Memorials at Mells: An Emerging Story of Remembrance

Essay by Roger Bowdler

To appreciate fully the English country house as a place of art, the church must be taken in too. Landed society placed great emphasis on continuity and lineage, and the creation of dynastic places of burial in church and churchyard was a key reflection of this sense of identity. Many country houses were located close to the parish church and it was here that the burials took place, rather than in a private family vault on the estate, which was common practice on the Continent. Funeral monuments were some of the largest artistic commissions ever undertaken and the British have generally been reluctant to pay tribute to their dead in private. The resulting expressions of love and loss in church and churchyard can be extremely moving.

As ensembles of tombs go, at least until the end of the nineteenth century, that at Mells was not particularly special. Had not John Horner married Frances Graham in 1883, it is possible that this would have gone on being the case. Instead, from that time on, the church acquired a remarkable sequence of monuments which make it a fruitful place to look at modern English commemorative art. Mells has become a much visited and greatly admired village, emblematic of the English way of life.1 Its memorials play a key part in this.

Three strands will run through this survey: the involvement of leading architects and designers; the interest of outdoor as well as indoor memorials; and, most dominantly, the impact of the First World War on landed society.2 Enduring interest in the lives and early deaths of Raymond Asquith and Edward Horner3 ensures that their memorials continue to receive more attention than most private memorials to the fallen of the Great War. Others are remembered here too and it is right to remember the rest of the village’s dead.4

Early Memorials

Mells does not have many remarkable older tombs. The Reverend John Collinson’s History and Antiquities of the County of Somerset, published in 1791, recites the persons named on the Horner memorials,5 which were at that time dispersed more widely within the church, before being brought together in what became the Horner chapel at the east end of the northern aisle in Victorian times. The earliest identifiable one of these is a modest tablet to Sir John Horner (1580–1659); none of the subsequent memorials is spectacular. The eighteenth-century architectural heyday of the Horners was not matched by any relish for raising tombs.

Outside, there are few older tombs still standing in the large graveyard. A pair of chest tombs in the south-west corner reveals the development of this standard form, with the rustic classical chest of the Watley family (no longer fully legible, but datable to c.1680) standing alongside the later eighteenth-century, Adam-influenced chest (its inscription now completely illegible). The local limestone is not an enduring one and few headstones of any age remain.

Laura Lyttelton (1862–1885)

The earliest memorial of special note is the unusual bas-relief in painted gesso, hung on the north wall of the west tower, by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (fig. 1).6 It commemorates Laura Lyttelton (née Tennant), who died in childbirth in May 1885. Burne-Jones was extremely taken with the elfin Laura and was grief-stricken. ‘It is the sorrowfullest ending’, he wrote, ‘poor, bright, sweet little thing. . . . And I have schemed a memorial tablet for her if it is ever needed; perhaps I may carry it out and set it up at home, for we loved her dearly.’7 Two versions were made: the one at Mells and a painted cast kept by Burne-Jones in his home. The latter version is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (fig. 2). Georgiana Burne-Jones’s Memorials described the relief thus:

He did make a tablet, employing in its execution a kind of material and workmanship quite new to him. It was a bas-relief in gesso: ‘durable as granite and enduring till Judgment Day’, he described it. ‘It is eight feet high, and is an effigy of a peacock, which is the symbol of the Resurrection, standing upon a laurel tree – and the laurel grows out of the tomb and bursts through the sides of the tomb with a determination to go on living, and refusing to be dead.’8

1886. Gesso.

Figure 1.
Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Laura Lyttelton memorial relief, Church of St Andrew, Mells, 1886. Gesso.

Digital image courtesy of Rodolfo Rodriguez. (All rights reserved)

1886. Oil and gilt gesso on wood, 237.5 × 133 cm. Victoria and Albert Museum, London (P.85-1938).

Figure 2.
Sir Edward Burne-Jones, A Peacock, 1886. Oil and gilt gesso on wood, 237.5 × 133 cm. Victoria and Albert Museum, London (P.85-1938).

Digital image courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum, London. (CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Burne-Jones’s design was inspired by Byzantine imagery: the peacock, contrary to Burne-Jones’s belief, symbolising immortality and incorruptibility. It perches luxuriantly on a laurel tree, alluding to the subject’s name. The tree grows out of a tomb chest, standing on squat colonnettes and seen from above. The design of the sarcophagus is highly reminiscent of Burne-Jones’s only fully realised tomb, that of Frederick Leyland (1831–1892) in Brompton Cemetery, London.9 The Latin inscription is taken from from Luke’s Gospel (24:6) which in translation read ‘He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you’. The foreshortened tomb stands between stylised Ionic columns which allude to the classical image of mors janua vitae, death as the gateway to life.

Lyttelton was buried at her childhood home at Traquair, on the Scottish Borders, and was not related to the Horners; her memorial at Mells is thus unexpected. She was, however, one of Frances Horner’s closest friends and her premature death helped to cement the friendship of the group known as the Souls.10 Mells church up to this point was quite barren, internally: Frances Horner’s introduction of a memorial piece by one of the nation’s leading artists, which counts as one of the supreme Aesthetic Movement memorials anywhere, was the start of more than forty years of notable commemorative commissions with which Frances was involved. Laura was also remembered with a conventional drinking fountain on the north wall of the churchyard of St James, Piccadilly, in London.

The most comparable memorial anywhere else is directly connected. Frances Horner’s father, William Graham, died in 1895 and on his death-bed he resolved to erect a monument to his own father, another William (d. 1855). He requested that Burne-Jones design another relief in the spirit of Laura Lyttelton’s but asked that it be executed by the rising sculptor Alfred Gilbert (1854–1934).11 The ensuing bronze panel, exhibited (in plaster model form) in 1890, was installed in Glasgow Cathedral (fig. 3) and displays a similar conception of life after death, manifested by birds and plants, as seen on the Mells relief. How much is Burne-Jones and how much Gilbert is unclear but there is no denying the strong similarities between the Mells and the Glasgow memorials, and the place of the Grahams as patrons of two special monuments.

William Graham memorial relief

Figure 3.
Alfred Gilbert, after Sir Edward Burne-Jones, William Graham memorial relief, Cathedral of St Mungo, Glasgow, 1890. Bronze.

Digital image courtesy of Roger Bowdler. (All rights reserved)

Jane Graham (d. 1895) and Mark Horner (1891–1908)

The first modern Horner memorial was in memory of John and Frances’s younger son, Mark, who died in London of scarlet fever, aged sixteen (fig. 4). ‘I seem as if I could not recover from the feeling of misery which is always within me’, his mother wrote shortly afterwards.12 His parents sought consolation by commissioning a Roman-inspired tombstone in the churchyard and several practical structures erected in the village. A tradition had been established with the stone erected to Jane Graham (née Lowndes, d. 1895), Frances’s mother, who had come to live with her daughter at Mells.13 On the east side it depicts a veiled woman in classical dress set between column shafts, beneath a seated angel blowing on pipes – a fusion of Arcadian shepherd and the Christian trumpet-blowing angel; on the reverse is a relief of wheat, emblematic of the resurrection of the dead (St John’s Gospel, 12:24). Churchyard memorials are often hard to attribute to designers and carvers, being seldom signed and with little associated documentation in terms of formal granting of permission to instal them, which was up to the vicar. Whether Lutyens had a hand in this memorial is unknown but it is possible. Equally mysterious, designer-wise, is the tomb of Frances’s sister Amy (d. 1900), which is similarly antique in its replication (in miniature) of the celebrated sarcophagus of Scipio Barbatus (d. c.280 BC) in the Vatican Museums in Rome.

Tomb of Mark Horner

Figure 4.
Sir Edwin Lutyens and Eric Gill, Tomb of Mark Horner, Churchyard of St Andrew, Mells. Portland stone.

Digital image courtesy of Roger Bowdler. (All rights reserved)

More is known about Mark Horner’s tombstone. Made of Portland stone and now somewhat weathered and lichen-encrusted, it was the first of several commissions to be designed by Lutyens and carved by Eric Gill.14 It resembles a Roman altar but with added reliefs to each side which derive from Athenian grave-markers. On the south side is a relief of a standing woman with an urn; on the north is a relief of a young man with a horse (Mark was a keen rider). The frontal inscription, in Roman capitals, states that ‘IN HIS SHORT & HAPPY LIFE CALLED EVERYMAN HIS FRIEND’. The rear side shows a wreath, flanked by torches. Horner’s gravestone was the first of what became a notable collection of twentieth-century outdoor memorials at Mells. A privately printed book was also produced in his memory, which included a photograph of Mark Horner on horseback.

These were both unusual gravestones. Neo-classicism remained a staple style for internal church monuments but not for outdoor tombstones. Similar ones are hard to find: Sir Charles Newton (1816–1894), the distinguished archaeologist of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London, and his monument comprises a correct Athenian stele which incorporates what may well be a genuine classical marble funerary relief into its shaft. Closer to Mells, other tombstones also reflect this fin-de-siècle return to antiquity. Outside the village of Kilmersdon, a few miles to the west of Mells, is Ammerdown House, the home of the Jolliffe family, Barons Hylton: Frances Horner’s granddaughter Perdita Asquith married the 4th Lord Hylton in 1931. The churchyard contains a number of special tombs to family members, some classical, set in clipped enclosures of beech. It is unknown who designed these15 but their similarity to Lutyens’s Mark Horner tombstone, and his known employment on the Kilmersdon lychgate in 190216 and at Ammerdown, point to the possible involvement of the architect.

Lutyens was certainly responsible for the stylistically similar shelter in Mells village, opposite the present Post Office (fig. 5), a second memorial to Mark Horner, for which Gill provided lettering around and above the inside seat. This triangular structure, Arts and Crafts in feel, began as one of two stand-points given to the village in Mark’s memory – a practical way of remembering, using the reservoir at Mells Park to provide running water to the village.17 The second structure includes a strigillated panel, which links it to the Roman language of the tombs. And there is a third shelter, to the west of Mells Manor. Frances Horner (who became Lady Horner on her husband’s investiture in 1907), having introduced a commemorative item of great beauty into the church more than twenty years before, was now pursuing more practical forms of memorial as well as a tombstone. This duality became a consistent issue in twentieth-century discussions over how to honour the dead.18

Mark Horner memorial shelter

Figure 5.
Sir Edwin Lutyens, Mark Horner memorial shelter, Mells. 1908.

Digital image courtesy of Paul Barker / Country Life. (All rights reserved)

The First World War Memorials

Inside the Mells church of St Andrew are eight memorials from the First World War; the village has nine altogether, when Lutyens’s memorial column close by is added. It is a high number for a village church, indicating the intensity of remembrance which followed the Armistice in November 1918. Fourteen men from the village are listed on the two village memorials, one inside the church and one just down the road. Four men had personal memorials and two had multiple tributes: Edward Horner and Raymond Asquith were each mentioned four times, twice on shared parish memorials and twice in individual tributes. Horner has his equestrian statue and a wooden board inscribed with an epitaph, while Asquith received an inscription in the tower and his temporary grave-marker from the Western Front is displayed in the Horner Chapel. Both men were memorialised elsewhere as well, on school and college memorials and on the Inner Temple memorial in London, as well as on their Imperial War Graves Commission headstones in France and in other ways besides. The Mells tributes to Asquith and Horner are rightly renowned among British First World War memorials.

The Mells War Memorial

It is fitting to begin with the memorial to all the village’s twenty-one dead (fig. 6). Unveiled on 26 June 1921, the war memorial stands at the junction of Selwood Street and Fairview, a short distance to the east of St Andrew’s church.19 Lutyens’s design comprises a Doric column of Purbeck marble, with an armoured statue of St Michael standing on top, fighting a dragon, which is based on one of the early sixteenth-century sculpted figures in Henry VII’s Chapel at Westminster Abbey. On the pedestal beneath the column is a plain cross. Below, the plinth carries two registers of inscribed names. On the projecting central section is the moving inscription composed by the Poet Laureate, Robert Bridges (1844–1930): ‘WE DIED IN A STRANGE LAND FACING THE DARK CLOUD OF WAR AND THIS STONE IS RAISED TO US IN THE HOME OF OUR DELIGHT’. Circular inscription panels were later set into the flanking walls above the benches to identify the village’s Second World War dead. Crisply executed in Portland stone, it contrasts with the rougher local Doulting stone used for the adjoining wall and found throughout the village.

1921. Portland stone.

Figure 6.
Sir Edwin Lutyens, Mells village war memorial, 1921. Portland stone.

Digital image courtesy of Roger Bowdler. (All rights reserved)

The war memorial is of particular interest for its design and for the manner in which its learned classical form blends into the village setting – an incident of honourable remembrance amid the everyday scene. Columns were not common forms of memorial but Lutyens designed two other such structures, at Fordham, Cambridgeshire, and Hove, East Sussex, each topped with a statue of St George.20 In a letter of August 1919 to his wife, Lutyens described how the site was chosen:

Jack and Lady Horner and Katharine met the villagers and walked round all the morning inspecting sites for the War Memorial at Mells, a funny procession. I walked miles Sunday morning with Katharine Asquith to have a preliminary survey. Found a perfect site in the centre of the village, which no-one else found, or thought of, and with a little tact and patience it was carried by the villagers with acclamation.21

As well as an outdoor memorial, the village also erected a tablet listing its dead inside the church (fig. 7). This comprises a large, austere panel of Portland stone with incised Roman capitals, coloured in blue and red. According to the village history,22 this was created by the Royal College of Art. Its fourteen names contrast with the twenty-one of the outdoor memorial: the latter includes the men of Vobster, the neighbouring village, who were remembered on a separate brass tablet in their local church, which is now installed inside Mells church.23

War memorial tablet

Figure 7.
War memorial tablet, Church of St Andrew, Mells, circa 1920, with later editions. Portland stone.

Digital image courtesy of Roger Bowdler. (All rights reserved)

Captain Stanes Geoffrey Bates (1884–1915)

Bates was the son of Gilbert Thomas Bates (1847–1917), the tenant of Mells Park, which had been let out by the Horners since 1902. A cavalry officer like Edward Horner, Bates served with the 7th (Queen’s Own) Hussars and was attached to the North Somerset Yeomanry. He was killed at Hooge, near Ypres, in May 1915. Bates is remembered, in the south aisle of St Andrew’s church, with a conventional bronze plaque, set against a verde antico marble background, which forms a pair to the oval tablet erected in his father’s memory. Bates’s memorial was the norm; the monuments erected by the Horners were anything but.

Lieutenant Raymond Asquith (1878–1916)

Asquith was one of the most promising minds of his generation.24 The eldest child of the Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith (1852–1928), and his first wife Helen née Melland (1855–1891), he was an outstanding classical scholar and president of the Oxford Union in 1900; in 1902 he was awarded an All Souls Fellowship. Called to the Bar in 1904, Asquith did not relish legal practice and derived much pleasure as a leading figure in the ‘Coterie’.25 Asquith married Katharine Horner in 1907 and together they had three children. Asquith was in the process of being adopted as the prospective Liberal candidate for Derby in 1913 but never stood for election before war broke out. He volunteered late in 1914 and transferred to the Grenadier Guards in mid-1915. In his later thirties, highly educated (and well connected), Asquith would have been eminently suited to a staff role: his anxious wife made him promise to accept a post behind the front line should it arise.26 A dreary spell with Haig’s Intelligence Corps at Montreuil early in 1916 left him desperate to return to his troops. His letters describe the reality of front-line duty in the build-up to the great 1916 Somme offensive in a macabre, detached manner shorn of illusion.27

Raymond Asquith finally saw action in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, ten weeks into the campaign. Shot in the chest shortly after going over the top at Lesboeufs, he displayed great bravery in making light of his wound, smoking a cigarette to display to his men that he was not seriously hurt. He died on his way to the dressing station and was buried in the Guillemont Road cemetery, where a standard Imperial War Graves Commission headstone was eventually placed over his grave with an inscription from the end of Shakespeare’s Henry V, ‘Small time, but in that small most greatly lived this star of England’. His temporary field cross was returned to Mells and, as mentioned earlier, now hangs in the Horner Chapel. Winston Churchill was among the many who mourned his death.28

Mells had been Raymond and Katharine’s place of courtship and family visits but their married home was in Bedford Square, London. Mells meant a great deal to him, as a letter to Katharine made clear:

Your leaving Mells is not to be borne. Of course, you couldn’t bear it, because you love it: and I couldn’t bear it either because I love you and I love the dear memories of happiness with you which cluster like Pleiades round those pointed gables – the blinking moments when the world went out on summer nights, and the yellow lights in the latticed windows as one came back from an October walk.29

It was Mells which received Raymond’s principal English memorial. The Asquiths had Yorkshire roots and no established place of burial; Raymond’s father (by then elevated to the Earl of Oxford and Asquith) was eventually buried at Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire in 1928. The Mells memorial’s inscription is cut into the very fabric of the church, without the intermediary form of tablet or cartouche: this makes literal an intensely heartfelt identity with Mells, and his infant son ultimately, unbeknown to Raymond, inherited the estate.

The memorial comprises a bronze wreath of olive branches, suspended from a nail (fig. 8). Beneath are eleven lines in Latin of lettering by Eric Gill,30 tinted red but the name, and last line, giving Asquith’s dates, are in blue. Underneath are two hooks, from which was once suspended Asquith’s sword (now elsewhere, for safe-keeping).31 Gill had already worked with Lutyens at Mells on the memorials to Mark Horner of 1908; here, Lutyens’s role was confined to the design of the wreath above the inscription and it was the letter-cutter whose role was the primary one.

Memorial inscription to Lieutenant Raymond Asquith

Figure 8.
Eric Gill and Sir Edwin Lutyens, Memorial inscription to Lieutenant Raymond Asquith, Church of St Andrew, Mells.

Digital image courtesy of Roger Bowdler. (All rights reserved)

The epitaph (composed by Hilaire Belloc32) translates thus:

To the pious memory of Raymond Asquith/ Scholar of Winchester College and Balliol College/ fellow of All Souls College/ Who in service to the law and the state/ was destined by the hopes and prayers of his contemporaries to every recognition of intelligence and character/ In the mid-flower of his age/ he took up arms for his country and fell, fighting bravely/ A distant and friendly land holds him in death/ his family and friends mourn him with a longing that cannot be assuaged/ Born VI November 1878. Died XV September 1916.33

The last line of the Latin inscription was added Raymond Asquith’s widow, Katharine, who felt that the formal epitaphial words, while perfectly correct, were insufficient to express the purpose of the memorial.34

The freshness of Gill’s letter-cutting in the memorial is palpable: the setting-out scoring lines are still visible, and the crispness still there, in stark contrast with the weathered wording of the outdoor memorials. Gill’s other memorial inscriptions, such as the vast panel in New College Chapel, Oxford, to the college’s 228 dead, display the power of his lettering: rhythmic ranks of letters accumulate to communicate the message, their orderliness and discipline offset only by the flourishes Gill allowed himself to bestow on his Qs, which have a long and curved tail. The setting out on the Mells memorial has one odd feature: the placing of the key word ‘OCCIDIT’ (meaning ‘fell’) at the end of the eighth line, outside the block of text. Knowing Gill’s mastery of his art, this must be regarded as deliberate. The Latin inscription befits a classicist and Fellow of All Souls, who frequently referred to the ancients in his letters. This extends to the omission of any specifically Christian references: the wreath and the sword are tributes to an absent fallen warrior, who lies across the sea (something which the ancient Greeks regarded as a regrettable fate to befall a body). The overall conception, then, is extremely classical and in the spirit of the Greek Anthology.35 It is an affecting memorial, unusual, dignified and involving two of the leading artists of their day. Both were also involved in the monument to Asquith’s brother-in-law, Edward Horner.

Lieutenant Edward Horner (1888–1917)

In his biography of Edwin Lutyens, Christopher Hussey observed:

Mells Park must not be confused with the Manor House in the same village, in which Lutyens had unobtrusively helped his beloved Sir John and Lady Horner to establish themselves. There, now, in the splendid church adjoining, he designed for them one of the most moving of his memorials: that to their son Edward, killed in the war. It stands in the north aisle, a pedestal surmounted by A. J. Munnings’s bronze statue of a mounted cavalry officer, the modern cavalier.36

Edward Horner was the third child and eldest son of (Sir) John and Frances Horner, brother of Cicely and Katharine and, after his brother Mark’s death in 1908, the sole male heir to the Horner estate, which had been maintained in continuous succession since the early sixteenth century. Educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford, Horner had yet to find his calling when war broke out in 1914. He enlisted immediately in the North Somersetshire Yeomanry, transferring first to the Royal Horse Guards and then the 18th (Queen Mary’s Own) Royal Hussars. First wounded in 1915, Horner was fatally wounded on 21 November 1917, fighting on foot, when his unit was engaged in a village street-by-street skirmish at Noyelles during the Battle of Cambrai; he was the only officer of his regiment to be killed in 1917.37 He was unmarried and the Mells Estate eventually passed to his sister Katharine’s eldest son, Julian, who also inherited Herbert Asquith’s earldom.

The death in action of the heir of Mells led to deep mourning and the planning of ambitious plans for remembrance: what was eventually erected was a shadow of the more grandiose schemes. ‘The shattering years of the war had come and gone and left us maimed and broken as surely as if we had been ex-service men instead of wives and mothers’, wrote Lady Horner in her 1933 memoirs.38 An equestrian statue seems to have been in Lady Horner’s mind from the start. The initial plan was for a funerary chapel attached to the north of the Horner Chapel, expressly to house the monument; what emerged was a more modest presentation of a still remarkable tribute.39

Edward Horner’s monument comprises a less than lifesize bronze equestrian statue (fig. 9), modelled by Sir Alfred Munnings PRA (1878–1959).40 It stands on a plinth designed by Lutyens, on the rear of which his field cross is incorporated (fig. 10). Now the monument is positioned at the west end of the north aisle but it was originally installed in the Horner Chapel at the east end of this aisle. The memorial was re-positioned so that the chapel could be adapted for private prayer; it was also felt to be hemmed in and that it could be better appreciated in its revised location.41 It is rightly renowned.

Monument to Lieutenant Edward Horner

Figure 9.
Sir Alfred Munnings and Sir Edwin Lutyens, Monument to Lieutenant Edward Horner, Church of St Andrew, Mells, 1920. Bronze statue on plinth.

Digital image courtesy of Robert Cuts. (All rights reserved)

Horner monument

Figure 10.
Horner monument, rear of plinth with original 1917 field cross incorporated in the design, Church of St Andrew, Mells.

Digital image courtesy of Roger Bowdler. (All rights reserved)

Horner belonged to a cavalry regiment and this is an explicitly equestrian memorial, yet he died fighting on foot. Its closest comparator is at Kilkhampton, Cornwall, where Lieutenant-Colonel Algernon Thynne DSO (killed shortly before Horner) is remembered with a small equestrian statue by Sir William Goscombe John (1860–1952). Thynne was colonel of the Royal North Devon Hussars and died of wounds suffered in the third Battle of Gaza in Palestine, on 6 November 1917, an encounter which included cavalry charges against Ottoman forces – some of the last in the war. The idea of placing a statue of a mounted soldier inside a church was not universally popular: Thynne’s widow was initially opposed by the vicar at Kilkhampton and there was unease at Mells about placing the Horner statue inside the church under the tower, its original intended position before the eventual choice of the family chapel.42 External equestrian statues to commanders were known: Marshal Ferdinand Foch (1851–1929) was honoured with a bronze statue by Georges Malissard outside Victoria Station, London in 1930, while Field-Marshal Earl Haig (1861–1928) received such statues in Edinburgh in 1923 and, controversially, in Whitehall in 1937, by Alfred Hardiman.43 These were different from private memorials inside churches, however, and the Horner and Thynne monuments remain unusual.

Edward Horner was a fine figure of a man:

Six foot four inches in height, broad-shouldered, lithe and muscular, with a superbly shaped head and neck, he was a picture of radiant masculine beauty. The noble statue of Mr Munnings, recently exhibited under the words, ‘A Cavalry Subaltern’, which is to be placed in memory of him at the church in Mells, affords a wonderful picture alike of him and his type.44

The statue was modelled from the life but neither his actual mount nor (clearly) Horner were present: rather, Munnings’s own horse, Patrick, and Garrett, his groom, were the subjects and photographs of Horner were used for the likeness. Munnings was assisted by a sculptor friend, George Fite Waters, who helped with the modelling; his first attempt at Horner’s head was cut off and replaced. Oddly, Munnings was absent when the casting was undertaken by the Battersea foundry of Fiorini.45 This might possibly explain the reason for the statue’s two blemishes which generally escape notice: both of the horse’s hind legs show clear signs of fracture and rushed repair prior to being cast. Munnings’s model is now in the Munnings Museum at Dedham.46

Lady Horner, Horner’s mother and Asquith’s mother-in-law, drew on her close friendship with Lutyens to explore options for a memorial chapel to her son at Mells. A grandiose design was prepared in 1919 (fig. 11), showing the equestrian statue standing in the centre of a classical chamber, facing east. This would have been added to the north-east corner of the church and accessed through the north wall of the Horner Chapel. Four Doric columns would have carried a barrel-vaulted roof, with two colonnettes placed at the east end of the statue, bearing lamps; a traceried window would have been placed in the east window.47 The Horner family had just succeeded in repaying heavy borrowings incurred in the mid-nineteenth century and spending on this scale would not have been easy to justify: it also would have given Edward Horner undue prominence over his brother-in-law. All the same, Horner’s monument (which still cost the high sum of £1000) is important for what it is, as well as what it might have been.

Unexecuted design for a memorial chapel to Edward Horner at the Church of St Andrew, Mells

Figure 11.
Sir Edwin Lutyens, Unexecuted design for a memorial chapel to Edward Horner at the Church of St Andrew, Mells, 1919.

Digital image courtesy of RIBA Collections. (All rights reserved)

Sir John Horner (1842-1927)

Ten years on from Edward Horner’s death, in 1927, his father Sir John died too. Room was at a premium in the Horner Chapel, but one option for an impressive memorial remained: a stained glass window (fig. 17). Lutyens the designer could play no part in this, but Lutyens the friend most certainly could. As a result, the distinguished painter William Nicholson was enlisted to design a triple window.48 It was to be his only work in this medium, just as Edward’s memorial was Munnings’s only sculpture. Commissions for Mells brought out unpredictable responses. It dates from 1931-2, and was painted by Nicholson, assisted by Barbara Batt (1909-2007).49 Nicholson also executed the illustrations for Lady Horner’s 1933 memoirs: these included a study of Edward Horner’s monument, bathed in the light of this window (fig. 18), but turned around so the front of the statue could be seen as well.

The window depicts St Francis of Assisi preaching to the birds and fishes. The iconography may have been suggested by Sir John’s second name, Francis: his widow was called Frances too, underscoring the likelihood. Generally the glass in Mells church is fairly conventional, ranging from the very good east window by Hardman, to a series of washed-out High Victorian stained glass elsewhere. The Nicholson window bathes the Horner Chapel in warm light, and would have been the object of Edward’s intense gaze when his statue stood just a few feet to the west. The saint, seen in profile, bears a distinct resemblance to Sir John: thus creating the sort of commemorative connection which brings consolation through its sense of perpetuated togetherness. Not everyone approved of the result: the popular historian Arthur Mee remarked that ‘It seems odd that the east window of so engaging a chapel has a queer and crude scene of St Francis with his birds and fishes.’50 The window, beside its visual appeal, is also of note for religious reasons: in 1923 the widowed Katharine Horner converted to Catholicism. This event needs to be borne in mind when considering the later memorials.

Later Memorials

Sir John Horner (1842–1927)

Ten years on from Edward Horner’s death, in 1927, his father, Sir John, died too. Space was at a premium in the Horner Chapel but one option for an impressive memorial remained: a stained-glass window (fig. 12). Lutyens the designer could play no part in this but Lutyens the friend certainly could. As a result, the distinguished painter William Nicholson was enlisted to design a triple window.51 It was to be his only work in this medium, just as Edward’s memorial was Munnings’s only sculpture. Commissions for Mells brought out unpredictable responses. This dates from 1931–2 and was painted by Nicholson, assisted by Barbara Batt (1909–2007).52 Nicholson also executed the illustrations for Lady Horner’s 1933 memoirs: these included a study of Edward Horner’s monument, bathed in the light of this window (fig. 13) but turned so the front of the statue could be seen as well.

Memorial window to Sir John Horner

Figure 12.
Sir William Nicholson and Barbara Batt, Memorial window to Sir John Horner, Church of St Andrew, Mells, 1931–2. Stained glass.

Digital image courtesy of Caroline True. (All rights reserved)

Horner chapel

Figure 13.
Sir William Nicholson, Horner chapel, illustration in Frances Horner, Time Remembered, London: William Heinemann, 1933.

Digital image courtesy of Roger Bowdler. (All rights reserved)

Later Churchyard Monuments

The wide area to the north and east of the church contains many twentieth-century burials. Some are bespoke and carefully carved; most are the products of the monumental masons’ industry and reflect the predominant preferences for marble and granite, and are of essentially private interest. There are few better places in England to admire the enduring tradition of tombstones into the twentieth century than Mells, however. The Graham and Horner tombstones mentioned earlier led to a family tradition of elegant outdoor memorials and the Catholic presence at Mells from 1923 also resulted in some special stones.

The largest churchyard memorial is dramatically sited in the north-west corner, surrounded by oaks. The tomb was designed by Lutyens in 1932,53 and marked the grave of Michael McKenna (d. 1931), the oldest son of Reginald McKenna (1863–1943). Reginald, having served as Asquith’s Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer during the Great War, renounced politics to become the chairman of the Midland Bank. McKenna was married to Pamela Jekyll (Frances Horner’s niece), so the links with Lutyens were extremely strong: the latter’s 1924 design of the grandiose Midland Bank headquarters in the City of London remains dramatic witness to this. Lutyens remodelled Mells Park for the McKennas after the 1917 fire and here they lived until moving to Sussex in the mid-1930s.54 They were buried at Mells nevertheless.

Lutyens’s sarcophagus for Michael McKenna comprises a heavily moulded block with inset corners and a raised cross on top (fig. 14). Inscriptions (now weathered) are in the central panel of each face, and each corner has a torus moulding, enriched with bay leaves; the base of each corner, in a characteristically Lutyens manner, comprises a sharp cavetto moulding reminiscent of that below the village war memorial’s bench. It is a bolder design and in keeping with others of his tomb designs: the 1930 chest tomb at Charlton, Northamptonshire, to McKenna’s fellow politician F. E. Smith, 1st Earl of Birkenhead, repeats the same corner design but is more regular in its form.55 The McKenna tomb, like the other memorials at Mells, shows how Lutyens could come to the assistance of his clients and friends in death, as well as in life.

Tomb of Michael McKenna

Figure 14.
Sir Edwin Lutyens, Tomb of Michael McKenna, Churchyard of St Andrew, Mells.

Digital image courtesy of Rodolfo Rodriguez. (All rights reserved)

Other tombstones of note include the elegant Roman revival pair (clearly based on Mark Horner’s design) of Sir John and Lady Horner; the tapering stone of Francis, son of Martin and Nancy McLaren (1949–1960), designed by Laurence Whistler, and decorated with wheat, sun, shell and flower motifs; the spiritedly heraldic stone to Maurice Bonham-Carter (d. 1960) and Helen Violet, Baroness Asquith (d. 1969); and the recently renewed stone56 to Monsignor Ronald Knox (1888–1957), the noted writer and theologian, whose presence in Mells encouraged the growth of a Catholic community in the village. Christopher Hollis (1902–1977), the writer and sometime MP, is another figure of note with a headstone in the churchyard: a friend of Knox’s, he too was a Catholic convert. The distinguished architect Francis Pollen (1926–1987), father of the present Countess of Oxford and Asquith and a lifelong Catholic, lies here as well. Like the tombstone of the 2nd Earl (d. 2011) and his wife Anne (d. 1998), it is restrained and features a carefully set-out inscription beneath a cross. All these recent Asquith family gravestones, and those of Ronald Knox and Francis Pollen, were designed and cut by John Andrew of Christchurch, Dorset, a pupil of Reynolds Stone, who was himself a pupil of Eric Gill.57

The most renowned person to lie in the churchyard is Siegfried Sassoon. He lived for much of his life at Heytesbury, Wiltshire, but was drawn to Mells by Knox’s spiritual presence.58 Like a number of the persons buried in the parish churchyard, he died a Roman Catholic. Sassoon was survived by his son George and his separated wife Hester: the tombstone was commissioned by George but the mason is unknown. The arch-topped Portland stone bears a cross at the top, above the simple inscription ‘SIEGFRIED LORAINE SASSOON. 1886-1967. R.I.P.’ (fig. 15). The lettering is sophisticated, with unusually cut Rs, and Es with long lower serifs. As well as remembering a distinguished writer, it is a further reminder of the exceptional link between Mells and the Great War. It is also, as a tombstone, proof that the art of skilled letter-cutting has endured.

Tombstone of Siegfried Sassoon

Figure 15.
Tombstone of Siegfried Sassoon, Churchyard of St Andrew, Mells.

Digital image courtesy of Rodolfo Rodriguez. (All rights reserved)

These memorials at Mells form a special series, to a special group of people. The highlights will always be the poignant Great War memorials to Raymond Asquith and Edward Horner but the Burne-Jones relief, the village war memorial and the Nicholson window also deserve attention. In one sense, however, singling out the exceptional monuments is to miss one of the essences of the place and its people. It is the cumulative sequence of these tombs which tells most eloquently the emerging story of remembrance in the twentieth century, from the ambition of sepulchral chambers to the enduring dignity of the well-crafted tombstone.


  • Roger Bowdler_crop (1)

    Roger Bowdler completed a PhD at Cambridge on 17th century church monuments with memento mori imagery in 1991. He worked at English Heritage (latterly Historic England) for 28 years as a historian and later a listing inspector, becoming Director of Listing and leading many reforms to the heritage protection system. He now works as a consultant at Montagu Evans, advising clients on heritage issues, as well as teaching and writing. Roger is a member of the London Diocesan Advisory Committee, a trustee of the War Memorials Trust, and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.


  1. Clive Aslet, ‘The Souls’ Delight: Mells Manor, Somerset’, Country Life, 11 February 2015, pp. 56–63 provides an excellent overview.

  2. Caroline Dakers, The Countryside at War 1914–1918, London: Constable, 1987 (rev. ed. Forever England: The Countryside at War 1914–1918, 2015), places the Mells commemorations within the broader context of rural society. Anthony Fletcher, Life, Death and Growing Up on the Western Front, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013, ch. 15, likewise touches on village experience in a national perspective.

  3. See Jeanne Mackenzie, The Children of the Souls: A Tragedy of the First World War, London: Chatto and Windus, 1986. Although there are comparatively few references to remembrance, Mackenzie sets out the extent of losses that these family circles suffered.

  4. The centenary-linked research project ‘The Home of our Delight: Mells and the Great War’ mounted an exhibition in Frome in 2016 and expanded the better-known histories of Raymond Asquith and Edward Horner to other men from the village: see (accessed 21 December 2019).

  5. The Reverend John Collinson, The History and Antiquities of the County of Somerset, 3 vols, Bath: R. Cruttwell, 1797, vol. 2, p. 464.

  6. Fiona MacCarthy, The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination, London: Faber and Faber, 2011, pp. 338–40; Anja Silke-Gerritzen, ‘Edward Burne-Jones as Sculptor: His Gesso Pieces’, The British Art Journal, vol. 6, 2005, pp. 71–5, provides background but little specific detail on this example.

  7. Edward Burne-Jones, 1886, quoted in Georgiana Burne-Jones, Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones, 2 vols, London: Macmillan, 1904–6, vol. 2, p. 166.

  8. Ibid.

  9. Tomb of Frederick Leyland illustrated in Richard Barnes, The Art of Memory: Sculpture in the Cemeteries of London, Kirstead, Norfolk: Frontier Publishing, 2016, pp. 101–2.

  10. Penelope Fitzgerald, Edward Burne-Jones: A Biography, London: Michael Joseph, 1975, p. 228.

  11. Richard Dorment, Alfred Gilbert, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1985, pp. 86, 88, pl. 48.

  12. Frances Horner quoted in Mackenzie, 1986, p. 79.

  13. Jane Brown, Lutyens and the Edwardians, London: Viking, 1996, p. 110.

  14. David Peace, Eric Gill: The Inscriptions. A Descriptive Catalogue, London: Herbert Press, 1994, p. 63, no. 175.

  15. Andrew Jolliffe kindly answered questions about the Kilmersdon graves and confirmed that there are no records in the family papers which identify their designer: private communication, 2019.

  16. Sir Edwin Lutyens, drawing for Kilmersdon lychgate, 1902, Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), London, Drawings Collection, PB1504/LUT[113].

  17. The Reverend F. W. Cleverdon, A History of Mells, Frome: Frome Society for Local Study, 3rd ed. 2014, p. 33.

  18. Arnold Whittick, War Memorials, London: Country Life, 1946: ch. 1 is devoted to this theme. Whittick, an art historian and important commentator on the architecture of remembrance who believed in visual memorials, concluded that ‘To forget is barren, but some kinds of remembering can be almost as barren’ (p. 5).

  19. Tim Skelton and Gerald Gliddon, Lutyens and the Great War, London: Frances Lincoln, 2008, p. 88.

  20. Ibid., pp. 168–9.

  21. Edwin Lutyens to Emily Lutyens, 4 August 1919, in Clayre Percy and Jane Ridley, eds, The Letters of Edwin Lutyens to his Wife Lady Emily, London: Collins, 1985, p. 371.

  22. Cleverdon, 2014, p. 33.

  23. The Vobster tablet was moved to Mells following the redundancy of the church of St Edmund, Vobster. There is an error on the tablet: Private Edwin Fricker (d. 1919, and buried at Vobster) is recorded as ‘Tricker’, a mistake corrected on Lutyens’s memorial.

  24. John Jolliffe, Raymond Asquith: Life and Letters, London: Collins, 1980, is the key account.

  25. See Colin Clifford, The Asquiths, London: John Murray, 2003, pp. 198–9.

  26. Ibid., p. 337.

  27. Jolliffe, 1980, pp. 269–70.

  28. See also John Buchan’s entry on Raymond Asquith in Balliol College War Memorial Book 1914–1919, 2 vols, Glasgow: Robert Maclehose, 1924, vol. 1, pp. 12–14: ‘Raymond Asquith was beyond doubt the most remarkable figure of his Oxford generation.’

  29. Raymond Asquith to Katharine Asquith, 10 October 1906, quoted in Jolliffe, 1980, p. 196.

  30. Peace, 1994, p. 89, no. 338. Gill also cut the inscription for the tablet in Asquith’s memory in Amiens Cathedral, erected in 1922 on Hilaire Belloc’s initiative (p. 104, no. 414). Asquith’s name is inscribed elsewhere, besides on the village war memorials and his grave. It is found in Sir Herbert Baker’s memorial cloister at Winchester College and on the tablets placed in the ante-chapel at Balliol College, Oxford. The war memorial in the Inner Temple makes the seventh repetition of his name. A number of written tributes amplify this exceptional degree of remembrance.

  31. Edward Horner’s sword, steel helmet, gloves and cap also formerly lay on the chest in the Horner Chapel: Arthur Mee, The King’s England: Somerset, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1943, p. 271.

  32. Information from Raymond Asquith, Earl of Oxford and Asquith, October 2019.

  33. I am grateful to Andrew Saint and Peter Howell for their assistance with the translation.

  34. As Raymond Asquith, present Earl of Oxford and Asquith, comments, the words ‘DESIDERIO INEXPLETO PROSEQVUNTUR SUI’ have a powerful effect and resonance, which the record of Raymond’s career and achievements do not themselves carry. Raymond Asquith, private communication, 4 July 2020.

  35. Jolliffe, 1980, p. 298, states that Raymond had no Christian faith ‘but shared the exalted aspirations of Ancient Greece’.

  36. Christopher Hussey, The Life of Sir Edwin Lutyens, London: Country Life, 1950, p. 464.

  37. Brigadier-General Charles Burnett, The Memoirs of the 18th (Queen Mary’s Own) Royal Hussars 1906–22, Winchester: Warren and Son, 1926, pp. 125–7, 153. For Horner’s service and death in the Battle of Cambrai, see the account by a comrade printed in Frances Horner, Time Remembered, London: William Heinemann, 1933, pp. 216–22.

  38. Horner, 1933, p. 227.

  39. Sir Edwin Lutyens, preliminary drawings for the statue and plinth, RIBA, Drawings Collection, PA1607/LUT[211](5); for the unexecuted memorial chapel, PA1607/LUT[211](7); for the wooden inscription board design, still in the church, PA1607/LUT[211](8).

  40. The fullest discussion of the statue is by Bill Teatheredge, ‘A Gallant Lieutenant of Hussars: Alfred Munnings and the Memorial to Lieutenant Edward Horner’, in Brough Scott and Jonathan Black, eds, Alfred Munnings: Memory, the War Horse and the Canadians in 1918, exh. cat., London: National Army Museum, 2018, pp. 89–91.

  41. Information from Raymond Asquith, Earl of Oxford and Asquith, October 2019. For a photograph of the memorial in its original setting, see Country Life, 23 April 1943, p. 751. The late Gavin Stamp objected to the move: ‘Dulce et Decorum’, Apollo Magazine, vol. 163, April 2006, pp. 96–7.

  42. My thanks to Elizabeth Blood, who passed on the information about the Thynne objections, October 2019; for those at Mells, see Dakers, 1987, p. 210.

  43. See Philip Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of Historic Westminster, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2011, pp. 419–23.

  44. F. E. Smith, 1st Earl of Birkenhead, Points of View, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1922, quoted in Horner, 1933, p. 225.

  45. Teatheredge, 2018, p. 91. The model for the statue was acquired in 1922 by Norwich Museum; it was later given to the Munnings Art Museum in Dedham, Suffolk, where it had been modelled and cast.

  46. Illustrated in Brown, 1996, p. 173.

  47. For Lutyens’s designs see n. 40 above.

  48. Colin Campbell, William Nicholson, The Graphic Work, London: Barrie and Jenkins 1992, p. 250.

  49. Information kindly shared by Peter Cormack.

  50. Mee, Somerset, p. 271.

  51. Colin Campbell, William Nicholson: The Graphic Work, London: Barrie and Jenkins, 1992, p. 250.

  52. Information kindly shared by Peter Cormack, October 2019.

  53. The date comes from Lutyens: The Work of the English Architect Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869–1944), exh. cat., London: Hayward Gallery, Arts Council, 1981, p. 197.

  54. Brown, 1996, pp. 219–20.

  55. Lutyens used a slightly later (1934) variant of the form for the tomb of Julia Clark at Windlesham, Surrey: RIBA, Drawings Collection, PA1611/LUT[300].

  56. The original memorial stone to Father Knox, inscribed by the architect Francis Pollen, is now in the private chapel at Mells Manor.

  57. Raymond Asquith, Earl of Oxford and Asquith, private communication, 4 July 2020.

  58. Max Egremont, Siegfried Sassoon: A Biography, London: Picador, 2006, p. 480.



by Roger Bowdler
20 November 2020
House Essay
CC BY-NC International 4.0
Cite as
Roger Bowdler, "Memorials at Mells: An Emerging Story of Remembrance", Art and the Country House,