Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The little church at Newton Harcourt

On the last day of May - and just look at the blue sky in the main photo - I visited St Luke's, Newton Harcourt, and discovered the remarkable grave of eight-year-old Christopher Gardner. Since then I have been looking into the story behind the 'little church' of Newton Harcourt.

A special article on the Newton Harcourt pages of the Leicestershire Villages site tells us how the Gardner family came to the village:
George Gardner, a stone mason by trade, left his family in London to fight in France in WW1. He suffered badly from the effects of gas and on returning to England was sent, by the army, to Wistow Hall to convalesce. He was befriended by Lord Cottesloe, who employed him as a clerk. Lord Cottesloe suggested that George should bring his wife and seven children from London to live in Leicestershire and offered to find them accommodation in Newton Harcourt. George accepted the offer, and the family arrived in 1916. 
On 22 May 1916, six Gardner children were admitted to Newton Harcourt School. The family expanded rapidly and soon outgrew their first home. They moved to two cottages in Long Row, Newton Harcourt, which had been knocked into one. School records for Newton Harcourt School, show that a further eight Gardner children were admitted between 1917 and 1932.
A 2003 article from the Leicestershire Historian takes the story forward. The words in quotation marks come from a Leicester Mercury article dated 8 November 1993:
“The white monument in St Luke’s churchyard, Newton Harcourt, is dedicated to Christopher (Chrissy) Gardner my little brother. He died of Diphtheria when he was eight years old in September 1924”. 
He went on to explain that the unusual monument was fashioned out of a large block of stone by his father Mr George Gardner who before the First World War, had been a stone mason in London. On later moving to Newton Harcourt he worked laying paving stones for Leicester Corporation. 
“The reason for the design of the monument was because one day Chrissy was heard to say that when he was big he would have a church of his own. His father always remembered that remark and it prompted him, following his son’s death, to send away for a large block of stone and he set to work making a miniature church. He worked on it each day when he got home from his job. A true labour of love carried out in the backyard of the family cottage in Long Row, Newton Harcourt. When the miniature church was complete my dad and his workmate took it to the churchyard on a wheelbarrow and erected it.”
The final words go to Arthur Mee in his King's England volume on Leicestershire:
In the shady churchyard is a striking modern monument in the form of a miniature church with spire, porch, windows, and battlements, set up in memory of a boy of eight, a little shrine not unlike a toy building he himself might have tried to fashion with a big box of bricks. We have come upon no other like it in any of our country churchyards.


Gawain. said...

Lovely story. Thanks.

ps Clun still as lovely as ever.

Unknown said...

I will again visit this buitiful little church with my dad who was evacuated to the village to live with his aunt. In those very same little cottages and now returns to tend the grave were she rests