Revd William Henry Barnard
William Henry Barnard (1767-1818) was Vicar of Westbury from 1797 to 1800, Rector of Finmere from 1804 to 1811, both neighbouring villages to us, and Rector of both Water Stratford and Marsh Gibbon from 1814 to 1818. The gaps suggest that he did not need a permanent job and they seem more likely to be due to painting trips rather than ill-health, as his main personal claim to fame is as an artist. Whilst an undergraduate at Oxford he was a pupil of John Baptist Malchair and his work is said to be similar to that of his teacher, tending to depict humble subjects like Oxford street scenes. In 1996 the Tate Gallery acquired twelve of his paintings, mostly rural landscapes, with money from the Heritage Lottery Fund. They can be seen here. His drawing of Windsor Castle was purchased in 1947 for the Royal Collection.
He was very well-connected, being first cousin of Prime Minister George Canning, grandson of William Barnard, Bishop of Derry, and nephew of Thomas Barnard, Dean of Derry and Bishop of Limerick. Thomas was a friend of the great wits of the day like Dr Johnson and Oliver Goldsmith, and the latter wrote of him:
Here lies the good Dean, re-united to earth,
Who mix'd reason with pleasure, and wisdom with mirth;
If he has any faults he has left us in doubt,
At least in six weeks I could not find them out,
Yet some have declar'd, and it can't be denied 'em,
That Slyboots was cursedly cunning to hide 'em.
William's travels are hinted at by his daughter Sarah being born in Madeira in 1800 and dying in Rome in 1817. His son, Sir Henry William Barnard, who was born in Westbury in 1798, rose to be a general in the British Army, commanding a division in the Crimea and dying of cholera while directing the siege of Delhi in 1857. William was buried at Water Stratford on 21st October 1818 but, unusually for that date, there is no trace of his grave. A memorial stone to him was in the chancel for a few years following his death and is said by Myres to have then been placed outside, but it has not been found. It may be that he is actually buried in the chancel.
Revd Woolley Leigh Bennett
Woolley Leigh Bennett (1775-1839, Rector 1818-1839) immediately followed Barnard but, unlike his exotic Anglo-Irish predecessor, was born just down the road in the neighbouring village of Finmere, where his father was Rector. His arrival with a young family (four children when he was appointed and three more born here) caused the Rectory to be greatly expanded. He also presided over the rebuilding of our church in 1829. The records show the village had difficulty financing these improvements, yet Bennett's family connections suggest that he might have been able to pay for them himself. His direct ancestors include Pocahontas and Queen Elizabeth's Latin Secretary, Sir John Wolley. His paternal grandparents were a Norfolk gentleman named John Bennett and a Surrey heiress named Mary Leigh, and their descendants include Edwina, Countess Mountbatten. When Mary died the Surrey country seat passed to their son, also Woolley Leigh Bennett, Rector of Finmere. Both his sons were clergymen and the elder, John Leigh Bennett, moved to Surrey to become both Squire and Vicar of Thorpe, and demolished Hall Place and built Thorpe Place in its stead. It is interesting to see in the Buckinghamshire Pollbook for 1831 that Woolley was the only person in Water Stratford that was eligible to vote in the parliamentary election.
Woolley senior and his children and grandchildren provide a fascinating insight into the lives of nineteenth century squires who were also clergy, sometimes called 'squarsons'. The sons often went into the church and the daughters either married clergy and died young after producing many children or stayed single and lived long and prosperous lives! A change appears around 1870, however: the agricultural depression greatly reduced the incomes of country rectors and we find the sons becoming lawyers and the daughters marrying lawyers.
Bennett left us an odd inheritance in the form of his 'tomb'. This was
described by Myres in 1892 as the 'Leigh Bennett vault', but it is not big enough to contain or cover a normal burial. It is about two feet high and hexagonal in plan, with the parallel sides about three and a half feet apart.
It has a capstone, which would make sense if the contents were cremations, but they are recorded in the church registers as burials. Woolley presumably designed it himself, as the first burial recorded on it is his unmarried daughter. The four inscriptions are:
To the memory of HARRIET JANE BENNETT died October 1836 aged 23 years
To the memory of The Rev. WOOLEY LEIGH BENNETT died Feb 2nd 1839 aged 61 years
To the memory of AUGUSTUS FREDERICK second son of the Rev. W. L. BENNETT died January 28th 1849 aged 28 years
To the memory of MARGARET relict of the Rev. WOOLEY LEIGH BENNETT died April 17th 1866 aged 82 years.
John Burley (1780-1840) was a local farmer (probably Grounds Farm) who was churchwarden at the time of the rebuilding of the church around 1828. He was also the father-in-law of Abel Kidd. Myres records some of Burley's comments at the time of the rebuilding and it may be helpful to reproduce them here.