In An English Country Churchyard

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.

The tombestone of Prince Alexis Dolgorouki - The parish church of St. Mary’s at Hitcham, Bucks
The tombestone of Prince Alexis Dolgorouki

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.

Prince Alexis Dolgorouki
Prince Alexis Dolgorouki

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.

6 thoughts on “In An English Country Churchyard”

  1. Dear Sir or Madam,

    I was very pleased to read your article on the Princes Alexis Dolgorouki. The Princess, Frances Fleetwood Wilson, is my cousin. We both, on our paternal ancestral line, descend from Alexander Wilson (1774-1817), 1st lieutenant of the Royal Marines stationed at Portsoy in Scotland. I descend from Edward Pellew Wilson and Frances descends from Fleetwood Pellew Wilson, who was married to Frances Stoddart, the only child of Samuel Stoddart and wife, Elizabeth Thomas (widow of Charles Meynell, who is related to the Noel, Clopton and Boothby families and Clopton House).

    On my side of the family, Frances Princess Dolgorouki is recorded in Pedigree of Bean of Portsoy. We descend from the Gray, Bean, Grant, Lorimer Folla/Follier and Fraser families in Scotland. The first to be recorded in the said Pedigree is John Bean born circa 1685,, landowner in Inverness and Diskped, married Janet Grant, born circa 1695 (she may be Jean Grant, for her daughter and my G4 grandmother (Jean Gray) were christened Jean). If you hold any genealogical information that may add to this, I shall be very grateful if you could let me know.

    There are several co-relatives, including the ones who descend from James Bean, secretary to Sir Dawsonne Drake, governor of Madras. He married Cornelia Barlow, co-heiress and a daughter of Samuel Barlow and wife, Anne Drake, who is a grand-niece of Sir Francis Drake.

    There is more in the site but I am sorry to inform that now only members have access to the ancestries, which is not fair to all of us.

    I am a count of the Portuguese House of Braganza and my G3 grandfather, Edward Pellew Wilson (180301887) was the one who settled in Bahia, Brazil, in 1819, brother to Fleetwood Pellew Wilson (1809-1888).

    What is interesting about Nashdom is that, according to what I have always heard in the family, Prince Alexis Dolgorouki was a member of a group of Russian aristocrats who, together with Prince Youssopov, were againgst Rasputin. Nashdom was also used to gather those people, in order to discuss the bad influence of Rasputin in Russia.

    Yours faithfully,
    Eduardo Pellew Wilson, count de Wilson

  2. I was very pleaed tor finding and read ingthis tekst.
    As a young Dutch student I had the chance to visit Nasdom Abbey in 1967 and 1970.
    I was receiced very hospitably, but was most impressed by the buildding, not realizing than that it was the work of one of the most famous architects of the 20th century
    it remains an important part of my memories.

    Thank you veruy much

    Joseph Wijnhoven, rerired historian and librarian, now in Lanaken (Belgium)

  3. Hello
    Fascinating to read your reply. Braemar Castle is now operated by the community as a Visitor Attraction and venue and we are gradully peicing together the stories of the people who have lived in the castle over the centuries. We were aware the Dolgoroukis had rented the Castle but had little information about them. It’s always so exciting to “put flesh on the bones”. Thank yo so much.
    If you ae ever in the area do come and visit. We’d be dleighted to take you round the Castle and show you where the lavish parties took place!
    Doreen Wood
    Vice Chair, Braemar Community Ltd and Castle volunteer.

  4. I have come across a letter dated 1910 written by the Princess Alexis on Fyvie Castle, Aberdeenshire, notepaper to my grandmother Elizabeth Andrew who was the wife of the dominie ( school headmaster) in the Perthshire village of Kettins.

    1. Please can you give me any more information regarding William and Elizabeth, as I have a tie with Kettins and am researching family history? Some full names and dates would be helpful!
      Thanking you in anticipation.
      Liz Ogilvie

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