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Did you read Linda’s report last week on the recent Rex Whistler tour of Wilton? Alan Crooks adds this…

As Linda said, we were all shocked at the terrible condition of Edith Olivier’s grave marker (Fig 1). I, however, was not surprised, as I had attended the first ever Wilton History Festival in 2017 during which the organiser, Dr Rebecca Lyons, now a Wilton Councillor, mentioned the awful state it was in and said that she would see whether anything could be done about it. I have reminded her about this and she has undertaken to pursue this further.

Fig 1 Edith Olivier grave marker
Fig 2 Lillian Rosemary Olivier grave marker

Edith, who had an interest in the paranormal, had been familiar with the legend that two white birds would be seen flying over Salisbury Cathedral following the death of a Bishop of Salisbury. Thus it is particularly poignant that David Herbert, second son of Reginald, 15th Earl of Pembroke in recalling her funeral, wrote: ‘As they lowered her coffin into the grave, with a swish of wings a pigeon flew up into the sky. Cecil [Beaton] and I gasped and in one breath said, ‘Edith soaring through tracks unknown!’

Close by Edith’s grave marker was that of her niece, Lillian Rosemary, who died in 2002 aged 99 (Fig 2). This is in much better condition than Edith’s. A member of our party explained that it was Lillian who bequeathed her aunt’s Rex Whistler pictures to Salisbury Museum.

Margaret, our guide, also pointed out the marble monumental effigies of Baron Herbert of Lea (Fig 3) and his wife Elizabeth within the church of St Mary and St Nicholas. Although Sidney Herbert is buried in the churchyard at Wilton, Elizabeth, who controversially converted to Roman Catholicism, is buried at the St Joseph’s Missionary College, Mill Hill, where she was a notable patron.

Fig 3 Marble monumental effigy of Baron Herbert of Lea

We were reminded that Sidney Herbert was Secretary at War during the Crimean War and it was he who sent Florence Nightingale out to Scutari, and with Nightingale led the movement for Army Health and War Office reform after the war.

Later in the afternoon, during a guided walk of Wilton House Park, Ros Liddington pointed out the busts of Gladstone and Disraeli, with associated messages, on the boathouse roof (Fig 4). The message on Gladstone’s bust says, ‘My number is 666’ whereas that on Disraeli’s bust says, ‘the time will come when…’ (I regret that I didn’t catch the rest of this, but it was equally salacious!)

Fig 4

As the younger son of George Herbert, 11th Earl of Pembroke, Sidney ran the Pembroke family estates at Wilton House for most of his adult life, so therefore had the opportunity to build the boathouse with the salacious busts. Sidney’s mother was the Russian noblewoman  Countess Catherine Woronzow (or Vorontsov), the only daughter of Semyon, Count Woronzow, formerly Russian ambassador at the court of St. James, and long-time resident in England. Sidney Herbert’s Russian ancestry caused him a lot of trouble in Parliament, thus leading to his creation of the satirical busts.

A bronze statue of Sidney Herbert, who was MP for Wiltshire from 1832-1861, is now in Victoria Park, Salisbury, having been moved there from Guildhall Square in 1953 to make space for the coronation celebrations.

As Linda commented, this was a fascinating and really memorable day, covering far more than Rex Whistler and his relationship with Edith Olivier; and providing an opportunity to visit parts of Wilton House Park not generally accessible to the public. Very many thanks to Bridget for arranging it.