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.

11 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 Gene.All.net 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

    1. I was very interested to read the email you published in 2012, ‘In an English Country Courtyard’ by Edward Pellew Wilson. We appear to share a family tree. The 1st Edward Pellew Wilson of Salvador, Bahia, Brazil was my 3rd great-grandfather & Princess Alexis Dolgorouki – Frances Pellew Wilson – was a 1st cousin, 4 x removed.

      Working on a family to leave for my children, I am looking to confirm the connection between John Bean & Janet Grant, daughter of Sir Ludovic/Ludovick Grant, 8th Earl of Freuchie & 1st Earl of Grant, sometimes known as The Highland King. The Beans of Portsoy agree with this connection but researching the genealogy websites, they show Janet Grant as having married Roderick McKenzie. Very confusing!

      If you are able to shed any light on this discrepancy, I would be most grateful.

      Kind regards,

      Joy Inch (from Murray / Searby / Williamson / Wilson line)

      1. Dear cousin Ms Joy Inch,
        I was very pleased to read your message.
        You must descend from the Williamsons, I gather, for a great-aunt of mine was married to a Williamson. However, correct me if I am wrong. Do you know who Lilla’s name was? She was a Williamson perhaps, brought up in Scotland and died in the 1950s or 60s. I know a number of relatives by their nickname and it is hard for me, today, to know their Christian names.
        In fact, the descend from Sir Ludovic Grant of Grant is impossible. I read it as a point of reference. I was thinking that our Janet Grant could well be the orphan Jean Grant , daughter of Sir Ludovic’s younger brother, Sir Peter (or a similar name) Grant of Wester Elchies, who died in 1691/2 married to Janet Forbes of Nilton (I am writing from memory). This brother of Sir Ludovic’ s was a colonel or lieut-colonel. Since this lady was a minor, little info on her can be found. I was very frustrated with the site The Peerage. I myself sent data on the children of Sir Peter Grant of Wester Elchies. The dates match but this is never enough.
        I have found a certain John Beane married to a Jonet Grant. So, the original name was Jonet, not Janet. Besides, Janet and Jean were used interchangeably. We descend from a Jean Bean, the daughter of John Bean and first wife, Barbara Lorimer. This John Bean was born circa 1717 and married secondly Miss Edwards, by whom he had no children.
        I am currently working on the Lorimer’s, which is a little confusing because there are several William Lorimers and the one whom we descend was the son of another William Lorimer married, apparently, twice: first to Heleine Trotter (must be our ancestor because of the dates) and secondly with Rachel Aird. There is a hint here. Our William Lorimer was married to Mary Folla but she is definitely Follier, the daughter of Alexander Folla/Follier and wife, Janet Fraser. Recently, someone has linked our Janet Fraser to James Frazier, the son of Lord Andrew Frazier BUT without showing how. So, this ancestry is completely undocumented. I wrote to this gentleman asking him for the genealogical evidence which must be produced but have had no reply yet. In any case, the couple William Lorimer (he is not yet the well-known Dr William Lorimer who left an academic will at Marischal college but I think he is his son)-Mary Follier had some five children and one of them was christened Helen. Heleine Trotter of course was a descendant of John Trotter, possibly his granddaughter, not his daughter. John Trotter was the 1st baron of Mortonhall and the ancestry here goes back immensely, esp through a Sinclair married to a Trotter.
        There are two versions of the genealogy of Bean of Portsoy kept at the Mersea Museum and you can read them online. They were written by two descendents of Alexander Bean, who had married a lady who descended from Huguenots. Mrs Burton of Windsor was the one who wrote about the family showing their best moments and she tries to trace the Grants to a 15th century couple, the Grant-Ogilvy couple without success. Very confusing indeed. I am not saying that she was wrong but the lack of precision in the generations cannot be accepted as it was shown. I have been an amateur genealogist for almost thirty years and , of course, everything must be well documented. The second author also descends from Alexander Bean and he wrote more about the embarrassing moments of the family, which all families have, especially when mentioning Samuel Barlow and Sir Dawsonne Drake. They were involved in corruption in the 18th c. In this particular, the daughter of secretary James Bean (who married Cornelia Barlow of Acomb Hall in Yorkshire), Sophia Margaretta Bean, reveals very interesting data. She was the second wife of Mr Strong, a grandson of Mr Strong, mayor of London. Sophia Margaretta Bean died in 1845 and in her obituary reads that she was connected to the Earl of …, of the Pocock family; the children who had been, say, abandoned by their parents in Italy, the ones connected to Hershmonceaux Castle, the moment that family was losing their money in the 18th. century, that she descended from a brother of Sir Francis Drake etc, and finally that she descended from the old Grant family. So, it can be safely assumed that we are talking about the Grants.
        Janet Grant had a brother, cap. John Grant, known as the Scottish giant. I sent an email to the Grant Family site and their reply was that there were several John Grants in the family and that being a very tall man was not a noticeable characteristic, since there were and are tall men in this family. Well, they were right but did not consider the period or the feats of strength that cap. John Grant had performed etc, all this helping to narrow down who was our great-uncle cap John Grant. So, I was left with exactly the same info I already had…
        Living in Rio de Janeiro simply does not help me in the access to read the Books of Sasines for Banffshire. I must confess that I read everything and such books will certainly yield a lot of data. Marriage records, birth records, marriage bans, wills and the Sasines books must be investigated in order to cross the pieces of information, especially for Scotland, where the church records show so little info. There are books of Sasines microfilmed from 1600 to about 1848. They contain precious data for researchers and for us, too.
        Now I remember that Mrs Burton wrote that Frances the princess was the daughter of Sir Guy Fleetwood Wilson but this is totally wrong. Frances was the daughter of our great-uncle Fleetwood Pellew Wilson, who lived at 30 Portman Square, London, where now stands the Hyatt-Churchill Hotel. That was a mansion house designed by James Wyatt in about 1774 and where Frances gave her exquisite dinner parties with waterlillies and real goldfish in the middle of the dining table! She lent her house to Edwina Cornwallis-West and the Duke of Westminster to give their wedding reception and, coincidentally, she let it to George Keppel, the father to Alice Keppel. I do not know if the eventually sold it to George Keppel after letting it to him for a few years. So, that was the house where Alice Keppel entertained the King, as you must know the story.
        At the moment I think that this is what I can tell you. If you have access to the Books of Sasines for Banffshire we shall discover much more.
        I also work on our Alexander Gray and Edward Pellew Wilson’s wife, Maria Constança da Silva Freire. He was a Protestant and she was a Catholic, so there are some research hardship there, too. But I hold info on her family, a rich bourgeois family with one line of nobility which goes back to the 13thc. The Silva Freires were trying to ascend socially through the Catholic Church and were partially successful. She inherited, from her father, the Alambique da Jaqueira, a factory to produce spirits in the whereabouts of Salvador City, Bahia, Brazil. A cousin of ours, Tony-Fleetwood Wilson , whom I have known for several years, also likes genealogy and he holds some old letters mentioning Maria Constança’s fine lock of hair which she sent to her husband-to-be, so that he would not forget her. Unfortunately, the lock of hair has not survived to this day. My great-grandfather inherited the family portraits, so I have some of them here in my place but Maria Constança’s was stolen in the 1920s while my great grandfather was moving to another house here in Rio de Janeiro. He had this strange habit of living in different houses, although he had his own in the Flamengo district in Rio de janeiro City , a very good house but he often rented different houses and sometimes even lived for a month or two at hotels here in Rio.
        Great-uncle Fleetwood was born in 1809 and died in 1888. He was portrayed by Sir John Everett Millais, of the Royal Academy. Frances decided to send it to the Royal Academy when she felt she was going to die but her friend, Mrs Genadius, who was a painter and wife of the Greek minister, made a copy of it and she put it in the place where the Millais was. If you have the opportunity to check it you (and I) will know what Fleetwood looked like. I have never seen his face. The Royal Academy she mentioned must be the one in Scotland but there is another one in London. There are lots of info on portraits, too, which I can mention to you on another occasion. Tony Fleetwood Wilson also has a lot of miniatures , beautiful ones, of Barbara Gray, sister to our Jean Gray, Sir James Milne Wilson and wife, Debora Hope Degreaves etc, and his close relative, whose name I cannot remember now, has other ones in his place.
        Feel free to write to my email if you so wish. It is eduardopellew@
        yahoo.
        co.uk
        With warmest regards,
        Eduardo

        1. Dear Ms Joy Inch,
          I received an email I think it was from you, in Portuguese. However, co4rect me if I am wrong I live in Rio de Janeiro city. I read your email with great enthusiasm but I could not reply to it. There is some reference to Hugh Wilson , an engineer and businessman who lived in Salvador, Bahia. I am very interested in this gentleman. I do not know if or how he is related to me. What I do know is that Hugh Wilson and my great-uncle Alexander Pellew Wilson (1833-1918) had some ten or more ships in partnership and, lately, I have learned from a cousin who is a historian that both of them had a sort of company in Brazil which manufactured uniforms for the Confederates in the United States(!) , Can you believe it? Curiously, this great-uncle of mine, Alexander, was a knight of the Italian Order of the Crown (House of Savoy) and, since I keep his decoration in a drawer here, the decoration was made in the United States! One can read it: made in USA. But this was in the 19th century. Curious, is it not?
          There was a strange problem with my email and I have not been able to access it ever since. I had to enter a telephone number which was totally unknown to me. Not a password… I am not really computer wise and will leave such problem to an expert for I cannot lose access to my contacts in the said email. So, I decided to create a new one, which is
          epwpellew
          @gmail.com
          I will gladly reply to your email through my new email while I find someone to fix my usual email. I am isolated at home, have not been out for a long time because of this maddening Covid. My wife has been bold enough to go out a few times but my children and I have been confined.
          With best regards,
          Eduardo

      2. Dear Ms Joy Inch,
        I have lost temporary access to my usual email and created a new one, which is
        epwpellew
        @gmail.com
        I suppose you sent me an email but have not been able to reply to it since yahoo imposed a telephone number as password which I have never had.
        Hugh Wilson was then mentioned and I am very interested in info on this gentleman whom I have not yet established a family relationship with my family, although he had business on common with my great-uncle Alexander Pellew Wilson. They were partners in another shipping company, some ten ships or more. Besides, they were partners in a company which manufactured uniforms for the Confederates in the United States, so I was told by a cousin of mine who was a historian, now deceased.
        Woul you be so kind as to contact me through my new email? We could discuss more about Hugh Wilson.
        With warmest regards,
        Eduardo

  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.

    1. Dear Ms Wood,
      I do apologise for not having replied to your most kind message you sent years ago. In fact, I have not accessed this site or read the messages for a very long time.
      Thank you very much for your invitation to visit Braemar Castle. I am trying to organise a trip to Scotland but never know when. I have a couple of twins, They are six years old now but soon they will be able to travel. I live in Rio de Janeiro City, Brazil. Rio has been suffering tremendously because, besides the terrible covid-19, some of Rio de Janeiro authorities seem to be deeply involved in corruption, according to newspaper news and there are a number of people dying here at public hospitals because the authorities are not using chloroquine. The issue of making a virus political is distressing the whole world. A crisis withing another crisis, as well as the globalists and the terrorist group Antifas …they are also acting in Brazil, which China has wanted to take for many years. Communist China is a threat here now. People say that Chinese businessmen will come to Brazil in September to buy several companies. This is all madness.
      You are right when you say that it is good to put flesh on the bones. Frances and colonel Farquarson and wife were friends. They attended her wedding ceremony in 1898 at St Margaret’s, London.
      It was another world before the First World War. They did not really know what was about to come in 1914 or in 1917.
      I am at your disposal if I can be of any help regarding info on the Dolgoroukis. Already a widow in 1917, for prince Alexis died in 1915, she lost her husband’s lands in Russia. It was a lordship called Michailovka, in southern Russia, where she was on excellent and affectionate terms with the peasants, whose handwork she did show at a bazaar at Nashdom in England under the patronage of the dowager Empress of Russia, mother to Czar Nicolas II.
      With warmest regards,
      Eduardo

  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.
      Regards.
      Liz Ogilvie

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