History of ancient Stoke Mandeville graves which will be excavated as part of HS2 works

Memorial to Edmund Brudenells wife in present Stoke Mandeville parish church . Photo Mike Farley.
Memorial to Edmund Brudenells wife in present Stoke Mandeville parish church . Photo Mike Farley.

Mike Farley from the Buckinghamshire Record Society has written an interesting history of some of the graves that have excavated been excavated by HS2 in their preparatory works.

The Buckinghamshire Record Society, led by Honour Newington have been working at the Stoke Mandeville site and found an interesting story of one of the Church's gravediggers, who bequeathed his space to the parish of Stoke Mandeville.

They have recorded what they have found, and have just had a book published which catalogues the people who lived and died in the area, in a publication called 'Stoke Mandeville Wills and Inventories 1552-1853'.

Mike Writes:


‘Item. I give to the town of Stoke my spade to digge graves.’

"In February 1603 the above gift is recorded in the will of William Mortimer of Stoke Mandeville when he was ‘sicke in body but of perfect memory.’

"We know nothing about John as an individual but he was obviously the gravedigger for the parish church of Stoke Mandeville and in turn, no doubt would himself have been buried there.

"Someone other than John wrote the will for him as he had to sign the document with a cross.

"His grave is one of many, together with the old church site, which will be carefully excavated in 2020 by archaeologists working on the route of HS2.

"John’s small practical gift now becomes common knowledge due to the work of a dedicated group of local researchers led by Honor Lewington.

Over several years Honor and her team transcribed the difficult, handwritten, original texts of the wills and inventories of a hundred and thirty-four individuals dating from 1552 to 1853.

The result of their work has just been published by the Buckinghamshire Record Society.

Mike continued: "John was obviously not a wealthy man. Apart from his spade, among the few items he gifted were a little brass pot, a scythe, and a coffer (a lockable box).

From two other items we can deduce that he might have worked at the village’s watermill as he also gave a mattock ‘that was at the mill’ and ‘to Mr Edmond Brudenell my fishing nette’.

"The Brudenell family held land in Stoke Mandeville for more than two centuries and a splendid monument to three of their children was moved from the decaying old church to the
present church many years ago.

"John’s simple gift to Edmond Brudenell is in stark contrast to items that Edmond willed in 1642 - which interestingly included ‘fishing nettes’ - but also money for the poor, a gilt salt sellar, a silver beaker, musical instruments, books, muskets, pistols, and a substantial amount of furniture."

Stoke Mandeville Wills and Inventories 1552-1853, is available from The Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies, County Hall, Aylesbury, HP20 1UU (£30, or £22 to Buckinghamshire Record Society members) or by post from the same address but add £5 for p&p.