All Saints Parish Church, High Wycombe, Monuments

The Church of All Saints, High Wycombe, is in the old centre of the town, and the tower forms a picturesque backdrop to the cluster of buildings at this end of the high street. There was a church on the site from the 13th Century, but from the exterior, the oldest part is in fact that tower, which dates from the early 16th Century, but like the rest of the Church was refaced with new flints in late Victorian times. The tower is of three stages, with a balustrade at the top and corner pinnacles which are 18th Century additions; at that time, the Church was extended and lengthened somewhat, and there were the usual Victorian repairs and additions. The outside of the building is pleasingly irregular with a range of doors and different styles of windows, all redone in Victorian times, but the inside is much older. Particularly note the south Porch, ancient on the inside, Victorian on the outside, with niches within which stand small statues of Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, with Saint Timothy round the side.

Inside, the Church is long, lofty, with narrow nave supporting a wooden ceiling, with a series of pointed arches separating the nave from the aisles; these arcades date from the 15th and 16th Century, as does much else of what we see inside: apparently some work is 13th Century, including the windows in the North Aisle.

It is along the aisles where most of the monuments we have come to see are ranged. But the most important and grand ones are further back, in the twin chapels on either side of the chancel. We start with these.

High Wycombe Church, view from High Street and interior.

The two main monuments in the Chancel Chapels:

Henry Petty, Earl of Shelburne, and family, by Peter Scheemakers, completed 1754

A truly grand monument. Here we have the work of a major sculptor, with three figure groups, life size or even a little larger, and two allegorical figures above, and a large pair of cherubs, a dozen figure statues in all, plus a bust and a coat of arms with sculpture of a Pegasus and a horse or unicorn. There are many great towns in England which do not run to as many as 12 full size statues, or even one of this quality, so this is an assemblage worth visiting indeed.

Scheemakers' monument to Henry Petty, Earl of Shelburne, 1754.

The monument centres on the reclining figures of Henry Petty, Earl of Shelburne (d.1751) and his wife, Arabella (d.1740), reclining in the fashion of noble Romans on a black sarcophagus, bearing the bust of the Earl’s father, Sir William Petty. Behind them rises a tall obelisk, draped around the edges with black stone drapery, and with upon it a cloud from which two naked cherubs look down (an information note in the Church suggests these may represent two infant children of the Earl). This construction is within a great canopy, with pairs of coupled Corinthian pillars to left and right, supporting a completely open pediment, within which is the coat of arms. Allegorical figures lie on the slanting sides of the pediment, and between them is a pot, and to the sides, small flaming urns. At the base of the pillars on each side are the standing figure groups. To the left, as we look at the monument, thus on the Earl’s right hand, is his eldest son, James, Viscount Dunkeron (d.1750/51), his wife Elizabeth (d.1742), and infant son, also d.1742. To the right is the group of the Earl’s daughters, Julia (d.1719), and Anne (d.1727), and their young brother, Charles (d.1717). Thus all the Earl’s closest family died before him. All this information on names and dates is from the modern information note by the monument. To complete the structure, we should note the lengthy inscriptions on the monument are on a long, sideboard like structure underneath the sarcophagus and figures, and the whole is enclosed by an iron railing. The whole edifice reaches almost to the ceiling.

Looking at the figures, the Earl and Lady Arabella, as noted, are dressed Roman style, with drapery and sandals, and are shown reclining, he resting an elbow on a pillow, she holding up a book. His eldest son, James, is even more Roman, in the costume of a soldier, with plated tunic, and swept back cloak. He stands above his seated wife, who holds her sleeping infant nuzzled against breast and enfolded with a protective arm. On the other side, the sisters stand on either side of their brother, charmingly classical, with swirls and sweeps of drapery, beautifully and confidently executed by the sculptor. Up on top, the allegorical females are Justice, instantly recognisable by her bronze scales, and Prudence, carrying a mirror to show Truth, and with a snake entwined about her other arm and with its head held in her hand.

The sculptor, Peter Scheemakers, is best known for his statue of Shakespeare in Westminster Abbey, of which a more recent copy is the one in Leicester Square. The High Wycombe statues are characteristic of his designs, with the elegantly reclining central figures, the relaxed poses of the standing figures, and the complex, assured drapery. His sculptural practice was large by the time of this monument, and though the concept and design would certainly have been by Scheemakers himself, we cannot know how much of the actual carving was done by his hand. Regardless, statues like these would grace the finest cathedral or museum or public space in the land. More on Scheemakers, noting some of his other works, on this page. And more pictures of the Shelburne monument on this page.

The Earl's daughters.

Sophia, Countess of Shelburne, d.1771, by Augostino Carlini

Another monument on a grand scale, though eclipsed in size and grandeur by that to the Earl of Shelburne opposite. The inscription on the base notes that she was the daughter of John and Sophia, Earl and Countess Granville, wife of William, Earl of Shelburne, Baron Wycombe, and mother of John Henry, Viscount Fitz-Maurice, and William Granville Petty. The figural group, then, shows the Countess with her two children, posed with a great urn on a plinth in the rear. The Countess wears robes, with some slight sleeved upper garment, a long skirt, and a headdress which merges with her long cloak. The style is medieval rather than Classical, using a Renaissance style of drapery based on broad, somewhat stiff cloth shapes forming flattened concavities rather than deep folds. Her hair is swept back, her face long and intelligent. She gazes at the naked, plump figure of her younger son, who stares back into her eyes, an arresting and intimate double portrait. The Countess steadies rather than carries her son, who is instead seated upon the top of the funereal urn, embodying the concept of ‘in death, life’, and emphasising that this is a monument to the living persons rather than just a remembrance of the dead. And then we have the elder son, standing, facing the viewer, one hand raised in benedictory gesture, the other holding a veil of cloth over him; he wears a shroud over some undershirt. Behind, a tall obelisk of black marble. The spirit and style of this monument is Italian, and it is a noble thing of its time.

Lady Shelburne and offspring, by Agostino Carlini.

The sculptor, Agostino Carlini, was from the city of Genoa, but spent most of his life in England, where he became a founder member of the Royal Academy.

Other Monuments

There are something over 50 other monuments in the Church, dating from the early 17th Century through to World War II, including a fair number of plain panels of human and historical rather than artistic interest, but the collection includes examples of cartouches - domed round or violin-shaped panels surrounded with complex carved decoration - obelisk or pyramid monuments with tall pointed marble panels evocative of Egyptian mores, a couple of not-quite-obelisks where the top is less ambitious than a full fledged obelisk, and a variety of black-and-white monuments designed as if they were the ends of tomb chests or caskets. The sculptural decoration includes high relief carved pots and funereal urns, typically partly covered with drapery (a staple of monument decoration), floral and other minor decorations such as books, and a few figural pieces, including full figures including the Sarah Shrimpton monument and, much smaller, the Isaac King panel, and the odd winged cherub head. The sculptors and stone masons of several of the monuments are known, and apart from Scheemakers and Carlini noted above for the two major works, we can see work by the Westmacotts, of great importance among monumental sculptors, and indeed late 18th-early 19th sculptors in general, also John Bacon the Younger, and several lesser names, including a local stonemason, Broughton of Wycombe.

17th and 18th Century Monuments

There are four monuments from the early 17th Century. Three of these, with their black panels with pale, close-set lettering, hearken back to the previous Century, of kneeler monuments and strapwork (see the Introduction to Church Monuments page). The fourth, to Elizabeth Roberts, is a cartouche monument, and links closely with the first of our 18th Century examples, six decades later. Continuing in the 18thC Century, we have the Sarah Shrimpton monument of mid-century, the most sculptural monument in the Church after the Shelburne ones, and a work of art in its own right. The Pettipeer and Wingrove monuments, from similar dates, are relatively modest examples of the grand Classical panel with side pilasters (flat pillars), upper pediment, lower shelf, brackets and central flat portion called an apron. Towards the end of the Century we are into the white on black panel era, which lasted through until the beginning of the Victorian period, which saw a large volume of relatively simple monochrome panels, often with modest sculptural decoration, that are so widespread in churches across the country. The last in that century, to John Bates, d.1795, is a more ornate example with some ostentation.

Early 17th Century: Bradshaw and Wheeler.

John Bates, d.1895.

19th Century Monuments

The early 19th Century monuments are a continuation of what we have already met in the late 18th Century, with a mix of white on black panels and plain white ones. The Church has a representative selection of the common types, incuidng tomb chest ends, casket ends, differently shaped backing panels, and several carved pots and other minor carving, along with a couple of unusual cases.

20th Century Monuments

The small selection of 20th Century panels, including the first and second World Wars, show the reaction against ornament and the move to the austere and the sombre plain memorial panel, regrettable from an aesthetic point of view, however understandable. In the Peachel monument at least is an example of the more decorative turn of the century type of panel in colourful alabaster, a return to the fashion of 300 years earlier.

Old brasses

Modern brasses

Also in the Church

St Wulfstan statue, St George from the Reredos, St Martin, and an Angel.

With many thanks to the authorities at All Saints for kind permission to use pictures from inside the Church; see their website at http://www.allsaintshighwycombe.org/heritage.html.

Top of page

Earl Shelburne monument // Beaconsfield Church, also in South Buckinghamshire // Denham Parish Church, likewise

Introduction to church monuments // Angel statues // Cherub sculpture

Sculpture in some towns in England

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