Tong is a little village not far from Wolverhampton. The only thing we knew about it was that, in its churchyard is the ‘reputed’ grave of Little Nell. As it is on the way to Whitwick Manor, we stopped off expecting to spend ten minutes in the graveyard.
It’s not often that you find a grave for a fictional character but here is one.
The key is in the word ‘reputed’, of course. Charles Dickens did visit Tong where his Grandmother had been housekeeper at Tong Castle before marrying William Dickens in 1781. It is believed that he set the scene of the death of Little Nell in Tong.
The Old Curiosity Shop was a big hit in America and tourists started arriving looking for the grave so, in about 1910, a verger and village postmaster, George Bowden forged an entry in the church register of burials and set up the ‘grave’, charging people to see it.
Poor Little Nell! Her grave plaque has been moved several times to make room for ‘real’ burials.
We thought this was quite fun and were unprepared to be impressed by the church itself – perhaps we should do more research! Built 600 years ago on the site of an older church, it was founded by Dame Isabel Pembrugge, seen below carved on her monument.
The wreath of roses round her head is placed there on MidSummer’s day. Before the Reformation, it would have been placed on a statue of Mary, the mother of Jesus but a little thing like the reformation can’t keep down a tradition..
Part of our good luck was to be met by a local man who is interested in the Church and tends the churchyard as a volunteer so we got a private tour.
The most exciting thing about these monuments is that they show traces of the paint which once covered most of the interior of our churches.
The book, ‘Discovering Tong’ tells us that
“The whole Chantry is remarkable with its fan vaulting ceiling, which was originally painted in green, red and gold. The vaulting is very like that in the Henry VII Chapel in Westminster Abbey. The size of the Tong Chapel is much smaller, what could be achieved is restricted. It is the only surviving piece of medieval fan vaulting in Shropshire. On the east wall are the remains of a rood painting. Some of the colour is still quite bright.”
Our guide showed us another lovely detail. The roundels above are repeated many times and a wood carver got bored.
That gave us quite a chuckle and made the workmen of 1406 seem real.