Wandering the streets of my native Leicester, I thought I’d pay a trip to the city’s cathedral, St. Martins. Recently interred within the cathedral before the eye of the world’s media are the remains of King Richard III. Killed at the battle of Bosworth, the last Plantagenet’s remains were discovered under a car park just across the street from the cathedral.
Paying a visit to the old soldier-king’s final resting place is a must, but I was also interested in a small memorial at the opposite end of the cathedral, in an area given over to the Leicestershire Regiment. The regiment’s flags are laid up in this area alongside other plaques and memorials to Leicestershire’s fallen in conflicts such as the Crimean War, the Anglo-Boer War and the World Wars. The particular plaque I was interested in commemorated Major General Charles Guinand Blackader, CB DSO.
Major General Blackader was commissioned into The Leicestershire Regiment in 1888, serving in India, Jamaica, Nigeria and in the Anglo-Boer War where he survived the Siege of Ladysmith. Known in his regiment as ‘Old Black’, he rose to command the 2nd Battalion in 1912. In October 1914, he went to France as part of the Garlhwal Brigade (Indian Corps), was promoted again as brigade commander, and lead it through the battles of Neuve Chapelle and Loos.
I was surprised to learn that more men from Leicestershire were killed at Loos than in any other battle before or since, as I always believed that the Somme would have accounted for more. At Loos, in the three days from September 25 to 28 from the 2nd Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment 72 men were killed, 217 wounded, 42 were gassed, and 96 were recorded as missing. My ancestor, great uncle John Neale was one of those men recorded initially as “missing”, but identified by a dog tag when re-interred in 1921.
Outside the cathedral was a fascinating headstone, which I’d glimpsed on previous visits. Before ‘the last Plantagenet’ was buried to such great fanfare, the graveyard of the cathedral was somewhat run-down, home to scattered ancient gravestones and the occasional drunk. It has since been made fit for a king (and a television audience) with the gravestones seemingly all tidied up and placed in areas all facing east, much as King Richard’s rather grander tomb does within the cathedral.
The headstone that captures my attention belongs (unsurprisingly – this is Suburban Militarism after all) to an old soldier and includes a remarkably wordy and detailed epitaph which I reproduce below:
Beneath are deposited the remains of Richard Braginton, Quarter Master Serjeant (sic) of the South Devon Militia who expired suddenly in this town on his march to Nottingham in the night of the 15th of February 1812 after retiring to rest in perfect health AGED 60 YEARS.
He served 40 in the said regiment with unabated zeal, diligence and loyalty to the king and firm attachment to his country. While his private conduct was especially commendable for Rectitude, Probity and Sobriety.
He was esteem’d by his Officers and beloved by his fellow Soldiers. To perpetuate the remembrance of his worth. This Stone was caus’d to be erected by his Colonel Lord ROLLE.
Reader! may this additional Example of the awful uncertainty of Life prove a warning to thee to prepare for a similar fate, by a faithful discharge of the duties of thy station; and by an humble reliance on the merits of thy Redeemer.
The sponsor of this impressively complementary and detailed eulogy, was the old soldier’s regimental colonel; John, 1st Baron Rolle.
Lord Rolle was, in addition to being an MP, the colonel of the South Devon Militia. He was apparently also involved for the formation of Devon’s two yeomanry regiments; the Royal 1st Devon Yeomanry and the North Devon Yeomanry. Rolle had enlisted in the South Devon Militia as an ensign and worked (or paid) his way up to command the regiment. His service included taking the militia over to Ireland in 1796 to suppress a rebellion there. QM Sergeant Richard Braginton would have no doubt been a part of this expedition.
The death of Richard Braginton was recorded in a local paper thus:
The Leicester Journal, and Midland Counties General Advertiser, 21 February 1812
On Sunday last, the Sergeant Major of the South Devon Militia, passing through this town, with the regiment, was found dead by the side of his comrade in bed, without envincing any previous indisposition; he was buried the next day with military honours.
The headstone contained something of a mystery. Why were the South Devon Militia marching all the way to Nottingham via Leicester? Research tells me that they were on their way to suppress a violent uprising, Lord Rolle leading his militia as ‘part of a larger force to suppress a Luddite rebellion’. The Luddite movement had its roots in Nottingham.
Rolle’s obvious high regard for his old Quarter Master Sergeant apparently didn’t end with a detailed and warmly eulogistic gravestone in the grounds of St Martin’s cathedral in Leicester. His involvement continued with Richard Braginton’s heirs;
He appointed his son Richard II Braginton (1784–1869) as steward of Stevenstone, and the latter’s son George Braginton (1808–1886), a merchant and banker, mayor of Great Torrington, was in 1830 Lord Rolle’s agent for the Rolle Canal of which he purchased a lease in 1852, ten years after Lord Rolle’s death.
It’s curious that the car park under which Richard III’s remains were discovered is just across the street from Richard Braginton’s headstone – a stone’s throw away. The old soldier can scarcely have guessed that his remains would have been buried so near to that of a king of England, and furthermore that his own spectacularly effusive epitaph would be in such stark contrast to the monarch’s poor, forgotten and unmarked grave.