The Mystery of Montague Fowler, Part Three
Long-term readers of the blog will be familiar with a feature that chronicles my obsession with a historical man.
For those of you who may be alien to our quest, I would recommend reading parts one and two to get a clearer idea of Ben and I’s fascination with a chap called Sir Montague Fowler, a very eminent priest and Author in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century.
The document that started it all.
After a myriad of rummaging through a hayloft in Sussex, to endless hours googling ‘Montague Fowler’: finding snippets and whispers of the Baron of Braemore who lived a full and busy life, I presumed my interest was satiated and that was that. I was wrong. After finding out about his education in Harrow and Ben informing me of the places of his professional career as a clerk under holy orders, we both felt there was more to be discovered.
I suggested to Ben it may be an idea to locate his grave, partly as a mark of respect for the thrill he’s given the both of us over the past year or so, and also because we’re fond of going on poorly thought-out road trips.
Google was once more our (cautious) friend. I am indebted to Freaky Folk Tales who directed me to some newspaper clippings containing words written by Montague himself. Ranging from his attitude to the unemployed to his lamentation on politicians who blow nothing but hot air, the picture we were receiving was of someone who had a very vocal opinion and who wasn’t afraid to share it. We’d already been made aware that, according to his obituary in the Kingston Gleaner, he’d died on April 1st 1933. We also knew that he ‘died at his home, Merryhill House Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire.’
In an instant, the road trip was planned and approved. Bearing in mind this had a high probability of turning out to be a wild goose chase, I googled Merryhill House which gave us a rough location and a picture of the house that I presumed was the building in question. It was one of two possibilities – the other was so huge it could easily have been mistaken as a Royal residence and erring with my instinct (and a historical reference stating the house was to the south east of such a decadent pile), we left in the hope of finding our Reverend.
Research in the Car: trying to find where Montague lived
After an hour or so we arrived down Merryhill Lane, and immediately had trouble navigating where the Reverend had once resided. We pulled into a sidebay and walked into an area of open space which commanded splendid views of Oxhey and Hatch End. From the map there we worked out the local landmarks – placing Haydon Hall into the landscape we worked out our bearings: from a combination of Ben finding ‘Merryhill House’ labelled on Google Maps and my historical account of the residences down the lane, we drove on a little further.
Although it had undergone a name change, this was Merryhill House, the place Montague lived in until his death in 1933 aged 74. Metaphorically, it seemed like the house had let itself go when its owner died, and here it was, languishing with a horrible 70’s extension forced onto its side: barely surviving being besieged by grass and bramble. How ironic that it had been abandoned.
“Lets explore!” Ben said gleefully. I was hesitant at this as it involved going around someone else’s property. But, from the sheer state of the site, I think two blokes looking around an abandoned house wouldn’t arouse suspicion of any kind(!) so we scaled the gate and began examining the architecture.. It was also clear this place had experienced break-ins and had been made secure with little time to spare. Several windows were broken, with doors and planks nailed to the interior frames. At some point this must have been two separate residences, and weirdly, the interior of the newer part was worse than the older.
“Sheldon, look at the garden, it’s massive and wobbly!” Ben was right, the grounds were park-like in terms of scale, with the ground emulating the surrounding hills. Lingering remains of grand flowerbeds and a sunken garden lay beneath the shoulder-high grass. Our thoughts turned to how Montague must have walked and gardened here, sitting on the pretty patio looking out over the countryside. A beautiful house but a pig of a commute to All Hallows London Wall, where Montague was the Rector.
Seeing as he was a priest, I figured he may have been involved with parish life, so we went into the local Church to see if any markers or headstones were erected in his memory. My earlier comments to Ben saying ‘this may turn out to be a wild goose-chase’ began to ring true, as we swept every monument but to no avail. Scanning the list of names by the front door for the list of past incumbents also revealed nothing.
Ben by a rather impressive memorial in St. James Churchyard
Both unsure how next to conduct our search, the Churchwarden entered and I made a bee-line to her, asking if the Parish Office would have any information on the Reverend’s involvement with the locality. “By all means call the Parish office on a weekday but by the sounds of it he was a pretty important character, why don’t you try the Bushey Museum? It’s just down the road on the right hand side, they have a lot of information on local personalities. What’s the time? Twenty to four…they should still be open.”
Almost immediately, we headed straight to the museum located in the old Fire Station. We’d barely crossed the threshold when a rather strapping fellow in his early 60’s swept down the stairs, greeting us into the museum. We exchanged pleasantries and told him of our plight in trying to see where Montague Fowler had been laid to rest.
“Come upstairs please. We have a local history facility here, mind if we take some details so we can do some research for you?”
Dumbstruck, we both proceeded upstairs and Ben told the gentleman (soon joined by a colleague) of how we’d discovered this document which had started all this sleuthing. Details were exchanged, and as we both turned to leave, the other Steward thrust a book into our hands. “This is new, we’ve only had it in stock for a week. It lists all the burials in the Church, it’s part of a nationwide incentive to record every grave in every Churchyard in the Country.’
The Stewards in Bushey Museum who stopped at nothing to help us
Filled with excitement, we paid for the book, speeding over to the Churchyard after hastily thanking the two stewards. The thought that we may have come over twenty miles for nothing vanished into thin air at this fortuitous stroke of luck. It showed the various parts of the Churchyard – each was opened in specific times, the area surrounding the church being the oldest.
Flicking through the index and working out the notation system used, we found three Fowler’s, two residing in the old Churchyard section and one listed as ‘missing’ – recorded in an earlier survey but not found by the people who undertook the research for this book’s publication. We could barely contain ourselves. From Westminster to Bushey via Kensington, France and the Isle of Thanet, we were to bear witness to our hero’s final resting place. Our journey was nearing its (second) end, and it was just a case of finding the right grave to see which one belonged to the Reverend Sir Montague Fowler, M.A…
The story does not stop there! You may not be surprised to know that there will be a part four to read, where the story develops an unexpected twist and we revisit a place myself and Christina have been before. Do check back soon to see what we find out!