Wakeman Family History

Below is a website (copied to here) summarizing the history of the Wakeman family.  It is a good account and easy to read.


An Account of its History and Associations compiled by David J. de Burgh, S.D.B., c. 1956

With sincere acknowledgments to all who so kindly provided the writer with
information necessary for the work.


Beckford Hall is most agreeably situated on the high road leading from Evesham in Worcestershire, to Tewkesbury, in Gloucestershire, from which latter town it is distant about five miles. Behind it lies Bredon Hill, a northern spur of the Cotswolds, 980 feet in height, standing separate and apart from the adjacent elevations, and thus forming a prominent landmark for many miles in either direction. From the top of Bredon Hill the sinuous course of the River Avon and the gleaming waters of the more distant Severn can be seen for many miles, and within easy view lies Broadway Tower, Tewkesbury Abbey, Cheltenham, and Gloucester Cathedral.

The history of Beckford Hall goes back a long way and must surely be of interest to many who have lived there or who have had acquaintance with it. Except for the comparatively short space of fifty years (1836-1886) it has alway been important as a Catholic centre, and this long link of continuity right through the ages and even through the very Reformation itself, must surely constitute an important detail in the Catholic History of England – a detail which should be recorded fully and kept up to date. It is with this purpose that I have endeavoured to collect as much matter as possible dealing with Beckford and to collate the facts in a readable and, I hope, interesting manner. Probably there is much more to be discovdered, but circumstances prevent my tapping further sources of information. However, I sincerely trust that at some later date another more competent than myself will take on the pleasant task and produce a more interesting booklet.


The early evidence of Christianity in this conty is very slight, and of the old British Christianity there is scarcely a trace. According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Christianity was introduced into the county during the reign of King Lucius. The legend of the burial of the king in 156 may perhaps testify to the truth that Christianity spread into the district soon after it was brought into Britain, and so it is impossible to trace the gradual growth of the Church in this county, but we do know that about 715 A.D. there were monasteries which were virtually mission-stations at BECKFORD and other places. In the Saxon Chronicle of Worcestershire the church is referred to as “Beccanfords” and some suggest that this name comes from “beccon” (the beech trees) and “fords”, the Latin form of the Saxon “furde” (a passage or way) – but the name is disputed. The religious house and church, built in 750, if not earlier, were both of timber and yielded fruits to Weremund, Bishop of Worcester about that time. Hence we can say that although no doubt the foundation was later than Gloucester Abbey, it was prior to Deerhurst, Cirencester and Winchcombe, and long before Tewkesbury, which dates from 1086.

As the work of the mission-stations extended, the parochial system gradually developed, but its history is very obscure. We have on record a dispute between Bishop Denebernt of Worcester and Bishop Wulheard of Hereford, at the beginning of the ninth century; Denebernt, it seems, sued for his procurations at Celtenham and Beccanford (Cheltenham and Beckford). Now these procurations were sums of money payable to the bishops by the incumbents or priests who looked after the churches. Wulfheard refused to hand these over, alleging that for the past thirty years or more none of his predecessors had received them. The Bishop of Worcester was able to disprove this, however, and at the Council of Cloveshoe in 803, when the Archiepiscopate of Lichfield was abolished and restored to Canterbury, the Archbishop decided that Denebernt should have half procurations one year at Beccanford and the next year another half at Celtenham, with the proviso that on the death of Denebernt the estates were to pass entirely to the See of Worcester, where during his lifetime half the profits must pass to Canterbury. From this fact it is obvious that there was a monastery and church at Beckford in Saxon times. Probably, too, the present church is built on the very site of the first, as the foundations of the west seem to differ from the upper Norman work.

For the next two hundred and eighty years or so we find no further mention of Beckford in particular, but from William of Malmesbury, writing in the reign of Henry I, we get an indication of the general state of religion in the interim. He says that “zeal and religion had grown cold many years before the coming of the Normans”, and the conditions of the Church in Gloucestershire during the reign of Saint Edward the Confessor would seem to bear out the truth of his statement. However, under Wulfstan, Bishop of Worcester from 1062 until 1095, who was educated partly in the monastery of Evesham, a great religious revival took place as a result of his own holy efforts and example.

In 1060 William Fitzosborn founded a Benedictine monastery at Cormeilles on the River Dice or Dive in Normandy, France, and he gave to it certain possessions in England, including the church at Beckford with tithes in demesne and a virgate of land, but the Saxon church probably continued to exist until the erection of the present building. The Benedictines in question were called the “Black Benedictines” to distinguish them from the white-robed monks of the same Order, the Cistercians. And then, in 1085, Beckford appears in the Domesday Book as “Beceford” under the following entry:

In Tetboldestane Hundred: Rotlese, the house-carl of King Edward, held Beceford.

And the extent of land in demesne, i.e., the land owned by the local lord, is mentioned, and the land in villeinage, or the people’s land; the number of serfs and handmaidens is also given, and mention made of the church and its tithes.

Before the middle of the twelfth century a number of monasteries were founded. Henry I was the great patron of the Augustinian Canons who first came into England in 1108 and soon had several houses in Gloucestershire. In 1135 we find Beckford now established as a cell to the Augustinian monastery of St Barbe-en-Auge, in Normandy.

Adowsons of churches, as in France, were lavishly granted to religious houses, with the laudable intention of putting patronage into the hands of those who might use it better than laymen. The churches of Dymock and Beckford were given to the Newent Priory (founded 1060). However, with the consent of the bishops, the new patrons charged the churches with the payment of a pension, or secured the greater part of the revenues by appropriating them to their own use. The use by monasteries of the revenues of parish churches was not perhaps at that time the greatest evil of the system, because the spiritual needs of the parishioners were neglected. In time, however, this abuse was noted and rectified, and the Bishops of Worcester took prompt action. Perpetual vicarages were created by William of Blois (1218-1236;) and Walter Cantilupe (1237-1266), amongst them Beckford (before 1247). In 1240, at a Synod, Bishop Cantilupe insisted that all vicarages should be created in all churches appropriated to monasteries. Some of the monasteries, however, had Papal Bulls enabling them, in spite of ecclesiastical legislation, to serve the churches by one of their own number or by a paid chaplain, but this does not seem to have been the case with the church at Beckford. Bishop Cantilupe made regular visitations of the monasteries apart from the thorough visitation of the whole diocese in the years immediately after his consecration. It is probable that like Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln, he had difficulties with the alien priories, Beckford amongst them, which claimed exemption from episcopal visitation and had the right of presentation to several parish churches. Like Grosseteste he was opposed to the spoliation of the church to fill the treasuries of the corwn. In the Barons’ War he espoused the cause of Simon de Montfort, and was excommunicated by the Papal Legate, Cardinal Ottoboni, in 1265. Afterwards, when he was dying, he was reconciled and absolved by the Legate. The zelouse administration of Bishop Cantilupe bore fruit and the carefully kept register of his successor, Godfrey Giffard (1268-1302) shows that the evil of non-residence and pluralism was not very prevalent in Gloucestershire. Some relaxation of discipline and extravagance of living in the religious houses, especially among the Augustinian Canons, were reformed by Bishop Giffard, but Beckford is not named among them; and at the close of his episcopate the condition of the monasteries in the county satisfied him and also Archbishop Winchesley when he came on the metropolitian visitation in 1301.


In the reign of Henry I, the Chamberlain of Normandy, Rabellus, gave the manor of Beckford-with-Ashton to the monastery of St Barbe-en-Auge in Normandy, which had been founded as a house of Augustinian Canons in 1128. A Prior and one or two Canons were sent over to occupy Beckford, which was called a “Cell”. In 1247, the Abbot and convent of Cormeilles let the parish-church of Beckford with the chapel at Ashton at a rent or sixty marks to the Prior and convent of St Barbe-en-Auge. The arrangement was recognised by Walter Cantilupe, Bishop of Worcester, in 1248. Another agreement to the same effect was concluded in 1267. How long it lasted is uncertain; in 1339 the Prior of Beckford still paid procurations to the Bishop for the parish-church.

The Prior and convent of St Barbe-en-Auge presented the prior of their choice to the Bishop of Worcester, and the custody of the priory was committed to his as their proctor. When the alien priories were seized by Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III, the Prior seems to have retained his possessions on payment of a ferm to the Exchequer. In the reign of Richard II, however, the custody was granted first to one of the king’s clerks in 1379 for a rent of one hundred marks a year, and in 1383 for life to a knight named Sir John Cheyney, who was to hold it without rendering anything as long as the war lasted, and after peace was restored for one hundred marks to the Exchequer. It was a high demand, for in 1374 the value of the priory was only assessed at £40 a year. At that time a Prior and one Canon dwelt there. In 1389, when Henry IV restored many of the alien priories which were conventual, Sir John Cheyney urged that the manor of Beckford was not a conventual priory and had no spiritualities attached to it, and thus he succeeded in obtaining a confirmation of the grant by Richard II in 1383. Beckford came under the Act of 1414 for the suppression of the alien priories, and the church then passed to the care of the Secular Clergy. The ancient crypt of the priory is still clearly to be seen beneath the present Hall, and a noted archæologist dates it at least as early as Worcester Cathedral. The older part of the present building seems to have been built either in Mary Tudor or Elizabethan times.


In the register of Bishop Gifford of Worcester (1268-1302), Peter de Hayn, who died in 1298, is given as Prior of Beckford. He was succeeded by William de Bouyn, who, as Prior and Proctor of Beckford, swore canonical obedience “to the Cathedral Church of Worcester and the Bishops presiding there, at Hampton, near Warwick, on the Ides of October year ?”. For the year 1315, we find an interesting extract in the Worcester Registers regarding the consecration of the High Altar at Beckford: “Quart. Kalendarum Octobris eodem anno Willielmus Wigornensis episcopus consecravit major altare de Beckeford et ecclesiam et major altare de Overburye.” Laurence Gerard is given as Pirior in 1345, and Robert (no surname) in 1374 – possibly the same Robert, a Regular Canon of the house of St Barbe-en-Auge, – who is mentioned as occupying the Priory at Beckford and residing there with one monk, the Priory being worth £40 a year.

With the suppression of the alien priories by Henry V in 1414, Beckford Priory fell into secular hands and was known as the manor. The fruits of the Priory were bestowed by the saintly King Henry VI, in the twenty-second year of his reign, on the “King’s College of Our Ladys of Eaton”, the wording of the charter being as follows: “The King to whom all these presents shall come grants to the King’s College of Our Ladys, by Eaton beside Windsor, £53 16s. 8d. in rent issuing yearly out of the Manor of Beckford otherwise called the Priory of Beckford in the County of Gloster, payable by the hands of John Beauchamp, Knight, his heirs and assigns, tenants of the said Manor of Beckford, otherwise called the Priory of Beckford, from and after the death of Robert Roos, Knight, who holds the same for term of his life by a former grant from us. Witness the King at his Castle of Windsor, 25th day of March.” King Edward IV transferred the gift to Fotheringay Collegiate Church, shortly after the dissolution of which, King Edward VI, in 1547, granted the Manor and Park to Sir Richard Lee, of whose family it was purchased in 1586 by Richard Wakeman.


The arms of the Wakeman family are still to be seen on the beautiful leaden spouting on the walls of Beckford Hall, and there is also still extant, outside the present chapel, a rather weather-beaten coat-of-arms carved out on a stone shield. The Wakemans held Beckford from 1551 until after the middle of the 19th century – a period of three hundred years – and right until 1836 it was quite definitely an important Catholic centre and stronghold, and Holy Mass was said there regularly, even during the bitter days of persecution.

From The Tewkesbury Yearly Register and Magazine, published in 1836, I have obtained most of the following details about the Wakeman family:

“The ancient Roman Catholic family of Wakeman”, we are told, derive their descent from John Wake, or Wakeman, who, after the Norman Conquest, fixed his abode in Yorkshire, where his descendants appear to have remained for many generations. He seems to have married a lady from Ripon. His son and heir was Sir John Wakeman, and he, in his turn, was followed by another John Wakeman, who lived in the time of Richard I. Then came Thomas Wakeman, Sir William Wakeman, yet another Thomas Wakeman and a Sir Thomas Wakeman who had two sons, who succeeded him, viz. Robert, whose only son, Thomas, became a monk, and William. This latter was followed by George, then Willia, Robert, John, Walter, and another John. This last John’s second son, William, married a daughter of … Horton of Stanton, Worcestershire, and was the first of the family who settled in Gloucestershire. It is conjectured that he resided either at the Mythe or at Southwick, Tewkesbury. His son, William, succeeded him, and from him was descended John Wakeman of Drayton, in Chaddesley Corbet, Worcestershire. Another William, son of this John, married a daughter of … Godespayne, and was father of William, of Drayton; of Robert (or, as he was usually called after he became a Benedictine, John), the last Abbot of Tewkesbury and first Bishop of Gloucester; of Richard, of the Mythe; and of Thomas, of Southwick. William, eldest brother of the above and brother of the Abbot, married a daughter of … Clarke, and had issue, Roger, of Drayton, and Richard, of BECKFORD. This Richard was living at Beckford in 1551, but it is not known whether any of the family resided there prior to that period. It was not until 1586 that the manor of Beckford actually became the property of the Wakemans by purchase from the representatives of Sir Richard Lee. John Wakeman, eldest son of Richard, succeeded his father in 1597. He seems to have been a person of some influence, even though a Catholic, and he applied for and obtained from Queen Elizabeth a grant of the forfeited estate of Thomas Freeman, of Beckford, to whom he restored the estate, and died in 1659, leaving six sons and four daughters.

The eldest son, Richard, married Anne, daughter of Benedict Hall, of Highmeadow, Gloucestershire. He raised a troop of horse for King Charles I, was a major in the Marquis of Worcester’s Reigment, served in the Royal Army during the most disastrous period of the Civil Wars, and was wounded at the fatal battle of Worcester. After this he retired to Beckford, passing the remainder of his days in the bosom of his family. This gentleman esteemed the losses which he and his father had sustained, by their faithful adherence to the royal cuase during the Great Rebellion at upwards of £18,000. He died in 1662, and against the north wall of the chancel in Beckford Church is a plain black and white marble monument, with a scutcheon, on which are the arms of Wakeman: Vert, saltire, wavy, ermine, impaling Argent, a chevron between three talbots’ heads erased, sable, for Hall. And there is a long Latin inscription, which may be fairly literally translated thus:

“This stone covers the mortal spoils of Richard Wakeman, Knight, sprung from Edward and Mary, parents renowned for piety and high breeding. Who, on account of his loyalty to his oath, followed the destinies of his doomed king to the last hazard of war, and finally when he returned hom – or, shall I say, when he was sent into exile – transformed his arms into rakes and mattocks, after the example of Roman consuls, snatched with ease from all the tillers of the soil, by his happy skill in rural things, the herbal garland. But alas, brief inheritor of his father’s fields, on the last day of August, in the year 1662, he hastened from the noonday of his age to his sunset. With exceeding regreat his friends, his sisters, brothers and children bore his loss, but with most grief of all his mourning spouse, Anne, who – never to lay aside her robe of bereavement – offered this tribute of golden letters carved in marble, to the everlasting memory of the husband she laments. – Supplicate the Divine Majesty, with faith unimpaired, that his soul may enter heaven as a new inhabitant.”

Of great interest, too, is the history of this gentleman’s brother, Sir George Wakeman, who was created a baronet in 1660, and appointed physician to Catharine of Braganza, the Catholic Queen to King Charles II, in 1670. In September 1678, during the sanguinary farce of the so called Popish Plot, Sir George was accused by the infamous Titus Oates of a design to murder the King, upon whifh he was apprehended and committed to prison. In the July following he was tried at the Old Bailey for high treason. His innocence was transparent, although Oates swore that George was bried with £15,000 to poison His Majesty in case he should escape the poniard of Goniers and the pistols of Pickering and Groves, and so in spite of the fact that the pury was influenced by party prejudice, passion, the epidemic terror of an imaginary danger, and the bigoted invective of Lord Chief Justice Scroggs, he was acquited with a verdict of “Not Guilty”. An extract of his speech before the Lord Chancellor and Council on September 30th, 1678, and which he repeated at his public trial, may prove of interest:

“My Lord, I come of a loyal family. My father hath suffered very much, to the value of £18,000 and more, for the royal family. My brother raised a troop of horse for the king, and served him from the beginning of the war to the end. He was major to the marquis of Worcester at Worcester fight, and lost his life by the wounds he received in the King’s service. As for my own part, I travelled very young, and came over when Ireton was lord mayor, and both by my religion and name was suspected to be a favourer of the royal party; and therefore was imprisoned, and did not come out till I had been given great security; and the second time I was committed was when I did enter a plot – the only plot I was guilty of. I conspired with Captain Lucy and several others to attempt something for his majesty’s restoration, when few durst appear for him. I was seized on in my bed; there were several arms found in my apothecary’s cellar, and we were both committed to prison, and we should both have suffered death certainly if his majesty’s happy restoration had not prevented it. And now, my lord, I am under the most foul and false accusation that ever innocent man was, and I expect reparation. There was not a family in England that was so much instrumental in his majesty’s restoration as our family and connexions. Colonel Gifford was my near kinsman; so was Colonel Carlos; and the Pendrells were menial servants to the family: and I hope they deserve some favour.”

However, in spite of his acquittal, Sir George, after being for nine years physician to Queen Catherine, left his country and became a great physician in Paris, where he died.

And now, returning to Beckford, we find Benedict Wakeman succeeding to the estates on the death of his father (Sir George’s elder brother), but “Madame Wakeman”, his mother, was summoned by the Heralds in 1682 and 1683. The only explanation of this I can think of is the possible one based on the fact that in a re-print of an old book compiled after the Jacobite rising of 1715 containing the names of the Catholic non-jurors, and others who refused to take the oath to George I, are found the names of Benedict Wakeman of Beckford and Henry Wakeman of Beckford. Benedict died a bachelor in 1729, whereupon the estate devolved upon his nephew, William Plowden Wakeman, the eldest surviving son of his brother, Henry (who resided at the mansion at Ashton-under-Hill). This gentleman died in January 1765; his only son, Benedict, survived him only a few months and died in September 1765, leaving no issue. The property then went to Henry Wakeman, the next surviving brother of William Plowden Wakeman. Henry died in 1787 and was succeeded by William, his son, who died in 1836, at the age of 96. After his death the principal part of his personal and unentailed property went to his nephew, Thomas Wakeman, of Gloucester and the Craig, Monmouthshire, but the rest went to Walter, born 1832. And there the pedigree of the Wakeman family ends, as far as we have been able to trace it. It would seem that the estate passed altogether out of the Wakeman family about 1865, but names or dates are unknown or vague from 1836 until 1884, when the Ashton-Case Family became proprietors.

William Wakeman, who died in 1836, seems to have been quite an interesting character, and I cannot refrain from quoting from a short account of his life and of Beckford Hall which appeared at the time of his death in the Tewkesbury Yearly Register and Magazine:

“On the first day of the year 1836, at the patriarchal age of 96, William Wakeman, Esq., breathed his last, at his venerable seat at Beckford, a cheerful village at the foot of the Bredon Hills, about five miles to the eastward of Tewkesbury… The late William Wakeman was bred to the law, and enjoyed the family estate for nearly half a century. He was a remarkably fine and athletic man; in his youth he was a warm patron of the ‘art of self-defence’, and in the days of Broughton and Big Ben, ere pugilism had sunk to its present degraded state, few amateurs or professors would have liked him for an antagonist. After his accession to the Beckford property, he always supported the character of a genuine country squire of the old school: he was fond of the sports of the field, and for many years kept a capital pack of hounds; he loved racing, and bred several good horses, some of which were successful on provincial courses.
He was never married, yet his life was not spent in what Wordsworth terms ‘the bliss of solitude’: his maiden sisters were his companions, and for them he had amply provided, in case they should survive him. He however outlived them all, and must have sensibly felt the loss of their society: but this bereavement was no more than the common lot of those whose days are prolonged beyond the ordinary period of human existence.
Mr. Wakeman was a good practical farmer, and an acknowledged judge of cattle; he generally visited the fairs and sales in the neighbourhood, and was for a long series of years a constant attendant at Tewkesbury market. He formerly took such delight in the fine display of old timber which ornamented his estate, that it was with reluctance he suffered a tree to be felled; yet, before his death, he ordered a considerable portion of his venerable oaks and lofty elms to be cut down and sold.
He almost invariably enjoyed excellent health and spirits. In his eighty-second year he suffered a cancer, which had long been forming in his cheek, to be extracted, yet he never flinched during the painful operation, and the only observation he made was: ‘Egad, doctor, old flesh cuts hard.’ It was only during the last two or three years of his life that the infirmities of age preventing his taking salutary exercise, and his faculties were preserved to him to nearly the latest hour of his existence.”

After this biography follows a description of Beckford Hall as it was then:

“Beckford House is a large, uniform structure, and has an imposing and interesting appearance when viewed at a distance, though there is nothing very remarkable in its style of architecture. The entrance-hall is somewhat spacious, and the dining-room and drawing-rooms are lofty and well-proportioned, but the interior of the house is not by any means elegant, and the air of comfort which is so generally observable in mansions of the present day, may be sought for in vain. The date of its erection is unknown; it appears to be of the era of the first James, and if it was not entirely built, it is certain that it was much enlarged by John Wakeman, who died in the last yewar of that monarch’s reign. Richard Wakeman, a little before his death, which happened in 1662, commenced the reparation and improvement of the house; Benedict complete the alterations which his father began, and put up the wainscoting in the dining-room, which is of the finest oak from the Forest of Dean and was presented to him by his uncle, Benedict Hall, of Highmeadow. There is a chapel in the house; and the late proprietor, for a long period subsequent to the French Revolution, retained a priest, who was generally a refugee, in his domestic circle. Public worship was then, at stated times, performed there, and the neighbouring Roman Catholic families attended. Mr. Wakeman had an extensive and good library, including some valuable manuscripts, and the hall and chief rooms were adorned with many capital paintings and family portraits. The principal part of the books were removed to The Craig, Monmouthshire, the residence of Thomas Wakeman, Esq., his only surviving nephew; and the paintings became the property of William and Marmeduke Maxwell, Esquires, of Yorkshire, his great nephews. The house and out-buildings are at present in a state of great dilapidation; and excepting a remarkably fine and lofty double box hedge, of the length of 126 yards, a a single hedge-row of about 70 yards long, there is little in the plantations and gardens worthy of particular observation.”


Through the kindness of the present incumbent of Beckford Church, I am able to look up the Church Registers, which date from the year 1549. Written in a difficult script and sometimes faded ink, many of the entries are in Latin, sometimes abbreviated. The Wakeman entries are of special interest here:

  • 1597. Richard Wakeman. 7th April.
  • 1625. John Wakeman, Esq., Lord of this manor of Beckford was buried this 5 day of July, 1625.
  • 1659. Oct. 13. Edward Wakeman.
  •           Richard Wakeman, Armiger, Dominus hujusce Manorii qui obiit ultimo die+ Septembris vesp. Anno pr. dict. (predicta?) +Augusti (Dominico scil. diluculo) sepultus est quarto die
  • 1729. Benedict Wakeman, Esq. August 8th. Recd. for him a mortuary 10s.
  • 1765. William Plowden Wakeman was buried.
  • 1765. Oct. ye 3. Benedict Wakeman, Esqr was buried. (Received 10s. for a Mortuary).
  • 1787. Nov. 26th. Henry Wakeman Esqr. (Red. Mortuary 10s.)
  • 1836. William Wakeman. Jan 11th. Age 97. Buried by J. Timbrill.

These are the main Wakemans, but others also occur:

  • 1830. April 9th. Appolonia Wakeman.
  • 1795. Jan. 24th. Mrs Anne Wakeman, wife of Walter, Esqr.
  • 1795. Aug. 10th. Mistress Mary Wakeman.
  • 1794. Oct. 7th. Mistress Teresa Wakeman, driven from a Religious House in France by the French Revolution, at the age of 79.
  • 1834. Jan. 9th. Teresa Wakeman. Spinster.

It is of interest to note that all these Catholics were buried in Beckford Church, long after it had passed out of Catholic hands, in fact, right up to 1836. The reason for this, I take it, is that the family maintained its right to be buried in the Wakeman vaults there, probably beneath the church, and it would seem that for each burial the local minister exacted a fee.


In a Relation of the present state of England printed at Rome in 1590, a quarto in 16 pages, it is stated that Roger Wakeman, a priest of Douay College, and sent to the English mission in 1576, had died in Newgate prison on the 16th or 17th November, 1582, after two years’ confinement – “pædore carceris extinctus”. This priest was definitely from Gloucestershire but I have not been able to ascertain whether he had any connection with the Wakemans of Beckford, though the name does occur in the family, e.g. the brother of the first Richard Wakeman of Beckford was Roger Wakeman of the Mythe, Tewkesbury.

We have seen in the biography of William Wakeman that for a long period subsequent to the French Revolution there was usually a refugee priest resident at Beckford, though no details have come to light. In Duckett’s Catholic bookshop in the Strand, London, in 1946, quite by chance I came across an interesting volume entitled: Collections illustrating the History of the Catholic Religion in the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Wiltshire and Gloucester. Published in 1857, this historical and biographic work contains a mine of most interesting facts. The author, the Very Rev. George Oliver, D.D., Canon of the Diocese of Plymouth, writes in a quaint, personal style, and mentions happenings which he himself witnessed as early as 1807 in Bristol. Talking of Gloucestershire, he says:

“I apprehend that the Wakemans may take precedence of the Catholic families, established residents in the county,”

and elsewhere he tells us:

“In general, I believe, a chaplain was to be found attached to this Catholic family, but few names have come to light. An anonymous Benedictine was here in 1717. Fr Isaac Gibson, S.J. died here 10th November, 1738, æt. 64. The Hon. and Rev. Robert Dormer, S.J. resided here for a time. Fr Placid Bennett, O.S.B. was certainly here in 1783. L’Abbé Louvelle, the Rev. Thomas Kenyon, and the Rev. J. Harrison were the last incumbents. After the death of William Wakeman, Esq., 1st January, 1836, the remnants of this Catholic congregation were in the habit of repairing at the Eight Plenary Indulgences, to Overbury, where Mrs Eyston had a small oratory fitted up in her mansion; but these driblets, with the handful of Catholics in Tewkesbury and the Mythe, are now amalgamated to the Kemerton mission.”

Further on, in a biographical list of the clergy, we get other details of the Priests mentioned:

  • “GIBSON, Isaac, S.J. – Of his early life I can barely glean, that at the age of nineteen he joined the Jesuits; that after his promotion to the priesthood he was employed in the Gloucestershire mission, and that he died 10th November, 1728, aged sixty-four.
  • DORMER, Robert, S.J. – This worthy Jesuit had resided at Odstock, Stapehill, and Beckford; but I look in vain for his period of service in these places. His final destination was Tewkesbury, whence he passed to Our Lord 4th May, 1792, in his sixty-seventh year.
  • BENNETT, Placid, O.S.B. – This good religious is well remembered at Lanherne for his zeal and piety; but he died at Liverpool, 1st March, 1795.
  • KENYON (Anselm), Thomas, O.S.B., took the habit in 1786. I met with him as missionary at Beckford in 1840; he died at Stanbrooke on 28th July, 1850, æt. seventy-nine.
  • HARRISON, Augustin, O.S.B. – This excellent scholar for a time had rendered his valuable assistance at Beckford and Spetisbury. His death occurred on 6th March, 1846, æt. seventy-four, rel. fifty-five.”

Of other priests at Beckford Hall, we shall have more to say when dealing with the Ashton-Case Family.


For details of the present church I have relied chiefly, and mostly verbatim, on the little brochure of the late H.E. Foll (for some time proprietor of the Hall), entitled Beckford Church in the County of Gloucester, published in 1927.

The earliest part of the church – the Norman nave – could hardly have been built much before the middle of the twelfth century because of its highly ornamented south doorway, earlier Norman work being plainer. The sculptured figure of a centaur, too, on one of the columns of the nave-tower arch points to the reign of King Stephen (1135-1154) as the period when the nave was built – if, as is asserted by some, the centaur was an emblem of the king. As originally designed, the nave could not have terminated with an arch leading nowhere; and there is a blocked up window above the arch, which must have formerly let in light from the outside. A simple parallelogram, as the nave is, it is of considerable interest with its high pitched, pointed roof, its tie-beams resting on ornamented corbels, and its windows of many styles of architecture. Firstly, there are the remains of two of the three Norman windows, deeply spayed on the inside. Then on the south side a two-light window with quatre-foil of the Early Decorated Period, followed by another of Early Perpendicular style, near the pulpit; opposite which, on the north side, we find one of the lancets, with quatre-foil – late Early Enghlish. These, with the five-light Perpendicular west-end window, form a very comprehensive series of window architecture; and it is interesting to note the sequence, extending for a period of some three hundred years, from one style to another, for more light and greater decoration. There is, too, embedded in the south wall near the Perpendicular window a remarkably elegant column, with a carved capital of Norman ornamentation. It probably points to the position of an early window, which may have been replaced by the present Perpendicular one. Somehow or other it looks rather out of place – partly perhaps from its elegance as a component part of any window likely to have been inserted in the church.

The Nave-Tower arch is a fine piece of Norman work, with convex and concave hood-moulds, and two recessed orders with zigzag or chevron ornamentation, the capitals of the columns being decorated with human heads, snakes, and cable pattern moulding. There is, too, a strong course very crudely carved in cable and zigzag, as though some youthful apprentice had been trying his hand. The most curious thing, however, with regard to this arch is that the outer column on the north side has carved upon it two demonish heads and a centaur stretching out his hand to grasp a spear, or, as some people think, with his fingers vulgarly extended from his nose! The unusual part of this sculpturing is that the fingers are placed on the column itself, instead of being confined to the capital. It has been suggested that this work is Saxon, but the column seems to be part and parcel of the arch, to say nothing of the centaur as an emblem of Stephen. The Column which has been cut away on the south side of the arch is supposed to have been a vandalism of the period when the old “three-decker” was put up, and done away with to make room for the Clerk’s seat! On the north side of the archway is a blocked up recess which at first sight suggests a squint. This idea, however, is not supported because there is no corresponding opening on the other side of the wall. It may therefore have been occupied by the reredos of a small side altar; and there are signs of a similar recess on the south side of the archway. In the angle of the north and east wall there can be seen the walled-up doorway which gave access to the rood-loft. Now if, when the nave was restored in 1911, and the oak-timbered roof was exposed to view, the paster on the walls had been retained, these and such historical records would have been still lost to view. The rough Norman work was, it is true, originally plastered, but with a fine-grained plaster which was decorated with some sort of fresco, a small part of which still remains close to the pulpit, though this is probably of much later date than Norman.

The South Doorway, well known to church archæologists, is the glory of the builing, and in a good state of preservation, except where grossly mutilated by cutting away the bold out-turned chevron ornamentation at the time of the erection of the porch. It is recessed in four orders, the outer consisting of a double band of cable pattern, the second of a triple row of flattened zigzag, the third of a double row of bold out-turned zigzag, the fourth (enclosing the tympanum) of a convex moulding resting on a head on the west side, and on an animal on the east side. The three outer orders rest on a chamfered abacus, enriched on the west with zigzag, cable and leaf patterns, but almost plain on the east side. The outer cabled order descends on either side in a triple band of imposing chevron, but unfortunately mutilated and partly hidden by the walls of the porch. The second and third orders are supported by engaged shafts having capitals ornamented with star, beading and other designs, again plainer on the east side. Then we come to the typanum with its allegorical design: a large cross in the centre, an eye or a circle above the left limb, a bird, presumably a dove, on the right limb, and an animal on either side – one with five ears and horns, the other with the more normal number of four, both partly rearing up. The most reasonable explanation of this design seems to be the adoration of the Most Holy Trinity: the eye representing the Father, the Cross the Son, the dove the Holy Ghost. Below the tympanum, on the lintel, are a cable band and a chain of interlacing circles, supported by two brackets, on each of which are sculptured two heads, apparently Saracens. There are also the remains of a holy-water stoup between two of the right-hand columns.

The Tower and Chancel. Here we find a change in the architecture from Norman to Early English. With regard, however, to the lowest stage of the tower, it cannot be called Early English on account of the round-headed windows which it contains. The outside masonry, too, appears to be Norman rather than Early English. It seems very probable that the lowest stage of the tower is really the remains of a Norman chancel, with an apsidal ending, the semi-circular end having been removed to make way for the Early English chancel in the 13th century, the second stage of the tower then being built upon the walls of the old chancel and strengthened, then or later, by buttresses. Over these round-headed windows are Early English arches: but it must be noted that the points of the arches are not immediately above the centres of the windows, pointing to the fact that the builders of these arches required more space for their tower than was afforded by the north and south walls of the Norman chancel. In connection with these arches it may be noticed that the vaulting ribs have been cut off, if not purposely built so, near their bases. This, it has been suggested, was done to enable the bells to be raised up to the belfry: and as three of them are dated 1697 the peal could not have been in position before that date. According, however, to Sir Stephen Glynne, a steeple, probably of wood, which surmounted the Early English tower was taken down in 1662, and presumably the belfry-stage and the top stage, with its battlements and four pinnacles were added soon afterwards. The buttresses, too, may have been built at the same time, rather than earlier, because they seem to be thoroughly incorporated with the belfry-stage, whereas they are merely tacked on to the Early English work below. The needs for the buttresses would be the addition of the belfry and upper stages, the lost support of the groined ribs, and the weight and vibration of the bells.

The chancel, withs its Queen-Post roof and lancet-shaped window, is an interesting piece of Early English architecture. Originally, it contained a three-light east window, with quatre-foils above included under a first-pointed arch, two two-light windows, and two single-light, one of each on either side. The present Decorated window replaced the single-light window on the south side, probably early in the 14th century, and the two-light window on the north side must have been blocked up when the older part of what is the present vestry was built, probably as a sacristy. The squint, with a grille, is probably of even date with the sacristy, rather than with the chancel of the church. As stated above, the single-light window on the south side of the chancel was replaced probably about the year 1315 when the Bishop of Worcester came to consecrate the High Altar, by the present Decorated one, which became what is known as a low-side window. From the outside this window will be seen to have the lower portion bricked up, where formerly there was on the inside a wooden shutter which could be opened or closed. Many opinions have been expressed with regard to the use of these windows, and they are often called leper-windows. There is, however, another theory, namely, that they were used as outside confessionals, the priest being inside the church – a theory which is backed up by the fact that one of the Commissioners appointed to suppress the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII wrote:

“We think that the place where these Friars have been wont to hear outside confessions of all comers, at certain times of the year, be walled up, and that use to be done for ever.”

This is very strong evidence in favour of the confession idea, but possibly the windows may have been used for more purposes than one, such as the ringing of the “sacring-bell” at the Elevation of the Sacred Host, for the benefit of persons outside, but near the Church.

The Font is of the 15th century, octagonal in shape, the panels decorated with encircled quatre-foils, having centres of four-leafed flowers varying somewhat in shape. The pillar has trefoil-headed niches corresponding with panels above, the pedestal and base showing remains of the paint which formerly adorned them.

The North Door. From an archæological point of view, the outer side of this doorway is of the greatest interest. The hood-mould consists of two courses – the outer plain, and the inner a fine specimen of cable pattern ornamentation, semi-circling the tympanum. This tympanum, much defaced, contains as the central figure that of Our Lord, holding a Cross in His right hand, the lower end of it pressing down the head of an animal, representing the Devil. The left hand of Our Lord is extended over the figure of a person emerging from a sort of cave. The idea of the whole, undoubtedly, is that of Christ releasing a prisoner after subduing Satan – it is sometimes called “The Harrowing of Hell”. The lintel of the doorway is finely enriched and supported by two columns, with uncouth heads as capitals. There are also two brackets, each formed by a head.


After the death of William Wakeman in 1836, it would seem as though Beckford Hall passed out of Catholic hands until 1883, when it was acquired by the Ashton-Case Family – in whose possession it remained until 1936, when it was acquired by the Salesians of Don Bosco as a House of Novitiate for their young students. Fortunately, I have been able to obtain many details of this family, which should, I think, be duly recorded as a part of the Catholic history of our times.

Henry Ashton-Case, of Thingwell Hall, Lancashire, was educated at Eton College. He joined the 12th Lancers and loved a cavalry-man’s life. At one time he was Aide-de-Camp to the Duke of Connaught in India. Through his brother-in-law, Colonel H.E. Davidson, Captain Ashton-Case became a Catholic in India in 1876. Whilst at the Viceroy’s palace there, he met Mary Louise Southey and they married very happily. A few years after the death of this charming lady, in December, 1888, he married her sister, Alice. By the first marriage there were six daughters:

1. Violet Mary, who became a Sacred Heart Nun. Of this saintly religious we find interesting and most edifying details in the life of the Servant of G-d, Janet Erskine Stuart, R.S.C.J., Mother-General. On one occasion, for instance, the latter writes that there was “so much of her that is in heaven already” that it seemed almost too earthly to pray for her cure. In May, 1910, on account of a partial recovery from her illness, she was allowed to receive Extreme Unction a second time. The next day she wrote thus about it to Mother Stuart:

“I would have liked to have written before to thank you, but you will have heard of yesterday’s ceremony. It was heavenly, beyond words, ever so much more lovely the second time, when there is nothing at all thrilling about it, but all peaceful and blissful, and one knew exactly what was coming… Lilies from home (Beckford) just half an hour before, they little knew what they would be used for. I am ever so happy – really – and I am ready for anything, I hope. I think life is going away rather fast…”

And then of her saintly death we read the following details, written by her sister, also a nun:

“Her letters to my father were frequent… On that Sunday evening, July 10th, Holy Communion was taken to Violet for the last time. At two o’clock the next morning I was summoned to the infirmary and found Reverend Mother there, praying aloud. To all her questions Reverend Mother had a satisfying answer, messages from home, this or that detail of death ‘to be left to G-d’, and when she spoke, Sister Violet invariably said: ‘Yes, Reverend Mother, it will be all right.’ The constant ejaculation was ‘I shall see, I shall see, how lovely, how glorious’.”

“The things of earth were growing dark, but the light came more and more brightly from the other side,” wrote Mother Stuart. “She went up to its threshold and we with her to the very end. She did not pass through the mysterious vestibule of unconsciousness, but went step by step full of wonder, and her death seemed only the last, deepest act of submission and resignation.”

2. Captain Ashton-Case’s second daughter was Cecily Myrtle, who also became a Sacred Heart Nun. Regarding Mother Cecily’s vocation, I cannot refrain from quoting the following personal details:

“As to my entrance into religion: it was in September, 1901, a terrible wrench. Owing to Ivy’s death the previous February, I had agreed to put it off for a year, but one evening in September, as I went up to bed, Father gave Daisy a note for me, writing that ‘putting off’ only made it worse, and telling me to choose my own date and make arrangements, but not to speak of it to him. I felt like giving it all up, but went through with it, and Father and I set off on September 30th, with the village people and cottagers at their doors all the way to Evesham. Arriving at Roehampton, my Father saw Reverend Mother Stuart, and while I was in the garden with Violet, he left – he could not face a ‘good-bye’. I was clothed in the habit on December 27th (Violet took her First Vows at the same time), and he was there. For my First Vows, two years later, Father Vincent McNabb preached a beautiful sermon and afterwards gave me the following beautiful verses:

Out of Life’s meadows bright with spring,
Out of the woods whose cloisters long
The throstle fills with love-born song,
Out of thy youth’s illusioning,
Follow me!
Down through Life’s thickets where the briar
Thy childhood’s gossamer may rend;
Down thro’ a darkness where the end
Is reached through flood of see and fire,
Follow me!Up to a Golgotha – a tree,
Where hangs thy Love in piteous rue;
Then Up! where Jesu’s wounds imbue
Thy Soul in endless ecstasy,
Follow me!

3. The third daughter was Marguerite Daisy, who married Joseph Everard, eldest son of Sir Joseph Radcliffe of Rudding Park, and after a wonderful Catholic life died a most saintly death in June, 1943.

4. Ivy Mary was the fourth child. She with her sisters attended a convent school in Belgium. Unfortunately, at the age of 16, in February, 1901, she died at the Sacred Heart Convent at Liege. Since she had long desired to be a nun, she was allowed to make private vows of devotion on her deathbed. After her death father Vincent McNabb, O.P. wrote a few verses to comfort her father, who particularly loved Ivy. The verses follow, and the allusion to “fear” is to the answer given by Ivy a few minutes before she died; the Superior asked if she was afraid, and she answered: “Afraid? Why should I be afraid?”

Dear child, didst thou fear death?
Fear? Doth the ivy fear
The strong oak-limbs that bear
It heavenward? G-d’s warm breath
Kindleth the true life there.
Yet were thy years so few,
Life’s cup but sipped, not drained.
Yes, but my soul’s lips, stained
With the divine draught, flew
Where that sweet love-wine rained.Wouldst thou then love death, thou
That loved to live? Dear Lord,
How shall we hear Thy word:
“Welcome! Well done!” if now
We shrink from death’s chill food?Wouldst thou so lightly part
From those who loved thee? Nay,
I parted for a day
And then, dear, heart to heart
I love in G-d, alway.But, child, the tomb, the dark!
My Jesus bore the tomb
For me He walked the gloom,
I see Him nigh me. Hark!
The King draws nigh, make room.Could I but keep thee here
But one swift hour! Nay let
Me see my G-d. O net
Break! and then, my soul, be freer
Thy thoughts on G-d to set.Stay with us, child, the night
Deepens. Nay, breaks the day,
The hills are gold. Away
The shadows flee, and light warns us
G-d comes this way.Then, child, go where thy heart
Longs. Yes, Good Jesu, I
Hear Thy last call. Swiftly
I come, from Thee to part
No more eternally.Vincent McNabb. For Ivy Mary Ashton-Case. R.I.P. Died, aged 16.

5. The Captain’s fifth daughter is Daphne Winifred, now Mrs Hunt, wife of Captain arthur Hung, M.C. It is interesting to know that all the furniture of Beckford Chapel was transferred to Mrs Hunt’s home at Churt, Surrey, where a chapel-of-ease was set up, and arranged just as it had been at Beckford. It is now part of Haslemere parish and, incidentally, is served by the Salesian Fathers from Farnborough.

6. The last daughter is Monica Primrose, Mrs John Beever of Scarborough.

The Saints of the various stained-glass windows in Beckford chapel were named after the members of the family, as all the children bore a Saint’s name, as well as a flower-name (for which there are also windows in other parts of the house).

In 1883, Henry Ashton-Case gave up soldiering and bought Beckford Hall. He actually settled there in 1884, building two additional wings, one of which contains the lovely little chapel. He installed electric light almost at once – the first country-house to have it. The chapel was subsequently decorated by Ion Paice, the same who so famously decorated St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. The beautiful stained-glass windows were also by him. Mother Cecily writes:

“I can remember how he would put a window in, then take it out to make some tiny change in the tint colouring.”

The result was a masterpiece of artistry. When the Salesians of Don Bosco acquired Beckford, the Chapel was extended somewhat, and Ion Paice’s lovely designs were copied almost exactly in the new section by one of the then Salesian Brothers, later a Priest, viz., Father Albert Carette, S.D.B.

When the Ashton-Case family had settled at Beckford, a Dominican Father used to come every week-end from Woodchester for Confessions, Holy Mass, sermon, and Benediction, and often a priest friend would stay in the house. The Captain himself served the weekday Masses, the servants on Sundays. Hymns were sung by all, while the Captain played the organ for Benediction. On all the Fridays of Lent he would read the Stations of the Cross, and on Palm Sunday he used to be asked to read the Passion in English facing the congregation, concurrently with the celebrating Priest’s reading of it sotto voce in Latin. A grotto of Our Lady used to exist on the site of the present Salesian cemetery, and in the Spring-time her statue used to be carried there in procession with hymns, etc. In the Autumn it was taken away equally solemnly.

Captain Case, as he was familiarly known to the villagers, was a great sportsman, a regular rider to hounds (Croome, Cotswold and North Cotswold packs), a great polo-player (he bred his own polo ponies), and drove a 4-in-hand magnificently. The stables were always full of horses, used by himself and even the children. In fact, when in the Army, he drove the regimental team, and had been designated by Queen Victoria to teach polo to the officers of the German Army, but political reasons quashed this scheme. He was also Justice of the Peace for Goucestershire, and sat at Winchcombe.

The estate at that time extended right to the top of Bredon Hill, and the family was much esteemed and loved by all the tenants and villagers, who to this very day hold their memory in tender reverence. The daughters would make garments and put aside money throughout the year for the poorer folk, and at Christmas time they would take presents, crackers, fruit, etc. to every cottage.

“Both our parents,” writes one of the daughters, “and our step-mother encouraged these visits. Mother and step-mother were both very good Catholics and very kind-hearted. We owed our very happy spiritual outlook to our earliest training. My Mother made First Confessions a birthday treat and we always loved the Sacrament! On Saturdays we went to Confession in ascending or descending order of age, according to the decision of Violet, the eldest. Then, in Summer, we used to slip out into the garden for intense and wonderful spiritual communings, each on our own special path, in solitude. Sunday morning ritual: 8.30, Holy Communion; 10.00, Mass. Then choir practice for Benediction, then visit to stables and hot-houses. Before Benediction, instruction for the children, in the chapel. When it was Father Vincent McNabb, the grown-ups usually crept in too. Some priests preferred to take us alone, in the oak-room. One young Father asked us what Sacrament he should talk about. Plucking up courage, and hiding my blushes in the firelight, I asked for Holy Order, thinking that this Sacrament made nuns as well as priests! He seemed annoyed. My only fear was that my sisters would guess my intention of being a nun! We children were very envious of those important people who stayed long in Confession, and I was once deputed to propound a case of conscience, something about being obliged to work on Sundays (our governess made us learn the Gospel of the day!). It didn’t spin out the Confession very long, to the family’s regret! On holidays of obligation, Father Fenn from Tewkesbury cam over to say Mass. He sighed deeply all the time, and we were told he had heart disease. We had bouts of great spirituality and undertook much (spasmodic) penance: scourging with a long, silver muff-chain while the bath-water was running (for we were very reticent about these things even amongst ourselves), and eating soap, etc.”

And the narrative adds: “By the way, I do hope I haven’t given the impression that we were goody-goody children. Very much the contrary! We were always up to larks and always ‘in hot water’. Thus, every Sunday evening we acted a play for the servants (in the big room two storeys above the billiard-room). We ought, of course, to have been in bed, but the governess dining in the dining-room that day, the coast was clear. We prepared the play during the week, painted programmes, etc. Alas! one Sunday a smoking chimney brought my Father to our bedrooms just as the cast were breaking up! I, a very blue-whiskered Blue-beard was led to the drawing-room, where I could see the smothered amusement of the guests. Then I was led upstairs. The rest of the cast had got into bed in all theiry finery! Punishment followed next day: early bed, plain tea, etc. Such things were frequent! We enjoyed every possible game: badminton, tennis, hockey, etc., and every sport: skating, tobogganing, hunting, swimming, dancing, to the full… One other story of escapades! As children we always woke up early and found bed dull. So we four elders, in pairs, swam down the parallel flights of the front stairs, then thickly carpeted. The two couples raced each other down, and running up again to see who could do the most swims in a given time. Special garments were made for the purpose. And all this frequently at 5 a.m.!”

The children all took part in the village concerts. One played the ‘cello, two the violin, another the piano, and all sang. The Captain himself played all three instruments by ear.

Once Daisy, recently married, took Daphne and Primrose to Switzerland for winter sports. They were the life and soul of the hotel, and were called the “Three Graces”. Their simplicity and fidelity to daily Mass brought several people into the Church. This fact was made known later by one of the converts who was instructed at the Sacred Heart Convent in Brighton.

Besides living at Beckford, frequent visits were made to the continent, especially to Italy and France, and to Scotland, where the Captain especially enjoyed the shooting.

In Beckford village there used to be an old custom called “a ‘Thomassin’ ” – an annual function which seems to have dated from pre-Reformation times. On December 21st the old women of the village and neighbourhood used to come yearly and stand in a circle in the space outside the front door, to receive a cup of hot coffee and a new sixpence. Captain Case used to go out and talk to each one and give the sixpence, and the servants handed round the coffee. “Going a ‘Thomassin’ ” ceased somewhere in the 1890’s, as doubtless the sixpence no longer had enough value to attract them. It must have been destined for their Christmas fare in earlier days.

In those days there were frequent visitors of note to Beckford Hall, both ecclesiastical and lay.

Whenever there was a Confirmation, etc., at Kemerton, the Bishop of Clifton stayed at the Hall, and as far back as 1886 Bishop Clifford came to bless the existing chapel, dedicated to Our Lady and Saint Augustine. Bishop Burton often came on friendly, unofficial visits. In regard to the latter, an amusing incident has come to light. Daisy Ashton-Case was a great mimic. She dressed up once, during Bishop Burton’s visit, as a caller who wanted to consult the Bishop about her wayward son. She took him in completely, and he was so amused that he made her repeat the performance when they went to call at Postlip Hall, where she was made to repeat her talke of woe to the resident chaplain, whose discomfiture the Bishop positively enjoyed!

Father Vincent McNabb, O.P. was a constant visitor, also Father Leslie, S.J., Fathers A. and Reginald Buckler, O.P. and many other Dominican Fathers. Bishop Knight of Shrewsbury also stayed there. Sir Piers and Lady Mostyn of Talacre, Lady Napier, Lord and Lady Gainsborough, the Noel Family, Lady Clare King, General Brabazon Pottinger (son of the great General Pottinger of the Afghan War), Lord Harry Foster, a cousin of the family and Governor General of Australia after World-War I – these were but a few of the noted visitors in those happy days.


There is a very old tradition in the village that somewhere in the Hall grounds there is or was the entrance to an underground tunnel leading right through the hills to Elmley Castle, though some doubt this possible. An entrance to some kind of passage, once well hidden, has been discovered, but even if there had been such a tunnel, it is unlikely that it has remained intact. Perhaps the entry that has been found is merely an old well? The tradition, nevertheless, is very strong.

Before the Hall was converted into a Novitiate in 1936, there was a secret chapel in the gabled servants’ rooms which was used in times of persecution. A very strong tradition also points to a passage leading from the ancient Priory Crypt, which now forms part of the cellars, to the local church. There is also talk of a Priest’s Hiding Hole and, in fact, towards the end of the last century Captain Case came across a fairly large cavity in the North Room (above the present sacristy). Mrs Hunt affirms:

“Yes, I think you have located the correct position of the Priest’s Hiding Hole. It was discovered by my Father about forty to fifty years ago. When workmen were doing some work in that room, a fairly large cavity was found in the panelling between the fireplace and the wall farthest from the door. My bed, when I was a child, was put in it and I lay facing the North Window. I don’t think anything was found inside the recess, and we were just told that it must have been a Priest’s Hiding Place in Reformation days. I have no idea how it could have been entered, unless a piece of the panelling had been movable – which seems quite possible.”

No legends or facts are known about the old “Monks’ Well” in the grounds, restored by Captain Case, but as the water was very pure there, it was doubtless made for practical purposes by the monks.

The famous Box Walk is reckoned to be over 800 years old, though some would have it only 300. Certainly it would seem to have been planted by the monks, and it is thought that there was a cross-shaped growth of trees originally and that, from the openings in the middle of the Walk, similar avenues whent out at right-angles each side of the main Walk. Box-trees take a very long time to grow, and there is not another avenue like this one in the world. The famous Box Walk in the Vatican Gardens is nothing compared with it.


In 1923 it was proposed selling Beckford Hall, and a catalogue of sale was issued, but fortunately withdrawn, and the property remained in the family until 1936. This catalogue gives most interesting details and views. The Hall is described thus:

“A freehold, residential, sporting and agricultural estate, which comprises the beautiful old Tudor Manor House, modernized and in excellent order throughout, containing Lounge Hall, Billiard and four Reception Rooms, Private Chapel, four Bath Rooms, ten Principal and ten Secondaryt and Servants’ Bed Rooms, with well fitted Domestic Offices, electric light, central heating, constant hot water, South and West aspects, sandy-gravel sub-soil, very charming old gardens and grounds, with extensive lawns, flower borders, woodland walks, famous Box Walk believed to be 800 years old, walled fruit and vegetable gardens, etc.; ample stabling, garage and out-buildings, home farm with capital house and buildings, small holding, allotments and cottages; including the farm-lands, grass and arable, together with the woodlands and plantations, the total area extending to about 586 acres, with good shooting over the estate.
For upwards of a thousand years,” the catalogue continues, “there have been important buildings on this Historical Site; in earlier times the well-known Priory with its Church, and later, this typical old Cotswold Manor House, with its handsome seven-gabled Western elevation which was probably erected during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Built entirely of stone, with later additions fully in harmony with the original work, not only is the whole fabric in an excellent state of preservation, but the interior too has been well cared for and has been fitted with modern improvements in accordance with the requirements of the times. Situated in the fertile country between Evesham and Tewkesbury, a district renowned for fruit-growing and market-gardening, the picturesque village of Beckford lies about half a mile from the main road which connects these agricultural centres. The drive to the Hall, commencing at the end of the village, skirts the Park and, passing through some of the pleasure grounds, terminates in a broad sweep on the western front. A broad flight of steps leads to the Main Entrance doors which open to the porch, beyond being the Lounge Hall, with parquet floor, oak moulded panelled dado to walls. The Oak Room, facing South and West, has its walls covered the whole height with fine old oak panelling, and the floor is of polished oak. The Billiard Room, facing West, has a handsome black marble mantelpiece, believed to have been designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Off the staircase hall is the Garden Room, facing South, with french-windows opening on to a broad landing, with steps to the gardens. The fireplace with tiled panels and hearth has a fine white marble mantelpiece, and the floor is fitted with parquet surround. The Dining Room, also facing South, has an oak parquet surround to the floor and a fireplace fitted with black marble mantelpiece. Both these rooms have enriched panelled ceilings. The Staircase Hall in the centre of the building is one of its special features. The handsome oak staircase, with turned balusters, moulded handrails and heavy newels, rises in a double flight to the half-landing, and from that level in a wide single flight to the upper one. The hall is open to the roof, the lantern lights of which are carried by carved oak beams supported by brackets set on beautifully carved stone corbels (angels).
The Pleasure Grounds,” says the catalogue, “practically surround the residence, and are studded with beautiful forest timber, ornamental trees and shrubs, including oak, ash, copper beech, weeping ash, wellingtonias, deodoras, etc., many of which are finely grown specimen trees. There are broad lawns for croquet and tennis bordered on the South side of the reisence by a long gravelled terrace walk, and on the West by the wide sweep of the carriage drive. One of the notable features is the Box Walk, which is about 220 years in length with trees nearly 30 feet high. The ‘Monks’ Well’, which was restored about fifty years ago, is also of great interest. In addition to many flower-beds, there are herbaceous borders, rose-garden, wild garden, thick shrubberies, and winding woodland walks. The glass-houses comprise hot-house and vinery. Including a picturesque sheet of ornamental water near the drive, the pleasure grounds have an area of about six or seven acres.”


Such was the beautiful home of this admirable family for so many years. Captain Case was a truly remarkable gentleman, and when he died in July, 1935, his death was sadly lamented not only by his own dear family but also by a host of servants, tenants, villagers, friends and acquaintances, who esteemed him at very high worth. He was buried in the Catholic cemetery at Kemerton, and the famous Father Vincent McNabb, O.P. preached a beautiful sermon on that occasion, showing the high degree of sanctity the Captain had attained. I feel sure a full quotation of it will be appreciated here:

” ‘Amen, I say to you: I have not found such faith in Isræl’ (Lk 7:9). These words Jesus spoke to a Roman soldier. They seem fitting for us to speak of a solider of Christ whom we are now bearing from life’s battlefield. That life was of so many years that not many of those around him can recall him in the fullness of manhood, but those of us who go back in memory from old age to full manhood can only recall one whose every action and even word betokened a soldier’s soul. He could obey and obey at a word. But a delicate conscience made him take care that his obedience to the lower authority did not compromise him with a higher. No word would be obeyed if it countered a word of G-d. He could be brave in such quiet, dutiful ways that men saw in his bravery but a leaf quietly stirring on its branch or falling to the earth. He could even fear with that hero-fear of staining his loyalty to king or country – or to his Heavenly King and his Heavenly Country.
But let me speak as a priest who knew the depths of his life for well nigh fifty years. Obedience and heroism were but parts of a quality of soul which I can only call heroic faith – the heroic obedience of faith. There came a moment in his life when he felt commanded to come out of the Church of his youth. In his inmost soul he heard G-d calling him to the colours. A certain shyness and sensitiveness of soul made it pain to part or even to differ from those whom, in his humility, he thought his betters. But when a call came – from King or King of Kings – the pain or cost of following was not even set in the balance.
The love that has tended him in the last weeks of his life is here to show how G-d did not withold from him even the highest of human consolations. But from the day when he came, as he accounted it, a soldier of Christ, his way was one of trial and suffering, rather than of consolation. Few know, as I know, the depth and poignancy of his trials. Yet G-d is my witness that it was never from his lips I knew the sorrows of his soul. All I could ever see in him was a soldier’s quiet going forward into the heats of the battle.
Over the lintel of the home from when he was borne he had made them carve:


The spirit, if not the letter of which we may render:


So strange a choice of motto seems, as we now see it by his dead body, to have been an instinctive forecast given him by the Captain of his soul who was calling and readying him for hero-battling. His children and his children’s children have, in his death, but the one sorrow of parting. All else is for joy, for pride. In his love for them he will pray that sorrow will be spared them. But if sorrow and trial are not spared them, they could not pray better than by asking some share in the heroic obedience of faith which has been today bequeathed to them as a father’s most precious heirloom.”

Father Vincent McNabb, O.P., Beckford Hall, 17th July.


And now there remains for us to give merely some account of the acquiring of Beckford Hall by the Salesians of Don Bosco, and of some items of interest in the early days after their advent.

Originally established at Burwash, Sussex, the Novitiate of the Salesians of Saint John Bosco (Congregation of Saint Francis of Sales) was transferred after a few years to Cowley, Oxford, but in the course of time it was felt that a bigger establishment would be needed for this important work. An advertisement for the sale of Beckford Hall appeared in the Catholic papers in July, 1935…”

Note: The foregoing account was compiled by Father David J. de Burgh, S.D.B., while he was resident at Beckford, c. 1956.

Zecharia Sitchin believes that the original reading of Genesis 1:1 is very slightly but most significantly different from that given in all known versions of the Hebrew-Christian Bible; it runs: “Ab-reshit bara Elohim et Ha’Shamaim v’et Ha’Aretz”. This may be translated: “The Father-of-Beginning created the Gods, the Heavens, and the Earth.” (Divine Encounters, New York, Avon Books, 1996, p.376.)