Church Monuments Society


Remembering a Local Hero

Month: March 2019
Type: Mixed  
Era: 20th Century

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Holy Cross
Church St, Crediton EX17 2AH

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General Sir Redvers Buller’s monument dominates the church in Crediton

The Church of the Holy Cross, Crediton, houses a memorial to General Sir Redvers Buller (1839-1908), whose family had been lords of the manor for generations.  He was also remembered in other ways and other places, appropriate for different audiences.

A younger son, Redvers Buller became a career soldier, though he inherited the estate on the early death of his brother.  He served with distinction, rising to the highest positions in the army while gaining the confidence, and perhaps even the affection, of his officers and men.  He served in the South African Cape Frontier War against the Zulus, winning the VC.  He was lauded in the press, and on his return home was appointed aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria who described him as gruff, reserved and shy.  He went on to fight in the Sudan, where he was promoted to major-general.  This was followed by a stint in the War Office, rising to the rank of general.  He was appointed honorary colonel of the 1st Batallion, the Devonshire Regiment, no doubt a matter of great local pride.  In the Second South African War he was for a time commander-in-chief (exposing both his own and the British Army’s limitations), oversaw the famous relief of Ladysmith, and was wounded in a minor action.

Crediton, his home town, was the seat of a Saxon bishop.  The earliest surviving portions of the substantial Church of the Holy Cross date from the 12th century, and it was largely rebuilt in the 15th century.  For a century this venerable building has been dominated by one thing, a huge and elaborate memorial to Buller in the style of a reredos, designed by W D Caröe, which fills the whole eastern wall of the nave over the tower arch.  A panel of glittering golden mosaic records that it was paid for by his fellow countrymen.  In keeping with its prominent liturgical location, the central feature is a cross with the symbols of the four evangelists, and above it Christ presenting the Law or the Gospels.  Around this are two tiers of martial figures.  Those on either side of the cross are identified as Joshua and Godfrey de Bouillon, a leader of the First Crusade.  Military archangels make up the complement.  A VC occupies the bottom corner, with the Orders of St George and St Michael in the top corners.  Blank spaces are filled with decorative tiles depicting a vine and ears of wheat (representing either the bread and wine of communion or certain of Jesus’ parables concerning fruitfulness, depending on taste).  The whole is flanked by Buller family heraldry.  This unmissable memorial would be seen every Sunday by his tenants and other locals as they attended their parish church, as indeed it still is.  Adjoining this monumental show of respect, a small brass plaque placed by his only child, Georgiana, was the family’s more private memorial.

Yet Crediton church curates only a part of his memory. A mural slab bearing a low-relief bust is discretely tucked away among a gallery of similar monuments in the north nave aisle of Exeter cathedral, as was appropriate for members of leading county families and other notables.

An officially sanctioned military memorial in Winchester Cathedral is associated with the chapel of the King’s Royal Rifle Brigade of which Buller was colonel-commandant.  It consists of a dark-coloured marble pedestal surmounted by a bronze effigy by Bertram Mackennal.

Civic recognition came in 1905, soon after his retirement, when an equestrian statue of the General by Adrian Jones was unveiled in Queen Street, Exeter – public reward for one of Devon’s own heroes of the Empire.

For the ordinary folk of his home town remembered him in a more down to earth way.  An up-market public house on Crediton High Street was renamed ‘The Sir Redvers Buller’ in his honour, ensuring his name would live on their lips for generations to come.

On a more domestic scale, commemorative plates were produced which showed the General’s head and shoulders.  These were inexpensive items which could be displayed on a dresser or hang on the wall of a very ordinary family, and demonstrate that his popularity was genuine enough to offer commercial opportunities.

Dead and alive, the General was clearly a source of considerable Devonshire pride.  The people of the county, and particularly the residents of his home town, were not to be allowed to forget their local hero in a hurry!