A grave business

A grave business

The plans featured this month were produced in 1789 by Henry Emlyn, a local carpenter and aspiring architect. They detail the gravestones which once marked burial sites throughout the nave and quire aisles of St George’s Chapel. Today you would be unable to use the plans to locate these monuments and stones because the majority were moved to new locations in the Chapel or permanently removed in 1789. Emlyn’s plans, drawn before the work commenced, are therefore an important tool in identifying where many individuals are actually buried throughout the Chapel.

Burials were common within the Chapel before the mid-nineteenth century, causing constant disturbances to the fl oors and possible damage to already existing stones. By the mid-1780s the Chapel was in need of cleaning and major repairs. In 1788 the College of St George’s minute books record the agreement to allocate a sum not exceeding £500 to the new paving of the Church [SGC VI.B.8, 7 July 1788]. All work was to be overseen by Canon John Fisher (Canon of Windsor, 1786-1803).

John Bryan, a paviour from Gloucester, was contracted to complete the work. He began with the north aisle and ante Chapel in 1788 and finally the nave in 1790. Before Bryan was permitted to do the majority of the paving, the Dean and Canons of Windsor paid Henry Emlyn £10 10s for ink and wash grave plans on parchment [SGC XVII.9.6]. He was instructed not to include mural tablets and large monuments, only the gravestones in all the aisles and in the Nave.

After Emlyn’s sketches were complete, workers moved or disposed of several stones during the repaving in order to create an orderly layout throughout the Chapel. The floor before 1789 was crowded with gravestones and the graves of several important figures were not marked. The gravestones that had lost their inscriptions or those of individuals unknown to Emlyn’s contemporaries were of less interest and so they were moved or removed.

The plans provide valuable measurements of the stones before they were moved, including the spaces between graves. Emlyn included major features which aid in identification, such as effigies, canopies, scrolls on the brasses, and other shapes containing arms. Though many inscriptions were already lost by 1789, he included those he could read in the table, noting names and dates of death. The gravestones and vault entrances drawn in red ink were added to the plans sometime during the 19th century [S.M. Bond, The Monuments of St George’s Chapel (Windsor: 1958), p. xiv]. Subsequently no plan was made of the gravestones of the Chapel floors until restoration work was being carried out after the First World War by another surveyor, R. B. Robertson [SGC P.10].

There was some external protest against the actions taken in 1789. A critic who visited the Chapel wrote an account in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1790, stating ‘… whilst I admire the improvements, I am bound to condemn the absurdities… The memorial of one is over the ashes of another; and the spots where the vaults and graves are, no distinction remains to protect them.’ [S.M. Bond, The Monuments of St George’s Chapel (Windsor: 1958), p. xxv].

The repaving project was part of a much larger programme of building works at St George’s Chapel during the reign of George III. Funded by the King and the Knights of the Garter, much needed repairs were made in addition to cosmetic changes. A new organ-screen was built; several windows including the East Window were replaced, as was the High Altar; new Garter stalls were added in the Quire; the Chapel was cleaned and the South Quire Aisle lime-washed to strip away any remaining paint from the ceiling. The total cost of the programme in 1790 was £21,000, which today amounts roughly to £1.6 million.[1]

Kristen Mercier, Assistant Archivist


[1] http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency-converter/#currency-result

The Queen's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.