coffin

The lead coffin of Major George Bennett in St Mary's Church, Melton Mowbray, who died in 1738.

Under the floor the truth revealed

I was allowed to visit St Mary's Church, Melton Mowbray, whilst the archaeologists were there and it was a real experience of a lifetime to see what was under the floor in the Transepts, writes Liz Craig.

There was always a question whether there were burials or did our predecessors just put stones to commemorate their loved ones. Well, we now have the truth revealed. The South and North Transepts were full of chambers bricked for burials. It makes me wonder what the Victorians found and what they did with those in the nave, as we know there had been burials there too.

I was lucky to be there when the first lead coffin was discovered. It was close to the war memorial in the South Transept. Leon, the archaeologist from Leicester University, said the person helping him had only been there five minutes and she had found this lead coffin. (He had been there all week). We were able to read the name and date. It set me thinking. When I got home the pieces fell into place. To have a lead coffin meant this was someone quite important.

Major George Bennett, who the coffin belonged to, was the son of St John Bennett the owner of the Welby estate. Of course it was logical because on the wall above where the coffin was found is the Georgian monument to the Bennett family. The inscription says that several members of the family were interred here.

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The Georgian monument to the Bennett family in St Mary's Church.

St John Bennett died abroad. He was married to Mary,  daughter of Sir Thomas Myddleton of Chirk Castle in Wales. Then there was Thomas, his eldest son, who died in June 1738, Major George who died in March 1738 ten weeks before his brother and his relict (widow) Mary.                  

The archaeologists found three lead coffins in close proximity, the others presumably were buried below. The monument on the wall was put up by Elizabeth, the surviving daughter of St John. When she died the estate of Welby was inherited by Chiverton Hartopp, her nephew. His monument is also on the wall in the SouthTransept.

In the area where the side chapel has been for years, where prayer candles have been lit, between the alabaster lady, who has been very well protected by the workmen, and the marble altar tomb were more finds. Here we find the resting place ofThomas Myddleton, Vicar. I had recorded  this several years ago.

Lo and behold in the area there was a line of coffin-shaped bricked chambers. Here also is his first wife Sarah and a daughter, his son Thomas Ashby Myddleton, his second wife Dorothy recorded as his relict ( widow to you and me). Dorothy was the daughter of Shukbrugh Ashby (who is buried outside near the choir vestry door). Close by is a very small bricked area for his granddaughter, Maria Dorothea, the baby daughter of Thomas’ son Robert Myddleton, also a clergyman.

Now if you have been following closely, the name Myddleton links with the Bennetts and yes Thomas was also related to a branch of the Myddleton family in Wales.

Thomas Myddleton was vicar from 1741 and he is the person who was responsible for acquiring and altering No.9 Burton Street and making it the Vicarage. No.9 Is what we have known as the Blakeney Institute.

NB: There is no connection to the Duchess of Cambridge but one generation of a branch of the Myddleton family is connected to Diana, Princess of Wales. We don’t believe the Ashby family from Quenby Hall are related to  Revd Kevin!

wadd33


The lead coffin of Anthony Wadd, who became an attorney at law and died in 1758.

I was told there had been more finds of lead coffins in the North Transept. The most interesting was very clearly marked with a raised name and date, Anthony Wadd, 1758.

I set to thinking about Mr Wadd, gentleman. I remembered a marble plaque on the wall near the North Transept door. It has been covered and well protected by the builders. I found a photograph taken earlier in the year.

wadd


Above and below: The plaque to Anthony Wadd can be seen near the north door of the North Transept.

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Anthony Wadd had been apprenticed to John Reeve and became an attorney at law. He later became an associate of the Reeve firm, working with John Reeve, his son William Reeve and his grandson William Reeve. He held land in various places in the area and became a benefactor of land and monies to several villages.

He had been born in 1696 and died in 1758. He had a sister who was called Mary. She married John Briggs. Mary Briggs became a benefactor in several places, including Melton Mowbray, where she left money for the poor and a wish for Bibles to be distributed to four poor boys every year. Incidentally, the Reeve family have a plaque on the North aisle wall close to the West end of church. Their grave stones were all close by.

There was then a lead coffin which came to light in the centre of the North Transept. Sadly we can only surmise who it belonged to as the tin marker on top was corroded. If it is below the stone I think it was under then there are probably other burials beneath. The archaeologist seemed to agree with this theory.

The stone I am thinking of had seven names on it and was in remembrance of William Neale the elder and his wife Frances, William Neale the younger and his wife Violetta Wartnaby Neale plus three spinster ladies - Mary Wartnaby, Violetta Wartnaby  and Ruth Johnson. One more lead coffin was found in the South Transept in the centre. This again, sadly, was not identifiable.


Find out how YOU can help with the amazing £1.9m Re-ordering Project in St Mary's Church by clicking here.


Phil Balding, 06/03/2017

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