lead tablet from his wife's grave were taken and put on display inside the church:

The vault was entered from the north side of the church: I went to have a look, and noticed that the cement holding the quite ordinary garden centre paving slabs that covered the vault entrance was completely loose, and the slabs cracked. I lifted two pieces aside:

Below, I could see that an iron grating was propped against the passageway into the vault underneath the church:

And at this moment, common sense prevailed: if I squeezed into this narrow gap, and got stuck down there, nobody knew where I was, there was no mobile phone signal even at ground level, I had no torch, and why on earth did I think that visiting Milord's pocky bones was a good idea?

 ... Dead, we become the Lumber of the World,  
And to that Mass of matter shall be swept,  
Where things destroy'd, with things unborn, are kept. 
Devouring time, swallows us whole  
Impartial Death, confounds, Body, and Soul.

It would, arguably, have been a suitable end for a literary scholar ('After a long search, Dr Booth's remains were found in the vault where the libertine poet, John Wilmot, had been buried in 1680. He was still clutching Rochester's pelvis.') 


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