Biographies from the Churchyard of St. John the Divine

Biographies from the Churchyard of St. John the Divine

Every grave in every churchyard has a story to tell about a person. Most stories are about the average, everyday life of the person, their parentage, their family, their occupation, where they lived, just little details that help build a picture of the person, the past and the community in which they lived. Sometimes the headstone hides a tragedy, an accident, a misdemeanour, or the unexpected. The churchyard at St John’s is like all other churchyards and every grave has a story to tell and a person to remember. The life of the person can be pieced together with the use of the parish registers, newspaper articles and descendants, or sometimes something will be inscribed on the headstone itself. The little snip-its, when added together, begin to build a picture of the person and the community in which they lived. The biographies that follow are but a few, but will hopefully give an insight into the people of Felbridge and their lives since 1865, when St John’s became the central focus and final resting place for many villagers of Felbridge.

PC James Baldwin

James was born in June 1869, the son of William and Caroline Baldwin, who in 1881, were living at ‘Wire Mill Cottage’, Wire Mill Lane, Newchapel, Felbridge. William was born in 1834, in Cowden, Kent, and Caroline was born in 1835, in Salisbury, Wiltshire. The Census of 1881, records that the eldest child living at home was Eliza, aged twenty, born in 1861, in Clapham. The next child listed is Betsy Susannah, aged fifteen, christened at St John’s Church, Felbridge on 27th May 1866. All subsequent children were christened at St John’s, Felbridge. The next child was, John Edward, christened 28th June 1868, then James, christened on 26th June 1869, then Sarah Annie, christened 25th June 1871, Charles, christened 23rd February 1873, Fanny, christened 30th August 1874, Henry, christened 28th May 1876, and Kate Naomi, born in 1878. There was also another son, George, born in 1863, in Clapham, but at the time of the Census in 1881, he had already left home and was working as a farm servant at ‘Gate House Farm’, Eastbourne Road, Newchapel. William, the head of the Baldwin family, was listed as a corn miller’s loader, working for Thomas Brand, the miller at Wire Mill.

James probably followed his oldest brother, George, onto the land but in 1892, at the age of twenty-three, chose a career in the Metropolitan Police Force, which at that time was service of twenty-six years with the entitlement of a pension on retirement. Little did he know that this action would bring his life to an abrupt end at the age of twenty-nine years. The circumstances of his tragic death were detailed in the Police Review on 7th October 1898.

Murder of A Metropolitan Policeman

The vicinity of the Kingsland Road, London, was, early on the morning of the 2nd inst., the scene of a deliberate murder. PC James Baldwin, of the G Division, Metropolitan Force, was on point duty near the Regent’s Canal just after midnight, when he heard the sounds of a loud altercation proceeding from Wilmer Gardens, a low neighbourhood infested by a dangerous class. He at once went to the spot and found a considerable crowd of more or less drunken persons engaged in angry dispute. Selecting a man whom he took to be one of the ringleaders in the disturbance he at once pluckily attempted to arrest him. Before the Officer could realise the danger of the situation, the man – a big, powerfully built fellow – pulled out a formidable clasp-knife from his pocket and instantly plunged it into the body of the unfortunate Constable. He made several savage lunges, and when later examination was made of the injured man he was found to have been badly stabbed in the chest, the abdomen and the groin, all on the left side. The Constable reeled and stumbled to the ground in a fainting condition. Meanwhile a couple of men from the G Division, attracted by the commotion, came up and arrested the man. He still held in his hand the blood-stained knife, and attempted to use it. Baldwin had sufficiently recovered to be able to make for Kingsland Road, where he hailed a passing cab and drove to the Station. He had only arrived a few minutes when the prisoner was brought in. Baldwin at once identified him as the man by whom he had been stabbed. Prisoner was immediately charged with attempted murder, and gave his name as John Ryan, aged 30, but refused his address. The injured Constable was removed to the Metropolitan Hospital, where he gradually sank and died at 10 o’clock the same morning.

On the 3rd inst. the prisoner was charged with the wilful murder of the Constable, at Worship Street Police Court.

PC Broughton gave evidence of going to the deceased assistance, and of wrenching a knife from the hand of the accused, whom he then took to the Station.

Other formal evidence having been given, the prisoner was remanded.

The deceased Constable, it is said, was a single man, about 28 years of age, and was much respected by his comrades of G Division. He had been stationed at the Kingsland Road Station for several years, and was looked upon by his superiors as a courageous and promising young Officer.’

James Baldwin was indeed a single man, his closest relative being his mother Caroline, as his father had by then already died in 1895. Arrangements were therefore made for his body to be returned to Felbridge, for burial at St John’s, the parish church of his mother. For an account of his funeral, we again turn to The Police Review, of 14th October 1898.

Funeral of P C Baldwin

Familiar as London crowds are with imposing spectacular displays, it may be fairly said that rarely have they witnessed as remarkable a demonstration as that attending the removal of the remains of the murdered Constable Baldwin, on Friday last from Kingsland Road Section House to the railway terminus at London Bridge, en route to their last resting place in the cemetery at East Grinstead.

Every Division in the Metropolitan Force, as well as the City Police and Metropolitan Fire Brigade, was represented by a goodly number of mourners, and over two thousand Officers of all ranks assembled in the railway arch, facing the headquarters of the G Division to escort a comrade who had died so nobly in the execution of his duty, on the first stage of his last journey; the shopkeepers and inhabitants in the locality of the Station showed their sympathy by closing their shutters and blinds.

Long before the hour the procession was timed to start, many thousands of spectators had assembled on the line of route, and so dense were the crowds in several thoroughfares that all vehicular traffic had to be temporarily suspended.

Shortly after two o’clock the brass-mounted oaken coffin, upon which rested several wreaths and Baldwin’s helmet, belt and truncheon, was reverently borne upon the shoulders of eight comrades from the reading-room of the Section House to the hearse, to which four horses were harnessed.

So numerous were the offerings of wreaths and crosses that an open carriage, drawn by two horses, had to be requisitioned to carry the flowers for which room could not be found in the funeral car. There were over one hundred wreaths altogether, received from the several Metropolitan Divisions, as well as from friends and relatives, tradesmen of the district, and even street costers. The floral tribute from the Officers and men of G Division, and inscribed ‘A token of respect to a comrade who died in the execution of his duty’, and others sent by the unmarried men attached to the Hoxton Section House, and the City Police, were placed on the lid of the coffin.

With the opening bars of the ‘Dead March in Saul’, the cort¾ge, headed by a posse of Police, moved off. Then came the band of the K Division, followed by the hearse. The single men of G Division, walking four abreast, led the way, and following in the same formation, came first groups of Constables, than Sergeants, and finally Inspectors, with members of the City Police and representatives from the Commercial Road Division of the Fire Brigade, under Supt. Smith, accompanied by a two-horse fire engine and a steamer. Col. Monsell, Chief Constable, was also present.

Slowly wending its way through the City and over London Bridge, the long procession reached the terminus at a quarter-past three. As it was practically impossible to admit into the station the whole of the Officers who had followed the remains from Kingsland Road, the processionists formed up in the spacious approach to the railway premises. Then, while the band played the funeral march, the cort¾ge passed through the gateway to the platform, where a van was drawn up to receive the remains. The bearers then gently carried the coffin from the hearse to the train, the greatest care being taken to disturb neither the wreaths or the helmet, belt or truncheon with which it was surmounted. The wreaths were also transferred from the landau to the van and tastefully arranged around the bier. When this task was completed, a steady stream of Police filed along the platform to take a last glimpse of the coffin and the beautiful floral offerings surrounding it. Then the time for departure arrived, and, accompanied by a few friends and relatives, the train left for East Grinstead.

The remains were interred on Saturday at Felbridge Place, near East Grinstead. A detachment of some 80 Police Officers from various Divisions and representatives from local Forces attended the funeral, the body being carried to the church by six Constables of the G Div.

The scene in the churchyard was very impressive, hundreds of persons attending the interment.

PS Godley, who was in charge of the Police party, handed £6 to Mrs Baldwin, the mother of the dead man, this having been subscribed by the Police who took part in the funeral procession on Friday.

The Tradesmen of the locality in which Baldwin met his death have formed a committee to collect subscriptions for Mrs Baldwin, who by the death of her son, has lost the sole means of support. [Abridged]

Retribution for the death of PC Baldwin was swift, as was reported in the Police Review, dated 18th November 1898.

Murder of P C Baldwin

On Tuesday morning last at Newgate Prison, John Ryan suffered the death penalty for murdering PC Baldwin of the Metropolitan Police, on 2nd inst.

The execution was carried out by Billington, and death was instantaneous.

No statement was made by the convict, who maintained his sullen disposition until the end.

The murderer of PC Baldwin went to the scaffold without making any statement regarding his crime. The sympathies of the usual crowd assembled to witness the hoisting of the black flag were apparently not with the convict, as cheers were given on the appearance of the death signal.

Since the Metropolitan Police took over the control of London from the old watchmen in 1829, four of its members have been murdered. The last occasion on which a convict was executed at Newgate for murdering a Police Officer was on 16th August 1892, when a young German named Wenzel went to the gallows for murdering Det. PS Joyce who was about to arrest him on a charge of larceny. In October, 1884, another Police murderer, a cabinet maker named Orrock, suffered the death penalty for killing PC Cole, who endeavoured to arrest him for breaking into a Dalston church. A builder’s labourer named Joseph Brooks was also publicly hanged at the Old Bailey on 27th April, 1863, for shooting PC Davey at Acton. Brooks owed the Officer a ‘grudge’. The latter with his wife occupied a house as caretaker at Church Road. The doorbell was rung, and on Davey stepping out was shot dead on the step. Some circumstantial occurrences led to the arrest of Brooks and his brother. They were both tried together, but one was acquitted.

Rev J Thorp, vicar of St John’s, buried James Baldwin on 8th October 1898, in grave no. D3. 84-87, which has a cross as the headstone and is located on the Eastern boundary of the churchyard. The top section of the three steps of the cross is inscribed:
The middle step is inscribed:

The base step is inscribed:
Bingham family

The Bingham family originate from the Ardingly, Horsted Keynes and West Hoathly area and a branch of the family moved to the Felbridge area around 1860, when Henry Bingham came to work at the Felbridge Place estate for the Gatty family. In 1881, Henry is listed as Farm Bailiff, living at ‘Felbridge Park Lodge’, now known as ‘North Lodge’, London Road, and in 1887, he is also listed as the Parish Clerk.

Henry was born in March 1817, the son of William and Ann Bingham of Horsted Keynes. He came from a large family of six brothers and six sisters. Henry married Mary Ann Ferguson on 16th July 1837, at West Hoathly, and they had six children, William Ferguson, born in 1838, Henry Ferguson, born in 1843, Albert Thomas Ferguson, born in 1846, Emily Jane, born in 1849, Agnes Ellis, born in 1851, and Allen Walter, born in 1861. Of the six children, William emigrated to America, but at least four of them settled in Felbridge. Henry Ferguson married Susannah and in 1881, they were living at the ‘Chestnut Trees’, Hedgecourt Road, now the Copthorne Road, they had at least one daughter in Felbridge, Kate born on 3rd June1876, who unfortunately died six days later and was buried in the churchyard of St John’s on 21st June 1876, however, the grave number was not recorded. The last known line of their descent was their son Alfred Ernest, born in 1871, who is listed as a domestic coachman, living at North End, Felbridge, in 1901. Alfred Ernest married Elizabeth Reeves on 18th November 1899, and they had at least one daughter Florence Ethel born on 25th February 1901.

Albert Thomas Ferguson married Henrietta Mary and in 1881, Albert is listed as a carpenter and joiner living at ‘Hedgecourt Mill House’. Emily Jane went into service at Felbridge Place, but unfortunately died in 1868, at the age of nineteen and is buried in the churchyard at St John’s. She must have been well respected by the Gatty family for whom she worked, as Mrs Frances Gatty had a gravestone erected to her memory, (grave no. C1. 88), which is inscribed:
daughter of HENRY and
of this Parish
Those that seek him shall feel … .(illegible)

of Felbridge Park

The last of Henry and Mary Ann’s sons that settled in Felbridge was Allen. He worked as an estate carpenter for the Gatty family and designed and made the original gate leading to Felbridge Place from the Copthorne Road, next to ‘South Lodge’, now known as ‘Stone Croft’. Allen married Ellen Harriett, known as Nell, in October 1892, and their honeymoon was spent visiting his brother, William and wife, Eliza and family, at ‘Holme Farm’, Franklin, America. Charles Henry Gatty paid for this trip, with the hope that the change of air would help Allen’s asthma. The journey and an account of their stay were detailed in a diary that Allen kept of the trip. On their return to Felbridge, Allen and Ellen moved to ‘Chestnut Cottage’, Crawley Down Road, now Motech. Allen and Ellen had a relatively small family, Hilda M, born in 1894, Alec Henry, born on 29th March 1896, Edward Howard, born n 25th September 1898, Raymond, born on 25th August 1901 and Edith, date of birth unknown. Alec was unfortunately killed in the First World War in 1917, although this did not stop Raymond from joining the Royal Air Force in August 1919, but his career was cut short, when in May 1920, he was invalided out as ‘no longer physically fit for War Service’. Edward married Doris Grace Sinden, daughter of another local family who lived at ‘Beechwood’, Crawley Down Road, and descendants of this family still reside in the Felbridge area.

Mary Ann Bingham died on 13th October 1895, and was buried on 17th October 1895, by Rev J Thorp, vicar of St John’s. When Henry died on 20th March 1900, he was also buried Rev J Thorp, on 26th March 1900, and joined Mary Ann in the churchyard of St John’s, in grave no. C1. 66-73. The headstone was made by Jenner & Grynyer of East Grinstead, and the inscription reads:
In Loving Memory
---- of ----

Henry and Mary Ann’s son Albert and his wife Henrietta Mary had Ethel Effie born on 25th July 1880, Beatrice Florence born on 25th December 1881 and Leslie Albert born on 2nd July 1884. Unfortunately, Leslie died aged four months and was buried on 16th September 1884, in the churchyard at St John’s but the number of his grave was not recorded. Albert and Henrietta are buried in grave no. C1. 75-82, Henrietta died in November 1896, aged forty, and was buried on 14th November by Rev J Thorp. Albert died in 1901, aged fifty-five, and was also buried by Rev J Thorp. Their inscription reads:


Henry and Mary Ann’s son, Allen, was not buried in the churchyard of St John’s but at All Saint’s church, Crawley Down. However, a memorial to Roy Bingham, Edward’s son and Henry’s great grandson, was placed in the family plot in St John’s churchyard, on his death in 1996. His original memorial was a wooden fish, a symbol of Christian faith, which was made by Simon Bingham, Roy’s son, with the inscription:

A permanent stone memorial was added to the fish memorial in the summer of 2002 that reads:
15.12.1938 – 22.11.1996

Newington Bradford

Newington was born in September 1876, the second son of Benjamin Bradford and Matilda nee Gatland, who lived at ‘Parish Cottage’, East Park Lane, Newchapel. The property is still standing but is now known as ‘Crofters’. Newington was the half brother of Isabella Bradford who married Charles John Hewitt, and whose only son, Charles James Valentine, is also buried in the churchyard of St John’s.

On the 8th December 1892, at the age of eighteen years and three months, Newington signed up for twelve years service with the Rifle Brigade Corps, having previously served in the West Surrey Militia. At the time of his enlistment he was working as a labourer at Cowden, Kent, signing up at East Grinstead, and travelling to Chichester for his medical. Newington’s description on enlistment into the Rifle Brigade on 13th December 1892, states that he was 5ft and 5⅞ins (1.65m) tall and weighed 9st 3lbs (56.7kg). He had a chest measurement of 33½ ins (83.75cms) which when expended rose to 36ins (90cms). His complexion was described as ‘fresh’, and he had green eyes and brown hair. Distinguishing marks were listed as a head of a woman – NELLIE, on his right arm, and a bracelet on each wrist, presumably tattoos. In general he was described as fit.

The Rifle Brigade was raised in 1800, as an experimental rifle corps, designated The Corps of Riflemen and known unofficially as Manningham’s Sharpshooters. A second Battalion existed from 1805 until 1948, and again between 1950 and 1957. A third Battalion existed between 1855 and 1922, and a fourth between 1857 and 1922. They are nicknamed ‘The Sweeps’.

From the medical records Newington proved not to be as fit as the Medical Officer had declared, and between July 1893 and June 1894, he had spent nearly a month hospital. Then in January 1895, he sailed on the SS Pilwara to India, arriving on 16th February 1895. It was whilst in India that he contracted tuberculosis and was discharged, as an invalid, without pension, on 29th December 1898, having served just over six years of his twelve-year service. According to his medical records, the ‘Patient attributes the disease to blowing the bassoon’, the instrument that he played in the Rifle Brigade Band. On his homeward journey to England it is recorded that he was ‘much improved’.

On his return to England, Newington married Maude Lamb in 1901, and they had three children, Frank Charles Newington, born 1902, Beatrice Maud, born in 1904 and Leopold Alexander Marchmont, born in 1910, the family home being Ash Farm, Mill Lane, Felbridge.

Newington eventually died of tuberculosis in May 1922, and was buried in an unmarked grave at St John’s, grave no. D2. 120, by Rev BW Clinch on 27th May 1922. The grave is located to the North of Newington’s nephew, Charles James Valentine Hewitt, last resting place.

Sarah Ann Collins

Sarah was born circa 1865, into a travelling family of gypsies. Apart from a small comment written against her name in the Burial Register for St John’s, her short life may have gone un-noticed. No trace of her birth has yet come to light, but being of gypsy descent this was not uncommon. What is known about her is that she died in Felbridge, in December 1871, aged six years. She was buried in grave no. C1. 106, by Rev CW Payne, the officiating minister, on 19th December 1871. Sarah’s burial was number thirty-two at St John’s, and under her name is written, ‘Burnt to death by road-side’.

Sarah Collins has no gravestone, but at one time her memory lived on in a small boulder or stone that was placed on her grave, reputedly the object she had been playing with at the time of her death. The boulder is no longer there, nor is the shade of the chestnut tree under which she was buried, just a patch of grass.

Charles James Valentine Hewitt

Charles James Valentine was born on 13th February 1911, the fifth child, and first and only son of Charles (Sharper) John Hewitt and his wife Isabella Ellen, nee Bradford. At that time, the Hewitt family of one son and four sisters, Violet Clara, born in 1905, Grace Helen, born in 1907, Olive May, known as ‘Tom’, born in 1908, and Ansley Edith, born in 1911, lived at 29, Imberhorne Lane, one of the old cottages that were demolished in the mid 1950’s and replaced by two blocks of council flats. In 1915, the family gained yet another daughter, Doris Isobel Mary.

Charles J V had sandy red hair, unlike any of his five sisters, and was much loved by all of them, and after four girls, a son was a delight and treasure to his parents. The children attended North End Church School, which had one large room and one small room and was located a short distance from their home across the Imberhorne allotments. Mrs Warner taught the infants in the small room, and Miss Card taught the juniors in the large room. The infants used chalks and slates but the juniors also used ink pens and paper for some of their work. Emphasis was placed on the practical side of learning with the girls being taught sewing, mending, darning and rug making, and the boys being taught simple woodwork. On Empire Day they sang songs and played games on the playground, and on May Day the infants were given the afternoon off. At Christmas, Miss Stenning from ‘Halsford House’ descent would present the children with woolly mittens and waistcoats made of bright coloured wool. Also at Christmas, the Sunday School, held in Felbridge School, put on a play and the children would recite poems and watch a Magic Lantern show at the cost of 1d, the proceeds going to ‘the heathens in Africa’.
Unfortunately, Charles J V did not enjoy his school days for very long and his young life was cut short at the age of seven years and four months when he contracted tuberculous meningitis and died, at home, on the 16th June 1920, shortly after his mother’s 39th birthday.

Later in 1926, Isabella found herself expecting again, at the age of forty-five years. How she longed for this late child to be a son, but it was another daughter, Barbara Sybil, making six in total. The last and much cherished child was a joy to all the other girls, with her sunny nature, smile and head of tight curls. She was twenty-one years younger than the eldest sister, Violet, and it was Barbara who helped care for their parents as they got older. She was especially glad to read to her father when he lost his eyesight.

Charles James Valentine was buried on 19th June 1920, by Rev BW Clinch, the vicar of St John’s, in grave no. D5. 118. His grave is marked by a small, cedar-stained, Celtic cross carved in wood, with the initials I H S carved in the centre of a quatrefoil, which was made by his father. Attached to the cross base is a black painted plaque on which is painted, in white lettering:

BORN FEB 13. 1913
DIED JUNE 16. 1920

Olive, Charles sister, later wrote:

‘Our Church of St John’s at Felbridge in Surrey, was a small one and later on, our brother Charles and my father were buried in the churchyard, as well as many members of families who had lived nearby. We put little bunches of wild or garden flowers on their graves under a glass globe covering a wax wreath. A Robin built a nest every year and sat on a near-by tombstone to watch when you cut the grass and put flowers on graves’.

Ivy and William Hunt

Ivy May was born circa 1902, and William Henry was born circa 1903, the daughter and son of William and Mary Hunt, of ‘The Kennels’, Kennel Lane, Felbridge. The children both attended Felbridge School, under the Head Teacher, Mr Edward Francis Shaw, who is also buried in the churchyard at St John’s.

On 13th August, a hot and sunny day in the summer of 1910, Ivy and William went out to play and on not returning home, a search was made, only to discover that they had both drowned whilst playing in the pond, known locally as ‘Wooky Hole’, located to the East of ‘Hodgehorn Farm’, Kennel Lane. It was speculated that one of them got into difficulty and the other tried to save them.

Rev M L Thorp, the son of Rev J Thorp, the vicar of St John’s, acting as officiating minister, buried Ivy and William on 17th August 1910. The grave is located to the East of the South porch, near the South wall of the church, grave no. A8. 6-9, and the headstone is that of a cross, which is inscribed:

AUGUST 13th 1910


Edmund James Import

Edmund James was the son of Henry and Mary Import, and was christened on 13th January 1843, at St Giles’, Camberwell, London. He married Sarah Ann and worked at ‘Harts Hall’, Copthorne Road, as a gardener. On 27th May 1866, James and Sarah had a son, Frederick Herbert, christened at St John’s, and then on 28th October 1866, they had two more sons, Edwin and Harry, christened at St John’s.

Fatherhood was short for Edmund as he died on 21st August 1867, aged twenty-six years, and was buried by Rev G Bird, officiating minister, on 24th August 1866. Edmund was the first person to have a head stone erected, in the churchyard of St John’s, at grave no. D12. 78, sadly the cross is no longer standing, but an article that appeared in the Kent & Sussex Courier, dated 8th August 1947, reads:


Who was Edmund James Import?

The Vicar and inhabitants of Felbridge are intrigued to find out what manner of man it was who, although only employed as a gardener and domestic servant, so commanded the respect and affection of his employer that he erected an impressive tomb-stone to the memory of his servant who died, when only 26 years old in 1867.

The question has been raised by the discovery in a little-used part of St John’s churchyard, of a cross, half-buried in the earth beneath the shade of an old chestnut tree.

As the result of an appeal by the vicar (Rev WH Hewitt) in the spring for help in clearing the derelict parts of the churchyard, parishioners responded and while scything the long grass this ancient monument was discovered half-hidden in the ground.

It has been established that the cross was the first stone monument to be erected in the churchyard. The epitaph, although incomplete and almost illegible has been deciphered as follows:

Sacred to the memory of Edmund James Import who died on 21st August 1867. THIS STONE is erected as a tribute of RESPECT and in appreciation of his fidelity and EARNEST SPIRIT. Not SLOTHFUL IN BUSINESS, fervent in spirit serving THE LORD.

Below these words in small type is the letter ‘E’, apparently the last letter of the mason’s name who made the cross. The conjectural restorations arrived at by careful measurement of the letter spaces missing from the inscription are shown in CAPITALS.

The vicar has already discovered that Import was the gardener employed at Hart’s Hall and he came from the north of England, writes in his Parish Magazine:


‘We are intrigued to know how it was that this young man had so early won the reputation for fidelity to his employer that the latter went to the expense of erecting a memorial.

Can any reader suggest who the stone mason was in East Grinstead in 1867 whose name end with the letter ‘E’?

There is something that strikes the imagination of this simple cross in local stone with its intriguing inscription. Had Import been an old man who had long served the same employer it would have been a natural tribute from the latter to erect the memorial at his own cost. But Import was only 26 years old when he died: yet in those few years he had won a name for fidelity and something more.

One likes to think (some of us do who are nearly old enough to remember this Edmund James Import, dead these 80 years since), that here we have a refreshing breath from the old times when the relations between employer and employee were more personal, intimate and friendly than they usually are today, and more mutually respectful and affectionate. Much that was bad in those good old days has now been swept away never to return. Let us hope that we shall not lose all that was good in the bad old days amid all the changes that deluge us now’.

Remember Edmund

Carrying on further with the investigation ‘The Courier’ interviewed one of the oldest residents of Easy Grinstead – 87-year-old Mr James Shoebridge, of 5 St John’s Road. He could actually remember Mr Edmund Import, and recalled that when only a child, not yet old enough to attend school, he used to play in the woods nearby and often saw this friendly gardener, of Hart’s Hall.

‘My father too often spoke of him after he died. His employer was Mr Price’, he told a ‘Courier’ reporter.

The closing chapter of this moving story lies in the Registrar’s Office at Crowborough; there among the records of deaths is this simple entry:

‘Edmund James Import, gardener and domestic servant, died 21st August 1867 at the age of 26 of pulmonary consumption and coma’.

What was the cause of his illness? Did he die as a result of working too hard while in ill-health? We shall probably never know but it may well be that his employer put up this monument as a last tribute to a faithful servant who served him well and gave of his best while he lived.

The Mr Price referred to in the newspaper article was William R Price, a ship owner, born in Manchester in 1827. He arrived at ‘Harts Hall’ some time after 1851, and was still living there in 1881, along with his wife Mary A, twenty-four year old son William R, a clerk, and twenty-one year daughter Eleanor. William Price was still at ‘Harts Hall’ in 1896, when he is listed as selling ‘Tilkhurst Farm’, East Grinstead, to Edward Blount, but by 1901, the family have moved.

Today the site of Edmund Import’s grave, no. D12. 78, has two more burials in the plot, that of Annie Louise Crane, who was buried in September 1995, and her husband, Ernest George Crane who was buried in January 1996. Sadly the first headstone to be erected in St John’s churchyard is no longer standing, and the chestnut tree that once stood near the West wall of the churchyard and offered shade to this area of the churchyard is no longer there, but at least this area can no longer be described as ‘derelict’.

Richard Kilner

Richard was born the son of Richard and Elizabeth Kilner, and was christened at St Swithun’s Church, East Grinstead, on 8th July 1798. Other children in the family include, Elizabeth, christened on 17th March 1793, Thomas, christened on 4th January 1795, Hannah, christened on 13th November 1796, then Richard, another Thomas, christened 25th May 1800, it is probable that the first Thomas had died by then, Charity, christened on 23rd May 1802, Lucy, christened on 26th August 1804, Philly, christened on 28th May 1809, and Edward, christened on 15th December 1811.

Richard spent all his working life as an agricultural labourer, and over sixty years in the service of the Lowdell family of Baldwins Hill, East Grinstead. Isaac and Jessamine Lowdell originated from Warwickshire and their family included, Emily, born in 1821, Louisa born 1823, George, date of birth unknown, Thorold, born 1830, all born in Southam, Warwickshire, and Sidney Poole, born in Brighton in 1831. In the second half of the 19th century, the Lowdell family owned much of the Felbridge Water area, the Northern end of East Grinstead Common, and land at Baldwins Hill leading from East Grinstead Common to Felcourt Heath, Lingfield, - the Chartham Park area. Isaac Lowdell died in 1841, and in the Census of 1851, the entry for Chartham Park lists Thorold as a farmer of 90 acres, employing seven men, Sydney as a medical student, and Emily and Louisa as annuitants.

Richard Kilner married Elizabeth Payne Burly on 13th May 1822, but in the Census of 1851, Richard is listed as a widower, indicating that Elizabeth had died by 1851. He later married Sarah, and they are recorded as living in Felbridge Lane. This lane joined Wells Bottom and Baldwins Hill, and only had four houses in it. By the Census of 1881, Richard is again listed as a widower, as Rev RA Kennaway, had buried Sarah on 4th February 1879, aged 75 years, in the churchyard at St John’s, Felbridge, unfortunately, her grave number is not recorded.

Richard Kilner died on 31st December 1885, aged eighty-eight years, and was buried on 4th January 1886 by Rev SC Macartney, the vicar of St John’s, in grave no. D12. 40. After his death, his employer, Miss Emily Lowdell, ensured that a memorial was erected to his memory. The headstone erected is in the form of a cross and is inscribed:
DIED 31st DEC 1885


Ormond and Isabella Meppem

Ormond Edwin was born on 29th December 1856, the son of Edwin Meppem and his wife Eleanor Mary nee Smith, of Ewhurst, E Sussex, and married Isabella Banister on 23rd April 1881, at Ewhurst Church, E Sussex. Isabella was born 19th February 1860, the daughter of Henry Banister and his wife Jane nee Gurr. Isabella gives her place of birth as the Railway Station, Salehurst, Ticehurst, E Sussex.

Ormond and Isabella had a large family, Earl James Banister, born in March 1876, five years before the marriage of Ormond and Isabella in 1881, then, Ormond Edwin, born 9th February 1882, Samuel Edgar, born 22nd January 1884, Hubert John born 5th July 1885, and Eleanor Bethia, born 30th October 1887. All these children were born in Ewhurst, but the next child was born in Battle, E Sussex, Bessie Matilda, on 8th January 1890. Serena Mahalath, was born on 30th April 1892, in Maresfield, E Sussex, and the last four children were all born back in Battle, Ada Isabella born on 22nd May 1894, Sydney Clarence born on 28th June 1895, Adelaide Isabel, born 15th January 1898, and lastly, Cyril Thomas, born 13th February 1899.

Of their children, only two were lost in early childhood, Ada Isabella died aged three months in 1894, and Cyril Thomas died aged three years in 1902. The remaining nine children all reached adulthood, and only Sydney Clarence and Adelaide Isabel did not marry. However, Ormond and Isabella did lose two sons in World War I, Ormond Edwin, who had only been married for four months, died in June 1917, in Belgium, aged thirty-five years, and Sydney Clarence, who had not married, died in October 1916, in France, aged twenty-one years.

Ormond, senior, moved from the Battle Abbey estate to the Felbridge Place estate as Estate Bailiff, between 1899 and 1908. The Meppem family were at first housed at ‘Harts Hall’, Copthorne Road, now the site of Felbridge Court, but later purchased ‘Rose Cottage’, Imberhorne Lane, now the site of Treck Diagnostics Systems Ltd., being well established there before the start of the First World War. ‘Rose Cottage’ was partially tile hung and brick outside, with heavy beaming inside, with a large bread oven. It was set well off the road with extensive grounds, in which were later built a shop and a bungalow called ‘The Hawthorns’. Ormond was also a trustee for the Felbridge Beef and Fagot Charity that was set up by James Evelyn in 1793, and also a Peoples Church Warden, at St John’s church. It was Ormond Meppem who also rescued the Bourd Map, commissioned by Edward Evelyn in 1748, which detailed the extent of the Felbridge Place estate. The map, having been thrown out after the sale of Felbridge Place to the East Grinstead Estate Company in 1911, was taken back to ‘Rose Cottage’ and stored in the attic, before being given to Ivan D Margary. He in turn handed it over to the Mercer’s Company on the purchase of Felbridge Place for conversion into Whittington College. The map is now stored in the archives of the Mercer’s Company, Thread Needle Street, London.

Isabella Meppem died on 16th July 1942, aged eighty-two years, at ‘Rose Cottage’, Imberhorne Lane, and was buried by Rev WH Hewitt, the vicar of St John’s, on 20th July 1942, in grave no. C1. 119½ . She was joined less than three years later by Ormond who died on 1st January 1945, at ‘The Hawthorns’, Imberhorne Lane, aged eighty-eight years, and was also buried by Rev W H Hewitt on 5th January 1945. The headstone is inscribed:


Donald and Grace Merrett

Donald Frederick Merrett was born 10th August 1889, at St Albans, Hertfordshire, and spent most of his childhood at Harependen, Hertfordshire, where his father was manager of the local branch of the Westminster Bank, living in ‘Bank House’. Donald started his first employment on 10th December 1906, as a junior clerk at the Luton branch of the London & County Banking Company, which later became the Westminster Bank, at an annual salary of £50. Donald’s grandfather was also a bank manager – something of a family tradition. During the First World War, Donald was a conscientious objector, and worked on a farm in Worcestershire. After the war he returned to work at the Bank, and was transferred to a branch in Watford, where he married Grace Naomi Wood on 2nd October 1919.

Donald was then transferred to the East Grinstead branch of the Westminster Bank in 1921, when they moved to 31, Rowplatt Lane, Felbridge, which was a new house at the time. Here Donald and Grace had three children, John, born 3rd July 1924, Elizabeth, who died in infancy, and Peter, born on 29th April 1936. Donald remained at the East Grinstead branch of the Westminster Bank for the rest of his working life, until his retirement on 10th August 1949. He spent most of his time as chief clerk, having been offered several other manager’s posts but preferring to stay at East Grinstead. He used to cycle to work every day, right up to his retirement.

The Merrett family moved across the road from 31, Rowplatt Lane to ‘Gentian Cottage’, in January 1946, and did most of the moving themselves on a handcart, apart from a few heavy items such as Grace’s piano. Apart from ‘Gentian Cottage’ being a bigger house, one of the main attractions of the move for Donald, was his desire to have a much larger garden, as he was nearing retirement age. His main interests for many years had been gardening and photography, and he couldn’t wait to retire. After the move, Donald made extensive alterations to the garden at ‘Gentian Cottage’ with the help of his eldest son John for some of the more heavier work, Peter being too young at the time, such as laying paths, moving trees and digging out a pond. The house was originally called ‘Shirley Cottage’, but was renamed ‘Gentian Cottage’ when Donald started growing gentians on a large scale. He used to sell plants to local nurseries, and the flowers to either local florists or send them to Covent Garden. It was whilst living at ‘Gentian Cottage’ that Donald helped Ivan Margary with his excavations of the Roman road that passes through the back of the garden, and it was during these excavations that a number of pottery chards were discovered pointing to the production of medieval pottery in the area.

After Donald’s retirement he combined his interests in gardening and photography by specialising in photographing flowers and gardens, especially alpine plants. He used to supply photographs to numerous gardening magazines, both in Britain and on the Continent, and contributed to a number of gardening books, right up until a year or two before his death. One of the books he illustrated was ‘The English Flower Garden’ by Willie Robinson of Gravetye Manor, West Hoathly. Donald also used to visit Ingersen’s Alpine Nursery at Gravetye, on a regular basis to photograph alpines. Earlier, in the 1930’s, Donald had illustrated a series of articles by Vicountess Wolseley in the Sussex County Magazine on interiors of notable houses in the county that included Gullege. He also produced several exhibitions of alpines for the Royal Horticultural Society, and it was said that his son Peter was so called because he was preparing an exhibit of photographs of rock plants at the time of his birth, from petros – rock.

Grace Naomi was born on 25th July 1897, at Lindfield, Sussex. Her father was a businessman, who allegedly at one time owned the first cycle shop in Sussex. Grace was apparently something of a child prodigy at the piano, being almost entirely self-taught in her early years, she left school at the age of fifteen to go and live and study music with a cousin who was a music teacher at St George’s School, Harpenden. Grace looked after her cousin’s children in exchange for piano lessons. It was whilst here that Grace first met Donald, as her cousin’s husband was an artist and friend of Donald’s. One of Donald’s sisters was also a music teacher, mainly violin, and Donald also played the cello in his youth.

Grace obtained her LRAM (Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music) at the unusually young age of eighteen, and she had been giving private piano lessons for some considerable time before then. Having gained her qualification she continued to teach the piano, both privately and at various schools, including St George’s, and also played the piano regularly for a ballet school in London.

After moving to Felbridge in 1921, she continued teaching the piano, mainly at several local schools at first, but later she gave lessons at home, and ceased teaching in schools in the late 1940’s. She continued teaching at home well into her eighties, gradually reducing the number of pupils. She owned two Blüthner grand pianos, and gave several two-piano concerts, in the early 1950’s, with her cousin from Harpenden, who had by then moved to Hastings, Sussex.

The two sons of Donald and Grace both attended the East Grinstead County Grammar School, and on leaving school, John stayed on to work as a lab technician, moving to work as a technician at the Imperial College London in 1947. He later left the College and set up a research section at Hoovers before moving to Phillips, where he remained for the rest of his working life. Peter, the youngest son, went to study zoology at the University College London, and having obtained his BSc stayed on for a further three years to take a PhD in spider taxonomy. In 1961, he went to Furzebrook Research Station, near Wareham, Dorset, working on spider ecology, first for the Nature Conservancy and later for the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology. Retiring at the age of fifty-three, Peter keeps busy as the editor of an international scientific journal, and the Bulletin of the British Arachnological Society, and his own research on spiders.

Donald died on 18th September 1980, and was buried in the churchyard at St John’s. Grace continued living at ‘Gentian Cottage’ until she had to move into a nursing home in East Grinstead, two months before her death on 21st September 1985. She was buried with her husband Donald, in grave no. G 77, which is inscribed:

10. AUGUST 1889
25 JULY 1897

Edward Francis Shaw

Edward Francis Shaw was born circa 1857, he married, and both he and his wife took charge of Felbridge School in 1885, Edward being only twenty-seven years of age. They lived in ‘The School House’, and Mrs Shaw taught the younger children, five to seven year olds, and Edward taught the older children, eight to fourteen year olds. Lessons during the time of the Shaws included, the three R’s, history, religious knowledge, geography, needlework, woodwork, gardening, general knowledge and current affairs.

During the service of the Shaws, Felbridge School remained a church school, and had accommodation for seventy-five pupils, forty-five older children and thirty infants. Diocesan Reports record that ‘Godstone - Felbridge School’, as it was then known, maintained a very high standard of education and attendance. For the majority of their service at Felbridge School the Shaw’s taught the children of the estate workers of Felbridge Place estate, but after the sale of Felbridge Place in 1911, the population of Felbridge began to rise and within twenty years had doubled.

The Shaws are the longest serving teachers that Felbridge School has seen. Edward was a highly respected Head Teacher and had served thirty-two years at his death on the 22nd April 1916, at ‘The School House’. Mrs Shaw continued to teach the younger children until September 1918, when she decided to retire due to ill health.

Rev GO Troop, the vicar of St John’s, buried Edward Francis Shaw on 27th April 1916, in grave no. D7. 53-56. The headstone, in the form of a cross, is inscribed:



Amos Stripp

Amos was born in 1862, the son of Thomas Stripp and his wife Sarah Salome nee Goring. Thomas was christened on 5th February 1826, at St Swithun’s Church, East Grinstead, the son of Thomas and Sarah. Thomas, father of Amos, married Sarah, who was born in 1828, on 17th February 1850, at West Hoathly. They had their first child, Sarah Maria in 1850, in West Hoathly, followed by Fanny, born in 1853, then Amos, and then George born in 1864. Jane was christened on 30th July 1865, at St John’s Felbridge, then John, christened on 28th October 1866, Ellen christened 25th October 1868, Arthur Edward, christened 28th November 1869, and Edmund christened 29th October 1871. It is most likely that all the children, except Sarah, were born at ‘Yew Tree Farm’, Hedgecourt Common, as Thomas is listed as a labourer of Horne in the Census of 1851, and of ‘Yew Tree Farm’ on the christening record of Jane, the first child to be christened at St John’s shortly after its consecration in 1865. Prior to this date residents living in the ‘Yew Tree Farm’ area would have been christened at Horne Church, or even the Evelyn Chapel.

Thomas and Sarah had lost three of their children by 1878, Ellen died in December 1869, aged two years and two months, and was buried on 5th January 1870 in grave no. D1. 32. Edmund died in January 1878, aged six years, and was buried on 21st January in grave no. D1. 58. The same year, 1878, Amos was accidentally killed whilst steam ploughing with his younger brother George, who was aged fourteen at the time of the accident. All three children are remembered on the headstone of grave no. D1. 41, that of their older sister, Fanny, who died in 1892.

George would eventually put the tragedy behind him and went on to marry Ellen Pattenden, daughter of Peter and Ellen Pattenden, another large local family of the Felbridge area. Amos was only sixteen years old when he was killed and was buried by Rev RA Kennaway, the vicar of St John’s, in grave no. D1. 38, the inscription reads:



These are but a few of the lives that past people of Felbridge have lived, some tragic, some long, some short, some fascinating, but none of which should be forgotten. Perhaps in the future, the biographies of more past people of Felbridge can be told.

Reflections on Felbridge Churchyard
by Olive ‘Tom’ Sharman

Here in this quiet place we left him,
How often had we helped him cut the grass,
Where birds sing softly for an anthem,
And swallows twitter as they pass.

Here he will sleep, while soft above him,
The wild flowers bloom and grasses wave,
In spirit he is always with us,
Although today we left him in the grave.


The Burial Registers of St John’s, SHC & FHA
The Baptism Registers of St John’s, SHC & FHA
The Marriage Registers of St John’s, SHC & FHA
Census Records, 1851, 1881, 1901, FHA
Monumental inscriptions of St John the Divine, Felbridge by Angela Levy, 1980,FHA
Police Review, 7th & 14th October 1898, and 18th November 1898, FHA
Caroline adopts a neglected hero, article from The Job, 27.8.82, FHA
Parish News, 1983, FHA
Diary of A W Bingham, 1892, FHA
Genealogical material on the Bingham family by J Biles and R Bingham, FHA
Service Records of N Bradford, PRO Ref: W097/2347
The British Army by J Pimlott
‘Who was E J Import?’, news article from The Kent & Sussex Courier, 8.8.1947, SHC
A Girl called ‘Tom’, compiled by F & F Sharman, FHA
Genealogical material on N Bradford and CJV Hewit by J Wilkins, FHA
Title Deeds for Gullege, FHA
Genealogical material on O Meppem by L Phillips, FHA
Documented memories of the Meppem family by E Pitt, FHA
Documented memories of Dr P Merrett, FHA

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