Thursday 31 May 2018


Yesterday, in the course of my researches, I visited Great Brington, near the Spencers' Northamptonshire seat. I needed to have a look at (and photograph) the monuments in the Spencer Chapel in St Mary's church – a nationally important collection.
 My hopes were not high, as I knew the chapel was enclosed by railings and locked gates, but I hadn't realised quite how Fort Knox-like these defences were until I saw them for myself. The railings, five feet high and spiked, are hung with notices warning that the chapel is 'alarmed' and that reaching through the railings will trigger the alarm. This precaution is on top of already quite serious security measures in the church itself. Amusingly, one of the grandest of the Spencer tombs (an eight-poster by Nicholas Stone) carries a notice warning visitors not to touch this 'fragile' monument. Chance would be a fine thing...
 In the event I managed to get a couple of decent photographs by holding my camera (i.e. mobile phone) through the railings, and no alarm sounded. But how much richer and more enjoyable the whole experience would have been had the Spencer Chapel been part of the church, not a segregated, high-security, 'alarmed' enclave. If noble families are so determined to keep their monuments rigorously apart from the communal life of the parish and inaccessible to us monument fanciers, why don't they build their own chapels in their own grounds (as many do)? Maybe the Spencers wish they had.
 I suspect the high level of security around the Spencer Chapel is partly due to the extraordinary events that followed the death of one of their own – Diana, Princess of Wales. It seems the family originally intended her to be buried in the family vault under the Spencer Chapel, but in the febrile, not to say hysterical, atmosphere of those strange days, this was clearly not an option. The Earl wisely decided that Great Brington and its church could not cope with the pressure of being a site of pilgrimage for millions of devoted Diana fans, so she was buried on an island in the lake at Althorp.
 Or was she? Rumours of a secret reburial in the church abounded at the time (mysterious nocturnal goings-on, evidence of the chapel floor having been opened, etc.) and have never quite gone away. To judge by the visitors' book, a fair few think they are paying their respects at Diana's resting place when they visit St Mary's. When I was there, though, I had the place to myself. The temptation to climb over those railings was strong – but, deterred by those spikes and alarms, I overcame it.

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