A neighbouring Buckinghamshire village contains a link with pre-revolutionary Imperial Russia. The parish church of St. Mary’s at Hitcham, situated between Taplow and Burnham, has in its graveyard a large, ornate tombstone which carries a golden Madonna and Child icon. The weather-worn coat of arms and the fading inscription on the flat tombstone hides a romantic story. It is the final resting-place of His Highness Prince Alexis Dolgorouki and his wife Princess Francis.
Alexis and Fanny, as Francis was known, were an autumn love match, marrying when both were reaching 50. Prince Alexis, Secretary of State to Czar Alexander II, came from a long and distinguished noble family in direct line of descent from Prince Dolgorouki of Suzdal, the founder of Moscow in 1129. Fanny was the only child and heiress of the rich industrialist Fleetwood Wilson of Wappenham Manor in Northamptonshire. Their marriage ceremony in July 1898 was a two-part celebration at the Russian Embassy Chapel and at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey.
The Dolgoroukis entertained lavishly in that golden era before the First World War from their various homes at Braemar Castle; at Upper Grosvenor Street in Mayfair; their Mediterranean villa, and also in Russia. Fanny additionally wanted to have a country house suitable to hold what were then popular weekend Thames river parties and so Prince Alexis commissioned the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens to build a house on a site in Taplow for entertaining. The result was Nashdom House – Nashdom meaning ‘our home’ in Russian – which, with its formal gardens, was built between 1905 -1909.
After Prince Alexis died in June 1915, Fanny spent most of her days abroad at her villa on the shores of the Mediterranean, continuing to be a generous hostess. Fanny, who was well known for her love of expensive jewelry, died in August 1919. In 1929, Nashdom House was purchased by the Anglican Order of Benedictine Monks and became Nashdom Abbey. In 1987 the monastery was sold and the house was converted into residential flats.
St Mary’s at Hitcham has also played its part in British filmography of a popular kind. It was used for location shooting for Carry On Dick whose theme was based on the Dick Turpin legend. This 26th Carry On film, released in 1974, marked the end of an era for the series, featuring the last appearances of Sid James, Barbara Windsor and Hattie Jacques.
By Jeff Griffiths, with thanks to Karl Lawrence who researched the above information on Prince Alexis Dolgorouki which was published in the Hitcham and Taplow Society Newsletter Spring 2009. Thanks also to Fred Russell for the photo of the tomb.