Commemorating famous people through the medium of stone is a ubiquitous dimension of villages, towns and cities across the land and part of our Blue Plaque culture. I’m particularly interested in the phenomenon when it connects to places of burial and memorialisation and a network of memorial dimensions can be identified.
A recent example of this caught my eye in the form of that links outdoors and indoors of a parish church. Memorialisation not only comprises the memorial itself, near the altar of the church by the organ, but with the family memorial context on the north side of the church with a recent additional heritage board. Meanwhile, outside there is a megalith opposite the church, fronting access to the public library. Together, they comprise a citational network of memorials to the individual in question within and beyond the parish church.
I’m speaking of the commemoration of the 18th-century naturalist, traveller and antiquarian, the Thomas Pennant of Whitford, Flintshire (1726-1798). Resident of Downing Hall of the parish, he is perhaps most famous for his studies of wildlife and his tours of Scotland and Wales. Of course, I’m familiar with Pennant principally for his discussion of the Pillar of Eliseg, and as an antiquarian.
First up, we have inside the church where his memorial is by the altar (I confess I lack a decent pic of his memorial, but I will add one in due course). This in itself is unremarkable, other than its premier location. More interesting still is the context: along the north wall of the church, on the Pennant side of the family are memorials to his family: including his son Thomas Pennant, all dating to the early 19th century.
It is this entrance area to the church, underneath the family memorials, which has received heritage elaboration. In front of the pairing of epitaphs east of the north door is a heritage board, with two panels, each explaining the life and influence of Pennant as the ‘Father of Cambrian Tourists’, explaining how his ‘Tours in Wales’ reveal the landscape, buildings and people of the country in the later 18th century.
So, inside the church, there are a range of direct and indirect ways by which Thomas Pennant is commemorated. Yet commemoration also spills outside. Across the road from the church, opposite and up at the entrance to the village’s library, is a megalithic monument to Pennant. A single rough stone, it bears a commemorative plaque honouring his ‘ancestral’ status for the village and for Wales.
THE LITERARY SQUIRE OF DOWNING
YSGWEIAR LLENGAR DOWNING
UNVEILLD BY/DADORCHUDDIWY GAN
DAVID SCHWARZ OBE KSG DL
Linking to the wider landscape of the village, the Whitford Millennium eritage Trail has multiple references to Thomas Pennant and includes Downing Hall itself.
In summary, we have an 18th-century naturalist and antiquary commemorated both inside and outside Whitford church through heritage information and multiple memorials.