Church Monuments Society

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The memorial inscription to Robert Jenner (c.1584-1651) in St. Sampson’s church, Cricklade, Wiltshire

Month: October 2019
Type: Ledgerstone  
Era: 17th Century

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St Sampson
Bath Rd, Cricklade, Swindon SN6 6AX

More about this monument

The Jenner family farmed for centuries along the Gloucestershire-Wiltshire border.  Their most famous descendant was Edward Jenner, pioneer of smallpox vaccination, while Robert Jenner, Edward’s distant cousin in an earlier generation, had become financially successful as a result of moving to London to become a goldsmith.  After following the usual route of apprenticeship, Robert was made a Freeman of the Goldsmiths’ Company and by 1615 was taking apprentices of his own.  He prospered greatly via refining imported silver bullion to make wire.  The profits were spent on acquiring more than one manor in his home district, so that in 1624 he was occupying Widhill Manor, Cricklade.  In 1628 he became M.P. for Cricklade and during the 1640s was an influential justice in Wiltshire.  He purchased Marston Meysey in that county, once Parliament had confiscated it from the Bishop of Salisbury.  His political bent is further indicated by the fact that during the Civil War Royalist soldiers pillaged his house.  But these were confused times – a Royalist lawyer’s house in Cirencester was pillaged by his own side.

After petitioning Parliament for full parochial rights for Marston Meysey, Jenner rebuilt the derelict chapel there in 1648 as its parish church, endowed it and presented it with an engraved chalice.  In Cricklade he erected and endowed a free school which still stands next to the churchyard as the Jenner Hall.  Moreover, in addition to gifts for the poor, including indigent London goldsmiths, he built and endowed eight almshouses at Malmesbury, sadly long demolished.

The wording on his elongated black memorial slab, crammed into a corner of St. Sampson’s, Cricklade, boldly records these benefactions but reveals his achievements only indirectly, through the proxy of his benevolence.  The inscription is striking for its plainness, which seems deliberate and appropriate to its time (1651), as well as for its completeness.  It is given in full in Sherlock’s edition of Monumental Inscriptions of Wiltshire.  The fulsomeness and even triumphalism of some seventeenth-century monuments in this region is absent.  The language is straightforward and the typography remains notably clear.  As one might think fitting for a man of the Interregnum, the inscription avoids Latin – that status marker meant to vaunt its authors and exclude hoi polloi.  Admittedly the 1653 grave slab of a Parliamentary soldier a dozen or so miles away at the fancifully named Hinton Parva (Little Hinton) does not avoid ‘militis’, but then his family had actually remained Royalist.  The irony is that Robert Jenner’s provision for the salary of a master in his school stipulated that the master should teach only Latin scholars.  Otherwise his bequests and charities were austerely memorialised in English that evokes Puritan Minimalism.


Eric Jones


Further reading:  John William Chandler, ‘The early genealogy of Edward Jenner and the Jenner family of Kempsford, Marston Meysey and Meysey Hampton’, Journal of Genealogy and Family History 2/1 (2017), pp.20-35.

History of Parliament Online.

Peter Sherlock (ed.), Monumental Inscriptions of Wiltshire, Wiltshire Record Society Vol. 53, 1997 (Trowbridge, 2000).