By Tony May
Reading an article in our local press about Hastings participation in English Heritage’s annual ‘Heritage Open Days’, I became fascinated by the story of how a stonemason was to renovate the Haggard family memorial in Church In The Wood cemetery. According to the article it was thought the grave could be that of Sir Henry Rider Haggard, author of ‘King Solomon’s Mines’.
Well, with thoughts of ‘Indiana Jones’ style swashbuckling adventures whirring around my head, I just knew I had to be at that renovation to see just what secrets the Haggard memorial would yield!
So, mid morning on the 7th of Sept I set off for Church In The Wood. A sunny morning, it seemed almost the perfect day for a discovery and seeing as the Church itself was also going to be open, I just knew I was going to enjoy myself.
Arriving a bit earlier than work on the memorial was due to start, I wandered my way into the Church and soon found myself in a very interesting conversation with one of the volunteers on site.
Inside the church a display had been put together showing photographs, drawings and newspaper cuttings relating to renovation work carried out in 2009. At the bottom of the display were framed pictures of many of the vicars the Church has had over the years. I found these to be of special interest not only because of their historical value but because one of my relatives, William May, is buried in plot I in the graveyard and it was nice to finally see a picture of the Rev. J.P. Hart who officiated his funeral service.
Not being a religious man myself, I rarely see the inside of a church but have always liked the one at Church In The Wood so for once spent quite a bit of time looking around and taking photos. I found out that the original part of the Church has been on site since 1095 and that really captured my imagination. No wonder I am so attached to the place and feel ‘at home’ walking in the graveyard I thought! With my heart belonging firmly to my home town and its history to think the Church I was now standing in was ‘born’ just 29 years after the date 1066, which is indelibly linked to Hastings, was amazing! There has long been a rumour in my family that we are related to William The Conqueror himself, you know! Mind you, I’m not going to claim the throne just yet as the truth of the matter is much more likely that we are related to one of Great Great Great Great (and a few more) Uncle Willie’s foot soldiers. They didn’t go in for dating agencies or anything like back then you see and a ‘marauding horde’ is not much of a marauding horde if its soldiers just politely knock on a Saxon’s front door and ask for a date so I’m willing to bet that my ancestor didn’t have a lot of say in the matter!
Anyway, back to the story of the Haggard memorial…
When I finally made my way through the graveyard to the graveside I found a flurry of activity going on. The memorial had been taken apart and was being worked on by a man with what looked like an electric sander. Clouds of white dust billowed everywhere so I didn’t try and get really close for photos but still managed to get a few nice shots from afar.
Eventually, the man took a break and it was then I managed to get a little closer and get a picture of some of the writing on a part of the memorial. Studying the writing closely, I could just about make out the words ‘Fifth son of the late William Meybohm Rider Haggard of Bradsham Hall, Norfolk’.
Well, that was enough for me! It was time to get back home, put my Sherlock Holmes sleuthing hat on and get on the Internet to see if I could turn up some information!
In true Sherlock style, I am glad to say that my thinking, searching and researching soon came up trumps. Having an account on Ancestry.com, I searched first for William Meybohm Rider Haggard. I mean, how many people could there EVER have been with that name!
This proved to be a wise choice of action and I was soon staring at a page dedicated to William on one of the member family trees on site. It turned out that William Meybohm Rider Haggard was born in 1817 in St Petersburg in The Kingdom of Russia. By the age of 24, however, he was living in St George Hanover Square in England and in 1844 he married Ella Doveton in London. After a spell in the Russian Army, William had become a Barrister and was a very wealthy man. The couple eventually went on to have ten children (as was common in the days before contraception) of which, seven were sons and three daughters.
Sir Henry Rider Haggard was born in 1856 but was William’s sixth son and not his fifth according to the information in front of me. Andrew Charles Parker Haggard, born in 1854, was listed as the fifth of his sons but was this correct, I wondered?
I decided to do a further search for Andrew and speculatively entered his place of death as Hastings, East Sussex. The result of this search confirmed once and for all that the Haggard memorial in the graveyard at Church In The Wood was not the grave of Sir Henry Rider Haggard but that of his brother, Andrew Charles Parker Haggard.
Further research into Andrew revealed that at the time of his death on May 13th 1923 he was living at ‘Southside’ in Dane Rd, St Leonards-on-Sea. Like his father, Andrew was a military man. He spent much of his life travelling, joined The King’s Own Borderers after being educated at Westminster School, served in India and from 1882 to 1917 spent a lot of time in Egypt with the Egyptian Army in the Sudan.
The ironic thing about Andrew was that he was also a writer and poet! Nowhere near as successful as his younger brother perhaps but you do have to wonder, bearing in mind his lifestyle, whether he may have inspired the story of ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ even if he did not actually write it?
Certainly prolific, Andrew wrote numerous military and history related books including ‘The Regent Of The Rou’es’ (1905) about the religious wars during the reign of Louis XIV
and ‘Under Crescent and Star’ (1895) in which he wrote extensively about his experiences in Egypt and of some of the battles he fought in there. Many of his books have recently been re-printed having fallen out of copyright and are available from Amazon.com. He was not all ‘starched collar and stiff shirt’ though because during his lifetime he was also well-known for his ‘sporting stories’ – sporting in this case meaning as much of hunting elephants as hitting runs with a cricket bat.
In fact, to give Andrew his full accreditation in life, we should really refer to him as Lt. Col Andrew Charles Parker Haggard D.S.O. Sadly, in spite of marrying Emily Chirnside in 1829, Andrew never had any children but then, seeing as he is recorded as arriving at Niagra Falls on the 21st of Oct 1919 via a Canadian Border crossing record at age 65, I doubt with such a lifetime of adventure and travel he ever had the time to start a family!
The icing on the cake regarding the amount of work I put into discovering Andrew’s life was, however, finding a picture of him. Taken from the inside of
‘Under Crescent And Star’, the photo shows a proud Andrew wearing his medals…
For an opportunity to download some of Andrew’s books for free (legally) paste the following link into your Internet browser.
Hastings Town November 2012
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