Felbridge Monument

The Evelyn Column

James Evelyn originally erected the monument in 1786 in the grounds of Felbridge Place, in memory of his parents, Edward and Julia. It was commissioned in 1785 and Sir John Soane was the architect.

John Soan was the son of a bricklayer and was born in 1753 near Reading. He entered the office of George Dance the younger in 1768 and then that of Henry Holland in 1770. After travelling in Italy, he set up in practice as an architect on his own account in London in 1781. He was not a good draughtsman himself and in particular employed J M Gandy to present his ideas. In 1786 he married the niece and heiress of George Wyatt, a rich builder, who left her his fortune. It was then that John began to spell his name Soane. In 1788 he was appointed architect to the Bank of England. In 1790, with his wife, now a wealthy woman, a large and varied collection was amassed which is now housed at the Soane Museum at 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, one of his homes. On his death in 1837 both the house and the collection were bequeathed to the nation.

The commission for the Evelyn column was an unusual one for Soane as his early commissions were mostly for additions or alterations to houses. The designs were made in 1785. On 12th August 1785 an estimate was given for the work to be completed in Ashdown stone and Turners Hill stone, the former being more than twice the price of Turners Hill stone. The column was eventually made of Turners Hill stone at the cost of £19.00. The letter concluded that Soane’s fees would be fixed at £25.00 and that the foundations would be dug as soon as the stone arrived. On 27th August 1785 Soane gives a final figure for completing the column of £280.00, with £20.00 to be deducted if ‘planking the foundations is not necessary’. James Evelyn countersigned this letter and accepted the cost.

The monument was designed to rest on a single square step on which a circular drum was to stand. The use of a circular drum was unusual as most surviving columns stand on square pedestals. Soane probably used the circular drum to be able to use the allegory of the snake devouring its own tail that naturally suited a round form. In Soane’s time this symbolised eternity and was in common use. Edward Foxhall was engaged to carve the snake. On the drum above the snake is the Wykehamist motto ‘Manners Makyth Man’ on the opposite side to the snake’s head. Above the drum there is 75 feet of tapering column, although the height has also been given as 80 feet and 85 feet. The actual drawings show the column to be 57 feet tall.

The column had been designed to be fluted but was left plain except for the thirteen verses of Addison’s Hymn to Gratitude with a fourteenth verse added between verses eleven and twelve of the original. There is speculation for the addition of a verse, one theory is that it was added by a local clergyman who felt that thirteen verses was not appropriate, and another theory, by a clergyman, is that as the verses were in couplets and a fourteenth verse would balance up the carving.

1. When all Thy mercies, O my God,
My rising soul surveys,
Transported with the view, I’m lost
In wonder, love, and praise.

2. How shall words, with equal warmth
The gratitude declare,
That glows within my ravish’d heart!
But Thou canst read it there.

3. Thy Providence my life sustain’d,
And all my want redrest,
When in the silent womb I lay,
And hung upon the breast.

4. To all my weak complaints and cries
Thy mercy lent an ear,
Ere yet my feeble thoughts had learnt
To form themselves in prayer.

5. Unnumbered comforts to my soul
Thy tender care bestowed,
Before my infant heart conceived
From whence these comforts flowed.

6. When in the slippery paths of youth
With heedless steps I ran,
Thine arm, unseen, conveyed me safe,
And led me up a man.

7. Through hidden dangers, toils, and death,
It gently clear’d my way;
And through the pleasing snares of vice,
More to be fear’d than they. 8. When worn with sickness, oft has Thou
With health renew’d my face;
And, when in sins and sorrows sunk,
Revived my soul with grace.

9. Thy bounteous hand with worldly bliss
Has made my cup run o’er;
And in a kind and faithful friend
Has doubled all my store.

10. Ten thousand thousand precious gifts
My daily thanks employ;
Nor is the least a cheerful heart
That tastes those gifts with joy.

11. Through every period of my life
Thy goodness I’ll pursue;
And after death, in distant worlds,
Thy glorious theme renew.

12. O Blessed Jesus intercede,
My pardon to obtain,
Without thy aid poor Fallen Man
Is doomed to Endless pain.

13. When nature fails, and day and night
Divide thy works no more,
My ever grateful heart, O Lord,
They mercy shall adore.

14. Through all eternity to Thee
A joyful song I’ll raise:
But O! eternity’s too short
To utter all Thy praise!

Vidi Spectator 1712.

Joseph Addison was born on 1st May 1672 in Milston, Wiltshire. His father was a clergyman and had instilled in him his religious learning. Addison was educated at Oxford and had his first poem published in 1693. He was politically ambitious becoming a WHIG politician, being elected to Parliament in 1708 but failing in his first attempt to make a speech he abandoned his political writing for the literary field. In his political career he was appointed under-secretary of state in 1706, secretary to the lord lieutenant in Ireland in 1709, and secretary to the Regency following the death of Queen Anne in 1714. His highest office was secretary of state in 1717-18, from which he retired with a generous pension. He was also known as a poet and essayist and was co-author to The Tatler and The Spectator. He is ranked among the minor masters of English prose style and credited with raising the general cultural level of the English middle classes. He died in 1719 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Addison wrote the hymn that appears on the column in 1712, and the twin themes of the verses, besides praising God, were gratitude and eternity. The hymn expressed both the gratitude of James Evelyn towards his parents Edward and Julia, and the theme of eternity being reinforced in the symbol of the snake swallowing its own tail. To enforce his gratitude to his parents there is also a Latin dedication to them carved on the column. The inscription reads:

Jacobus Evelyn, Filius Edwardi Evelyn
Et Juliae Uxoris Ejus
(O! Benignissimi Parentes)
Hanc Columnam
Hac Terra (Natale Solum)
Pientissime Gratissimeque

Johannes Soane

James Evelyn son of Edward Evelyn and of Julia his wife (O kindest of parents) most piously and gratefully had this column placed on this land (the place of his birth)
AD 1786

The column shaft ends in a narrow scrolled neck and the entablature block is plain except for the words Soli Deo Gloria. Above the cornice there is a plinth supporting an urn shaped object with spiral flutings bearing the eternal flame. From a distance or from the ground the flame looks like three figures.

The monument was erected in the grounds of Felbridge Place, the exact location is in dispute. It has been suggested that it once stood in the grounds of nos.80 or 76 Copthorne Road, or possibly in the vicinity of what is now The Felbridge Show Ground between 70 and 74 Copthorne Road, as there is no number 72. If you transpose an old map onto a modern O/S map it would appear that it had stood in the grounds of no. 76, which also had a deep depression at the end of the garden which may be significant. It would have towered above the village appearing from behind a strip of woodland known as Birch Grove that ran along the side of the Copthorne Road. During the middle of the 19th century the column was struck by lightening and slightly damaged but it remained on this site until the Felbridge Estate was split up and the Birch Grove area was developed.

The Estate began to be split up in 1911 but it was not until 1926 that the Birch Grove area was put up for auction. The column then stood on lot 7 and the sale catalogue states: ‘Upon the back portion of this lot stands a memorial monument of about 75 feet in height constructed of stone, which is included in the purchase.’ This lot failed to sell either because there was no purchaser prepared to have the monument in their back garden or because the purchaser would have to bear the cost of its removal. At about this time a gentleman by the name of Sir Stephen Aitchison was staying in the neighbourhood and decided to purchase the plot and monument and re-erect it to embellish the grounds of his home, Lemmington Hall, Alnwick, (pronounced Annick), in Northumberland. Aitchinson had bought the shell of Lemmington Hall in 1913 and had made it habitable once again, living there from 1916 until his death.

The monument was taken down in March 1927 and moved to Lemmington hall, probably by sea, at a cost of £1,470.00 by Diambers of London. It has been suggested that at the time of removal a box was found in the foundations which proved to be a time capsule. This may be just another disputed fact as there is no documented record of it being found or any record of what was in it if it was found. The column was then carried by railway, and finally a light electric railway specially constructed for the purpose, to the new site. There is dispute about the date of removal, as some villagers believe the monument left at a later date, but all the evidence points to its removal in 1927. A platform 30 feet 6 inches square was constructed in the parkland, on a line south from the house. A ha-ha to keep animals from the column surrounded this. The column was re-erected with the head of the snake and Soli Deo Gloria facing north to the house. Re-building was completed in 1928. Aitchison gave the plot of land in Felbridge on which it had stood to the Council on the understanding that it remained preserved as an open space.

On the death of Sir Stephen Aitchison in 1942, his son, Sir William, had the lettering on the column re-cut as it had become damaged and worn due to the weather after its move to Northumberland. Since the death of Sir Stephen, the Hall has been gifted to a Convent of Roman Catholic Nuns, but the rest of the Estate was retained by the family, including the Park in which the column now stands looking out over the Northumbrian countryside.