Monuments and Memorials


Revd. Benjamin John Short Kirby,1899
Vandalism (Sacrilege?) in Bucks

Transcription from the Bucks Herald, Saturday December 2nd, 1899

To the Editor of the Bucks Herald

Sir, – I have been waiting for some little time fully expecting that your attention would have been drawn by other persons more directly interested, or by the Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society, to the extraordinary proceeding – I can call it nothing less – on the part of the Vicar of Penn Church, the Rev. Benjamin John Short Kirby. A few weeks since I received a catalogue from a firm of London booksellers offering for sale, at the price of 175 guineas, the following: –


“The pulpit of Penn Church, the pulpit cloth (worked by Martha Penn), and the ancestral pew of the Penn family.

The vendors offered as guarantees of the genuineness of these historic relics of one of our most celebrated Buckinghamshire families the following declarations, which, Sir, you will note are attested by the reverend gentleman: –

“I, Benjamin John Short Kirby, Vicar of the Church of Holy Trinity, in the parish of Penn, in the County of Buckinghamshire, known as Penn Church, do hereby solemnly declare that the properties hereafter specified were formerly part of the ordinary furniture or fittings of Penn Church, a structure dating from the year 1213, wherein the Penn family the ancestors of that William Penn who settled in Pennsylvania, were wont to worship, and that they were sold by me to Messrs J and M L Tregaskis.

“1. The complete parts of a pulpit which stood in the north-east corner of the nave, next against the chancel (as shown in the view annexed), which was the pulpit of Penn Church from some remote period, no record of any alteration therein having been found in the registers of the said Church, which date from 1560, until the date of its removal under a faculty, by my direction, in August 1899.

“2. The doors, seats, cheek, and other sound parts of a high-backed pew, presumably the ancestral pew of the Penn family, Lords of the Manor, situate at the east end of the south aisle (as shown in the view annexed), facing the 16th and 17th century tombs of the Penns. Under the flooring the coffin of William Penn, who died in the year 1638 was discovered. In later times the pew had been divided by a partition, and had been repaired with a panel, containing the Creed, taken from the walls of the Church. These were removed under a faculty, by my direction, in August, 1899.

“Witness my hand this 23rd day of September in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and ninety-nine.”
(Signed) BENJAMIN J S KIRBY, “Vicar of Penn”

“I, Benjamin John Short Kirby, Vicar of the parish of Penn in the County of Bucks, do hereby solemnly declare that the red velvet pulpit cloth is the pulpit cloth referred to in the following extract from “A Terrier for the Vicarage of Penn” dated 27th May 1726, and attested by the vicar and wardens of the parish of that date:-

“There is an old green pulpit cloth, with a green cushion, both of which are fringed round with a green silk fringe, and were constantly used till ye year 1721, in which year Ms Martha Penn, sister to Roger Penn, Esq, patron of ye Church, was so kind as to give a handsome pulpit cloth of crimson velvet, with a broad gold lace all round it, and also a cushion of ye same, bound with ye same sort of lace, and a gold fringe tassel at each corner, and letters and figures upon ye pulpit cloth are these – M. P. 1721”

“Witness my hand this 5th day of October 1899″
(Signed) BENJAMIN J S KIRBY, “Vicar of Penn”

Now, Sir, I ask this reverend gentleman the meaning of this act of vandalism on his part, for these relics, are valuable beyond price. For, Sir, these are not only relics of antiquity, hallowed by their age and association with the sacred edifice from which they have been so sacrilegiously divorced by the person, of all others, who should most have cherished them, but, historical and national, from their connection with that family of Penn of whom our county is so justly proud. Possibly their future and last resting place is to be across the Atlantic in that State founded by and taking its name from the great member of the Penn family – William Penn. Thus, we are possibly for all time the losers, while those things thought of such little count here by their custodian will be in their new resting place a revered, a most precious, and a prized possession. Sir, where was the Patron of the Living of Penn, where the Lay Rector, the Churchwardens, and the parishioners, that this most monstrous procedure on the part of the Vicar of Penn should have been possible or permitted. Had he the right to do this? I suggest it was his duty to have prized and preserved these relics, and have handed them on as he received them, safe-guarded and kept, in the fullness of time, to his successor. I trust, Sir, that public opinion will be so roused in the matter that the Vicar of Penn will be forced to obtain again these relics and replace them in their ancient and proper resting place.   Yours truly, ‘OLD MORTALITY’

Transcription from the Bucks Herald, Saturday December 2nd, 1899

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