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Charles Stothard

Charles Alfred Stothard was the eldest surviving son of the artists and illustrator Thomas Stothard RA and was born in London on 5th July 1786. In 1802 he accompanied he father in a visit to Burleigh where the latter was working and he suggested to his son that he might pass the time drawing the monuments in the nearby churches as a useful authority in designing costume; this was the beginning of a life long interest. On leaving school in 1807 he enrolled as a student at the Royal Academy, where he resolved to become a historical painter. In 1811 he exhibited there a picture of the death of Richard II and in the same year published the first part of the Monumental Effigies of Great Britain, a work primarily designed to portray the changes in English costume from the twelfth century until the reign of Henry VIII. The work was issued in twelve parts of which the first ten were prepared by Stothard himself although the last two, issued after his death, involved the work of other artists. The letterpress was supplied by his brother-in-law, Alfred John Kemp, and the last number appeared in 1832. The parts are normally bound in one volume. A new edition, with numerous additions was edited by John Hewitt and published in 1876.

In 1815 Stothard was employed by Daniel Lysons to make drawings for the topographical work Magna Britannia; this was a series of profusely illustrated county volumes which, in fact, were never to be completed. To this effect Stothard journeyed through Northern England and, in his absence, Lysons procured him the appointment of historical draftsman to the Society of Antiquaries. In 1816 he was commissioned by the Society to journey to France to make drawings of the Bayeux Tapestry and during his stay visited the abbey of Fontevraud, then a prison, where he discovered the four Plantagenet effigy in a 'cellar' which probably refers to the well known medieval kitchen.

In 1818 Stothard married Anna Eliza Kemp (1790-1883) and they journeyed together in France. She later became a writer and her first work consisted of Letters written during a Tour of Normandy, Brittany etc, describing this journey.

In 1821 Stothard received a commission from Daniel Lysons to prepare some drawings for the Devonshire volume of his work. His wife was pregnant with their first child so he travelled from London to Devon alone, carrying in his pocket a note from her - Notes for the observance of my beloved husband during his journey - among which one read: Take care not to fall from high places.

He spent the following day, Saturday, travelling and on Sunday afternoon reached Bere Ferrers, where he was to make drawings of the medieval stained glass in the east window of the chancel of St Andrew's, the parish church. The rector, Revd Henry Hobart, was in the church yard when Stothard arrived and not only gave him permission to work in the church but invited him to stay at the rectory until the work was completed. Stothard walked over to the church on Monday morning after breakfast to begin work. Mr Hobart had borrowed a ladder from a local gardener so that the artist could see the medieval glass in the window more closely.

The chancel of Bere Ferrers Church. Charles Stothard would have set his ladder on the left side of the window. The monument on which he struck his head can be seen to the left. The brass plaque is on the floor below the flowers.

The Rector had arranged for his curate, Mr Servante, to take Stothard to the church and to stay for a short time to ensure the artist had everything he required.

At 2.00 pm the Curate returned to find the work half completed and the ladder still in its original position at the south side of the altar, but Stothard indicated that he would shortly move it to the opposite side to complete the drawing. Dinner had been arranged at the rectory at 5.00 pm and about that time Mr Hobart was visited by a local doctor; as the doctor left he asked him to look in at the church to remind the artist of the dining arrangement, probably thinking that the artist had become so engrossed in his work that he had overlooked this. The doctor found Stothard lying on the floor near the altar, a rung from the still upright ladder having broken; the artist had fallen ten feet, striking his head on the base slab on which a monumental effigy lies. The artist died within three minutes of the doctor having found him.

Mr Hobart set about tracing the family of the dead man. He found in his pocket an envelope with the name of a London publisher, Thomas Cadell, to whom he wrote detailing what had happened. Two days later the publishers replied indicating that Thomas Stothard, Charles' father, had that morning left London for Plymouth. The gardener was a man of heavy build and explained that he had used the ladder a number of times immediately before he had lent it to the Rector. The subsequent inquest was a mere formality.

Charles Stothard was buried in the church yard at Bere Ferrers on 4th June 1821,where his stone may still be seen below the east window of the chancel . As can be seen from the photograph, it now merely rests on the ground, being fixed to the church wall by two metal (aluminium?) clamps, which recently replaced the earlier badly corroding iron ones. Examination shows that the lower part of the stone was originally set into the ground.

There are several stones around the church walls in a similar condition, all of which indicated that the stone is probably not in situ. I have not discovered any records which indicate where the burial might have been. Unfortunately the soft limestone of the stone has not weathered well and the inscription is now very difficult to read and in places totally obliterated. The slate stones on either side and of a much earlier date are still in excellent condition.

However Rogers writing in (or slightly before) 1877, that is only fifty years after the burial, describes the stone - and hence after such a relatively short period possibly the actual grave - as being in this same position and the inscription even by then being so worn as being virtually illegible. This could suggest that the exposure of the base of the stone is due to lowering of the ground level to create the now raised path east of the stone rather than raising of the stone itself.

Fortunately a transcript of the inscription is recorded in Monumental Effigies and is reproduced below.

Anna Stothard gave birth to a daughter, Blanche, on 29th June 1821 so soon after the death of her husband. Sadly Blanche died the following year on 2nd February 1822.

Sacred to the memory, dear to every friend who knew him, of Charles Alfred Stothard, Historical Draughtsman and Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, eldest surviving son of Thomas Stothard RA. While pursuing his professional researches in the adjoining church, he was unfortunately killed by a fall, on the 28th May in the year of our Lord 1821, in the 34th year of his age. As a laborious investigator of the ancient sepulchral monuments and other historical vestiges of the kingdom which he illustrated by his faithful and elegant pencil, he was pre-eminent. As a man, though gifted with the most solid abilities, he was humble, modest, unostentatious, as example of benevolence and simplicity of heart, a Christian by faith, as he proved by that essential demonstration, his works. Awfully bereft of such a partner, what words shall describe the deep, the bitter sorrow of his widow, who stood not by to pay him the last sad offices, but while he perished thus untimely, expected his return, and shortly bless with a first child. She had erected this poor monument to his memory, a living one exists in her heart. Reader profit by this sad (but doubtless in the wisdom of God) salutary and merciful lesson for it is better that the virtuous should be thus suddenly cut off than the wicked! 'Watch ye therefore for ye know not when the master of the house commeth, at evening or at midnight, or at cock-crowing, or in the morning; least coming suddenly he find you sleeping.' Mark XIII, v.35-36.

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