On the border of Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, and surprisingly near the ghastly conjoining of the M1, the M6 and the A14, is Stanford-on-Avon. Parkland trees surround the red brick Hall built in the late 17th century by Sir Roger Cave, a monument to the early aviator Percy Pilcher sits out in a field, and amongst the few houses of the village is the 14th century church of St.Nicholas. Don't do as I have done for years and just wander by, idly remarking on its imposing appearance, but get in there. Your eyes won't know where to look first, the nave and side aisles being stuffed with fabulous monuments, including an extraordinary one of 1896 to Edmund Verney. A life-size hussar in full rig steps up to place a wreath below a medallion portrait, at his side a shield and spear looking as if they were discovered like this, dropped hurriedly on the South African veldt.
Last Saturday I once again stopped under the trees outside, seeing as if for the first time this oversize mound, lit just for me it would appear, against the dark east end of the church. My first thoughts got me very excited. Could it be an ancient tumulus, a reminder that the early church respected what had gone before on this very same spot? Fleetingly I entertained the notion that it might be the resting place of a deceased circus elephant, an example of which I know exists out in a Lincolnshire park. Back home I fruitlessly scoured my Pevsner and Shell Guide, hoping for at least a clue. Nothing. So, with more time to spare on Wednesday, I made the detour to Stanford again. Closer inspection of the mound showed two iron grilles half way up, presumably set in to provide ventilation to the inside of the mound. But for what? The answer came in the simple little leaflet propped up amongst the postcards. A list headed Finally, the visitor should notice concluded: Outside the church, at the east end, is a mound covering the family vault of the Cave family, Lord Braye's ancestors. Of course it is. I assume entrance was once gained from a doorway behind the altar. I've seen vaults outside churches and amongst lesser tombs in cemeteries, but never without some sort of inscription that at the very least would stop my wild imaginings about altruistic early Christians and elephants suddenly finding themselves in the eternal Big Top.
I am a designer, writer and photographer who spends all his time looking at England, particularly buildings and the countryside. But I have a leaning towards the slightly odd and neglected, the unsung elements that make England such an interesting place to live in. I am the author and photographer of over 25 books, in particular Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2006), More from Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2007), Cross Country (Wiley 2011), The Cigarette Papers (Frances Lincoln 2012), Preposterous Erections (Frances Lincoln 2012) and English Allsorts (Adelphi 2015)
"Open this book with reverence. It is a hymn to England". Clive Aslet
"Enchanting...delightful". The Bookseller "Cheekily named" We Love This Book
The Cigarette Papers
"Unexpectedly pleasing and engrossing...beautifully illustrated". The Bookseller
"Until the happy advent of Peter Ashley's Cross Country it has, ironically, been foreigners who have been best at celebrating Englishness". Christina Hardyment / The Independent
More from Unmitigated England
"Give this book to someone you know- if not everyone you know." Simon Heffer, Country Life. "When it comes to spotting the small but telling details of Englishness, Peter Ashley has no equal." Michael Prodger, Sunday Telegraph