John Middleton became Vicar in 1787, but he had already been Curate for 21 years, first to Roger Mather, a distinguished academic, Fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford and tutor to Nathaniel and Assheton Curzon. A Curate would take part ofthe income and the Vicar, even if not resident, would take the rest. John Middleton lived in the vicarage (a predecessor to the present Old Vicarage next to the church), and was obviously a man of considerable energy keeping meticulous and scrupulously neat notes on the many small improvements he made to the vicarage and church. He taught ‘several young gentlemen entrusted to his care’, enlarging his ‘Little Parlour and the Room over it’ to make room for them. He also made a precise list of the name and size of the glebeland fields, amounting to 40 acres.
He wrote a particularly informative letter, in 1802, to the Lysons brothers, authors of Magna Britannia, describing the parish at that time. His most significant report was that he had seen the date of 1177 on a foundation stone under the chancel when they were digging a new vault for Penn Assheton Curzon in 1797. I was told that it would be very unusual to find such an old foundation date, but his careful record-keeping encourages acceptance of his claim. He noted many other points of interest, such as: taking down two thirds of Penn House; the location of the Segrave Manor House; ‘a large Vault under the Body of the Church towards the Belfry’ where William Penn the Quaker’s grandchildren are buried; and he had a fair bit to say about the French School and Edmund Burke. He also named the 10 counties which could be clearly seen from the tower with perhaps another two, Northampton and Sussex.
He died on July 11th 1808, having worked and lived in the parish for 42 years. The entry in the register reads ‘The Rev’d John Middleton, Vicar of this Parish and Chaplain to Lord Viscount Curzon was buried (universally regretted) in the Vault, in which his daughter Mrs Etty, had been deposited, on the West side of the South Porch of the Church, aged 67 years’. His daughter, Mary, the wife of the Rev’d James Etty, had lost an infant daughter in 1799 and herself died in March 1804 ‘of a Consumption, aged 32 years’. His wife, Mary, died aged 79, on December 30th 1812.
The register notes, “Underneath Mr Bennet’s Tombstone, on the West side of the south Porch of the Church, Mr Middleton caus’d a Vault to be made, in which Mrs Etty was deposited. There are places for three more to lie abreast. The Tomb has been new made, the Iron railing extended, and the space within neatly paved. The entrance of the Vault is under the Wall which supports the Iron Work on the West side opposite the head of the Tomb.” These two highly regarded Vicars share the same space with the inscription for John Middleton – ‘who lived universally beloved and died universally regretted’ – still mostly legible in the slanting light of an early morning winter sun on the side of John Bennet’s tomb. There is a black marble stone on top of the tombstone which carries John Bennet’s inscription
© Miles Green, January 2017
Photographs © courtesy of Eddie Morton ARPS