Near the porch and entrance to the Church of St John the Baptist, Wickhamford sits a moderately sized gravestone which dates from 1750. It is the burial place of Ann Brooke, who died before she was one month old.
The Brooke Family
Benjamin Brooke, and his wife, Mary, had four children baptised in Wickhamford from 1742 to 1750 - Elizabeth on 3rd Sept. 1742, Mary on 2nd Dec. 1744, John on 7th Dec. 1746 and Ann on 11th Nov. 1750. Unfortunately, Ann died less than four weeks after her birth and she was buried in the churchyard in early December. At that time, it was unusual for a new-born baby to be given an elaborate headstone, which would have been quite expensive.
The grave is located in a prominent position by the path to the Church porch, almost directly in front of the entrance. The stone and its location could indicate it was erected by someone of significance in the village.
There were 50 burials in the Wickhamford churchyard in the twenty-year period 1740-1760. Of these, only five graves have memorial stones that survived into the 21st century, including that for Ann Brooke. This gives some credence to the probability that the family were significant occupants of the village. Apart from the Manor, the only other large properties in the village at that time were the present Elm Farm and Wickhamford Mill.
In addition to the entries in the Baptismal Register, only two other references to Benjamin Brooke have been found. He was appointed as a Churchwarden for 1754, at a time when such a position was allocated on a yearly basis. He died in 1808 and, according to Letters of Administration, he was buried on 27th December that year, but not in Wickhamford. However, this document refers to him as living in Wickhamford, and Administration was granted to his daughter, Elizabeth, who had married a William Huband. This would indicate that Benjamin’s wife, Mary, had pre-deceased him. The location of the burial place of Benjamin and Mary Brooke has not been found, despite the burial records of neighbouring parishes being searched
Wickhamford Manor was owned by the Sandys family from 1594 until 1869. Members of the family lived there for many years, but with their main house at Ombersley, Wickhamford Manor was frequently let to tenants. Thomas Timbrell and his family occupied the Manor as tenants from the early 1700s until about 1737. A document from 1762 shows that at that time the tenancy of the Manor and its associated farm, was in the hands of Francis Holland and his family until at least 1812. No records have been found as to who were tenants of Wickhamford Manor from about 1740 to 1760.
Is it possible that Benjamin Brooke was the tenant of the Manor in this period? Ann Brooke’s tombstone, its location, size and probably cost, might indicate that her father could have been the tenant of Wickhamford Manor at that time, but more research is needed into this possibility. (Other gravestones from this era that have survived record members of the Cormell, Wilson, Mason and Sowden families and any of these may have been Manor tenants.)
The photograph of Ann Brooke’s memorial was taken by Peter Stewart for his book, St John the Baptist Wickhamford, The Church & Churchyard Monuments, A Photographic Survey (published 2012).
Tom Locke, January 2024