Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Ancient Sarsen Tarrystone

This picture shows the exact location of the Tarrystone both past and present. Sarsen stones in the Thames Valley are quite rare. One was discovered at the Taplow working of the Prior Gravel company about 22 years ago. They are more common to the Wiltshire area and Stonehenge.

The original site of the Tarrystone was close to the Dower House, as it marked the boundary of the Cirencester Abbey property, although the stone may not have been on the exact same spot that it is on now.
William Venables, the owner of Cookham Paper Mill, was Lord Mayor of London during the 1820's (exact date is being researched) and he got a little bit above himself and stole the Tarrystone (according to Cookham people) and put it in his own garden at the Mill. When the last of the Venables died in 1908/09, Sir George Young bought the property and returned the stone to the site at the top of the High Street.
Prior to WWII there was a single gas lamp that lit the area and the stone. After the war this was changed to an electric lamp.

Behind the stone can be seen the memorial seat to Pilot Officer Michael Featherstone Briggs, who was killed in action on the 2nd of April 1941, while serving with #41 Squadron of the RAF.


Joe said...

William Venables (1786-1840) didn't in fact ever own Cookham Mill; although he was the eldest son and might naturally have inherited, he went straight into business in London, establishing the stationers Venables, Tyler & Co in Queenhithe (although he did own paper mills elsewhere, as did his brother Charles). The company was still in business in the early twentieth century. He was Lord Mayor in 1825, Master of the Stationers' Company and MP for the City of London. The owner of Cookham Mill from the 1820s was a third brother, my great-great-great grandfather George Venables (1792-1860), who was certainly the third, possibly the fourth generation of Venables to make paper at Cookham - his wrapping paper was shown at the Great Exhibition in 1851. So if the Tarrystone really was appropriated by a Venables, I'm afraid it might well have been him. The last Venables to make paper at Cookham was his third son Charles Francis 1839-1893), although the mill continued for a few more years in other hands.

Joe said...

I followed up. It was indeed George Venables who took the Tarrystone to the Mill House Gardens, in 1839 when Cookham Bridge was being built. The Venables Curse supposed to result from taking the stone could make you seriously believe in curses. Branches of the family who'd already left Cookham continued to thrive, but things began to go wrong for the Cookham Mill Venables, and their children, from more or less that momen. My great-great-grandfather, also George, the eldest son and heir, either cut and ran or was pushed out in the 1850s, drifting eventually to Yorkshire, where he died young and left his family penniless (though his son remade the family fortunes); his brother Henry went to Australia, married late and as far as I know didn't have children; their sister Mary, whose wedding to a clergyman was celebrated by a village fete, was widowed after only a few years and the terms of her marriage settlement crippled the business; and the two younger sons, Charles Francis and Samuel, never married and died in middle age. Even the name seems to have been hexed: of the three subsequent children christened George Venables, two died in infancy and the third changed his name. But once the last Venables left Cookham in the 1890s, the curse had probably run its course and George's descendants start to have long and on the whole rather successful lives. It's a really striking pattern. The Venables' liked to think of themselves as great benefactors in Cookham - I wonder how true that really was to set off such a successful curse??