From the Thorley Archives

The Frere Family Wedding 6th December 1838


In my capacity as the church historian, with an interest in postal history, I was last year sent a copy of a 19th century letter dated 7th December 1838. The sender was Peter Forrestier-Smith who is the foremost philatelic authority on the history of the postal system of Bishop's Stortford. He had recently acquired the manuscript and required background information, as his only known references were the address of 'Twyford' and a Bishop's Stortford postmark. As I read the correspondence I realised that it related to a description of a wedding that took place at St James the Great, Thorley, between the writer's daughter and a prominent clergyman. From previous parish researches I was able to fill in the following biographical details. The writer was Elizabeth Frere (wife of George Frere, President of the Law Society and churchwarden), the recipient Sophia Williams (nursery governess to Elizabeth, whose mother had died in childbirth). The bride, Susan is Elizabeth's second daughter (of seven children) and the bridegroom is Christopher Wordsworth, at the time Headmaster of Harrow, later Bishop of Lincoln and related to William. Twyford House is the fine Queen Anne mansion located near Twyford Lock on the River Stort. In 1855 Bishop Wordsworth gave new altar rails, a pulpit and reading lectern to St James in memory of his marriage. They were designed by Sir Gilbert Scott.


The following extracts from the letter portray a vivid social commentary of life in Thorley church and village in the early days of Queen Victoria's reign in the personal style of a Jane Austin novel.


My very dear mother,

For so you have been to me from my cradle, I must tell you all about our Susan's marriage....The day was beautiful, warm, dry, sunshining. The walk from the churchyard gate to the chancel door had been covered with coarse dry gravel in the morning and over that was laid some garden mat; the floor in front of the altar was covered with coarse drugget .... The chancel was lined out with our neighbours of our own parish and our servants and the body of the church with schoolchildren and some others from Stortford .... The bride stood at the side of the chancel nearest to the door, her father on her left hand, her mother and her uncle Bartle immediately behind her and the bridesmaid behind her .... John (the bride's eldest brother and Rector of Cottenham, Cambs) read the service most beautifully and then all our party signed their names as witnesses .... Mr Frere gave a gallon of beer to every family in the parish and being afraid of rain he had a tarpaulin stretched in the avenue and the polls ornamented with evergreens. We found several children there playing about and waiting our return .... We ladies went upstairs with Susan and at one o'clock came down to luncheon .... We were eighteen people including Mr Pennington (Rector of Thorley) ....after luncheon we went to undress the bride. She went to church in the white satin gown, Brussels veil fastened with a diamond sprig, two sprigs of orange flowers in her hair, a gold chain on her neck and bracelet on her right arm .... We changed this dress for a pelisse and drawn bonnet and plush shawl. The bridegroom gave a present of a book to each of the bridesmaids and to John .... As soon as they were gone we went to see the beer distributed at which Mr Digby and Gilbert (of the Coach and Horses, Thorley) assisted and the 84 school children had each a cake which weighed a pound and iced at the top. The servants had a dance in the laundry at night, a neighbour or two and two or three of our trades people were asked. They danced till between two and three in the morning but we put ourselves to bed at 10 o'clock and so ended our day.



Elizabeth Frere and Sophie Williams are buried together in a Frere family vault vault immediately to the east of the south porch of the church. There are many other 'Frere' gravestones and monuments in our churchyard mainly located around the south porch.

The last member of the Raper/Grant/Frere family dynasty at Twyford House - (1901 - 1975) - Beryl Frere, is fondly remembered by many parishioners as a hardworking church member. She was also swimming teacher to most of the children of the parish who had their lessons on the end of a rope in the River Stort! If you have any further memories of the Frere family I should be pleased to record them.

Bill Hardy
January 2002



Twyford House, near the River Stort, Thorley



The Graves of Elizabeth Frere and Sophia Williams
at St James, Thorley



From the Archives