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The Sword-Point Wedding
Folklore or Fact?

Frances Kendrick was one of three daughters and one son of the 2nd Baronet Sir William Kendrick. Occasionally writers refer to her as Mary, through confusion with her sister, called “Frances Henrietta Mary” in her father’s will, but the lady in question was definitely Frances. Her father called her “Frankie”. Born in 1687, she was his eldest surviving child and, since her brother had died not long after he was born, she was her father’s chief heiress. She grew up at the family home, Whitley Park near Reading, which her great great grandfather had first been resident in many years before, and records show she was much like the lady portrayed in our story. She was clever, high-spirited, wilful, unconventional and, of course, determined. Though accomplished in all the delicate arts: music, painting, embroidery and so on, she much preferred more active pastimes. She could apparently ride, shoot and fence as well as any squire in the county.

On her father’s death in 1699, Frances was left in the guardianship of Dr. James Brewer and John Dalby Esq. (a Reading lawyer), but they were apparently unable to stop her doing as she pleased. It was at her own instigation, for example, that she moved out of the family home of Whitley and purchased Calcot Park in Tilehurst, not far away. She is said to have had many suitors, but spurned them all . . . that is until Benjamin Child came on the scene.

Little is known of Benjamin’s background, but a Child family is, indeed, known to have been Brewing in Abingdon in the late eighteenth century. A Nathaniel Child owned the Abbey Brewery as early as 1764, and the family could have been around earlier. The extraordinary events surrounding Benjamin’s marriage, moreover, do appear to be absolutely true. Miss Julia Bockett of Southcote House made a record of the story in the early nineteenth century. Her source was the old parish clerk of Tilehurst, then over ninety years old, whose father had been a servant at Calcot at the time. He had witnessed the entire household goings on. Furthermore, there was a ballad published within Benjamin’s own lifetime (1760) which detailed all the events. Known as “The Berkshire Lady”, this poem is the best known version of the story and has been popular ever since its first publication:

It is I that did invite you,
You shall wed me or I’ll fight you,
Underneath these spreading trees;
Therefore choose you what you please.

You shall find I do not waver
For here is a trusty rapier,
So now take your choice, said she;

Either fight or marry me!

There are certainly details of the tale, however, which are incorrect, particularly the traditional site of the wedding. All old versions claim the marriage ceremony took place at St. Mary’s in Reading, however the two were in fact married at St. Mary’s Church in Wargrave, some ten miles to the east of Reading, and even further from Calcot. The marriage entry appears very clearly in the parish register for the 28th March 1707, which is, of course, spring, not summer. If the rest of the tradition is true, then why traipse all the way out to Wargrave to be married? It may be that the vicar of Wargrave was more sympathetic to Frances’ plans, though you would have thought it would be easier for her to persuade her local clergyman to comply.

Furthermore there is no record of any Pleydell (who were Lords of the Manor of Coleshill) ever being married at St. Mary’s in Reading, so the two could not have met there either. That is, unless it was not really a Miss Pleydell’s wedding, but someone else’s: Mary Sexby’s perhaps? She married one Bartholomew Ivey, at St. Mary’s, two days before Benjamin and Frances.

Benjamin appears to have been something of an eccentric. One story goes that he used to love the taste of oysters and would eat them by the tub-load. He had one of the rooms at Calcot fitted all round the walls with shelves; and in order to impress his friends, he would fill them with the empty oyster-tubs as proof of his gastronomic capabilities!

Frances died in 1722. The eccentric Benjamin had her placed in a lead coffin, shaped perfectly to her body, even down to the lines on her beautiful face, and she was buried in the Kendrick Vault under St. Mary’s Church in Reading. The coffin was discovered and examined there in 1820. Benjamin sold Calcot to John Blagrave of Southcote House in 1759 and it was some while before he could take possession. Benjamin moved to what was then Dirle’s Farm, totally rebuilding it to form the central portion of the Prospect House we see today. It seems strange that it is here, and not at Calcot, that Frances’s ghost is said to walk.

Next: Places associated with the Legend
Back to: Frances Kendrick's Sword-Point Wedding


    © Nash Ford Publishing 2001. All Rights Reserved.