Pixley sepulchre

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Pixley sepulchre


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The sepulchre


This article by Trevor Labey was first published in the 1992 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise


In the Archives Section report for 1983 the late Joan Stevens mentioned the donation to the Société of an heraldic carving which, she averred, was identical with that hewn in marble on the face of a tomb, or sepulchre, raised to commemorate Thomas Labey (1810-68), among others.

As a member of a more junior branch of Thomas's family, the history of the sepulchre, its creators and owners has always intrigued me. As it is among the most imposing sights to be encountered in Saint Clement's Churchyard or, indeed, among any of the Island's cemeteries, I have always believed that it is a subject which deserved more attention. As the story of this monument comprises at least three quite separate topics I shall be examining them under three different headings.


The Sepulchre

Commanding the end of the avenue in the western extension to St Clement's Churchyard, the sepulchre cannot but captivate the attention of both the casual traveller making his way along Grande Route de Saint Clement, or the more committed visitor who comes to pay his respects at the grave of a relative or friend. There can be little doubt that, because of this prominent position, the owner of this monument paid dearly for the underlying plot, as well as for what was to be built upon it. Styled in the form of a very small classical temple, its facade is dominated by a marble portico of three pillars supporting a triangular pediment.

At the back of this portico is the southern wall of a small chamber, which was designed to shelter both the mourners and the tribute they brought. However, as the floor of this chamber may have been designed to be easily removed for the interment of further occupants, it was not as sturdy as more permanent structures. By the beginning of the last decade it had collapsed and posed a threat to unsuspecting members of the public. During the process of restoration in recent years the entrance to this chamber was sealed and, as a result, the principal source of interest is now the facade of the southern wall and the details included on the portico.

The pillars were not made after the example of any particular order, but close examination does reveal that simple garlands of ivy have been carved onto the surface of them just beneath their very limited capitals. There is no discernible reason why this plant should have been chosen for any symbolic significance, and the only intention may have been to imitate similar foliage on classical ruins whose state of desolation appealed so much to the Victorian love of the picturesque.

In the midst of the pediment is an elaborate Latin cross surrounded by curving branches, whose stock of leaves is very difficult to identify. The portico shelters the southern wall which is bedecked not only by the aforementioned coat of arms, which we shall be examining later, but also by two full-size angels and a small table. Each angel stands in front of an arched alcove on which the words "Listen, Listen, The Angles of Heaven ... Their sweet voices reclaim you" have been inscribed. These figures are supported by substantial plinths, their feet resting on marble surfaces carved to resemble billowing clouds.

The left-hand figure nurses a wreath whose contents have been eroded beyond recognition, while the other, clutching a valveless trumpet in one hand, points heavenward. Careful examination of these figures reveals that there is a minor inconsistency in their composition, for while the cloak of the left-hand figure has a plain strap around its waist, its companion has a strap which has been embellished with stars. We have a very slight suggestion here that the two figures may have been carved by separate masons for it is only logical to assume that, in detail if not in overall form, a single statuary would have striven for a certain uniformity when carving a pair of complementary figures.

It is possible, therefore, that, in order to expedite the tomb's completion to suit the order of his customer, the master of the yard assigned more than one of his colleagues to this commission. Although they are very satisfactory figures, one is forced to admit that they are more the result of fine workmanship than the products of genius, for no amount of detail can compensate for a fundamental lack of suppleness in their form. One cannot escape a sense of how their composition was determined more by the masons' knowledge of their limitations than by any great, creative vision. Nevertheless, both the figures and the sepulchre as a whole serve as an impressive testimony to one of the most successful firms of monumental masons in Victorian Jersey.

Sign above Pixley yard in Parade Place

The Masons

The name Pixley carved on the plinth of the central column attests to the fact that this sepulchre was created at the yards of Edward Pixley and his family, he being a mason and statuary who not only advertised his services for the completion of tombs and gravestones, but also for a multiplicity of more cheerful household ornaments. In order to sustain this diverse range of products, Edward was obliged to maintain a sizeable staff and at the time of his death, shortly after the completion of this sepulchre, he is known to have employed a total of 15 hands.

The extent of his commercial success can be gauged by the size of the estate which he left to his surviving children. Besides his principal premises at 34 The Parade and 30 Parade Place, there was also a total of ten houses in Savile Street, St Helier, many of which he had built, and 13 Aquila Road. His dedication, however, was by no means restricted to his business interests. Although not born in Jersey, he chose to take as active a part in its civic life as any of his more indigenous contemporaries. Research has proved that he was involved with the Honorary Police, the beginnings of the Fire Brigade in St Helier, an obscure private school and a commercial association. However, to discover the origins of this apparently tireless man one must look some distance away from the community to which he devoted so much of his energy.

Edward Pixley was born in Gibraltar on 20 July 1793, and baptised at the King's Chapel there, son of Bartholomew Pixley, a bombardier in the Second Battalion of the Royal Artillery, by Sarah his wife. As no evidence has surfaced to suggest that either of his parents ever lived in Jersey, there is a strong possibility that Edward came to this island alone shortly before 1809 when 16 years of age. At the time of his death in 1871 it was claimed that he had been appointed Sergeant of the St Helier Grenadiers at this age but, as more contemporary evidence suggests otherwise, the only conclusion one can draw from this claim of precocity is that he was present in the island at that time.

The Militia Census of 1815 proves that Edward Pixley, a 23-year-old soldier, resided in the Vingtaine du Rouge Bouillon, Saint Helier, and was thus already very near to where he would become established in later years. On 15 September 1821 Edward bought a house and appurtenances from the attorney of James Le Gallais, which situation was described as being to the east of the Military Parade. Later evidence proves that this deed of sale represented the first of a total of three acquisitions marking the evolution of 34 The Parade and adding a certain amount of authority to the claim made by his commercial successors that the business was established in 1822.

By 1842 Edward was sufficiently esteemed in the local business community to be appointed president of the Mechanics' Institute and Commercial Association which, at that time, was based in Beresford Street. However, it is known that this association bore no relation to its modern namesake and, as a result, only the most rudimentary evidence of its existence has survived. All we do know is that it charged its members ten shillings a year and that, in return, it offered a circulating library of some 1,500 volumes.

The sepulchre's heraldic carving

Fire Brigade

Shortly after this time, on 15 October 1845, the Parish Assembly of Saint Helier declared its intention to form a parochial Fire Brigade comprising 26 men. Among the engines at the service's disposal was one donated by the West of England Company and stationed at the Esplanade Foundry. As this would have been a mere stone's throw away from The Parade, it is not surprising to learn that among the volunteers who were accepted for recruitment was none other than Edward Pixley.

This involvement may have coincided with Edward's ownership of the Providence School for Boys, a very minor institution, which never figured under that name in any of the local almanacs of the time. It must have suffered from Edward's other commitments for on 18 September 1847 it was sold to Philippe de Gruchy, son of Noe. Undoubtedly the zenith of Edward's civic career was reached on 3 November 1849, when he was sworn in as Centenier of Saint Helier. As the parish's political life was the subject of some detailed study by the journalists of the time, we can follow the story of Edward's term of office quite closely.

His predecessor, Francois Robilliard, had retired from the post on the grounds of "pressing mercantile avocations" and in the ensuing election Edward Pixley romped home with a hefty majority of 132 votes over his nearest rival, John Ching, of Broad Street. Such was his reputation at this time that even the usually reticent reporters of The Jersey Times remarked: "We congratulate the town public on the accession of so desirable an officer as Mr Pixley to the foremost rank of its police". Nevertheless, advancing age and the very same pressures which had brought down his predecessor, precluded Edward from standing for re-election, despite the praise of La Chronique de Jersey and pleas from a delegation of his supporters.

Besides being a successful businessman and respected citizen, Edward was also father to a total of eight children by Marie Guiton, his wife, daughter of Francois Guiton and Anne Pequin. Of the four sons that survived to maturity the eldest Edward and his immediate junior, Peter, succeeded to their father's business and kept the Pixley yards open until the 1890s, Edward's main premises at 34 The Parade being sold to Alfred Gulliver in 1891.

The Pixley flair for business was certainly shared by the wife of Edward Pixley jnr, Mary Ann Thompson, a remarkable woman who was quite clearly an entrepreneur in her own right as one of the Misses Thompson, milliners, of 14 Beresford Street who, in 1871, employed a total of 24 hands. Of Edward Pixley senior's two daughters, the eldest, Mary Sarah, wife of Clement du Parcq, also deserves mention as paternal grandmother to Lord Herbert du Parcq.

When Edward died at the age of 78 on 31 July 1871, his family's sense of loss was shared by many of their contemporaries. La Chronique de Jersey praised his selfless devotion to his community and it is a mark of their esteem for a man who was essentially an outsider that they awarded him with the title un jersiais. Therefore, when we come to consider the story of this man's life, it is only right that we should refer to the grand monument in Saint Clement's churchyard as the Pixley Sepulchre, for it is as much a memorial to this assiduous Victorian, who built a business, family and civic career entirely from the results of his own efforts, as it is to the plethora of families mentioned in its inscriptions and coat of arms.

The owners and their arms

The inscription on the southern wall of the Pixley sepulchre provides a fair bit of information about Edward Pixley's customer, her husband and parents. It was erected, we are told, by Marie Noel, of L'Aiguillon, Grouville, daughter of Philippe Noel and Anne Vaudin, his wife. It is known that Marie's father died some years before the completion of this memorial, but as Marie's mother, Anne, lived to what was, by the standards of the time, the handsome age of 84 and died on 5 February 1871, the privilege of being laid to rest in this grand tomb was extended to her as well. The inscription also acclaims Thomas Labey as "one of the descendants of the Anquetil family, many members of which had been buried in the Church of this parish", also stating that his grandfather, George Labey, was the last to be laid to rest in that place in the year 1787.

If one looks at the coat of arms, a splendid piece of work by any standards, one can see that the tale of both Thomas and Marie's ancestry is laid out in some detail. As Mrs Stevens has established already, the arms in question were those of the Labey, Anquetil, Falle, Messervy, Vaudin and Le Brun families, the first four being a reference to Thomas's ancestry and the latter two to Marie's forebears. In particular the arms of Anquetil, Messervy, Falle and Labey help to remind us of the successive owners of the property now known as St Clement's Farm, home to Thomas's grandfather, uncle and elder brother.

At the beginning of the 18th century that property was owned by Thomas Anquetil, Procureur de Bien Public of Saint Clement from 1702-09 and, in 1708, Lieutenant in the Jersey Militia. By his wife, Elizabeth de Carteret, Thomas is known to have had a son and two daughters - Helier, Marie and Elizabeth. At the death of Helier Anquetil in 1711 his sister, Marie Anquetil, succeeded to the property as the eldest of his two sisters and thus conferred its ownership on her own heirs, the children of her marriage to George Messervy. George originated from Faldouet in Saint Martin where he had owned a farm, a property which he subsequently sold to his brother, Amice, on 1 August 1713.

He rose to a position of some prominence, being appointed solicitor by the Royal Court in 1713 and was also, at one time, Quartermaster of the Eastern Regiment of the Militia. In 1735 he was appointed as Lecteur to his adopted parish, but in this post he served only for three years, for he died in 1738 at the age of around 51. George and Marie's eldest son, Helier Messervy, having predeceased his mother in 1725, the majority of her estate passed, at her death in 1763, to his younger brother, Thomas. Thomas, in turn, married Rachel Falle, daughter of Philippe Falle of the Vingtaine de Saint Nicolas, St Peter, by Elisabeth Hamptonne his wife.

By Rachel, Thomas became father to four daughters and it was the eldest of these, Marie Messervy, who married George Josue Labey at St Clement's Church on 31 July 1773. The couple's marriage survived for only 14 years as George was already over 50 years of age when he married. At the time of his death George Josue Labey was buried in St Clement's Church, an interment which took place on 21 September 1787, as averred by the aforementioned inscription. The then Lecteur of St Clement, Jean Le Neveu, diligently recorded the fact that George Josue's mortal remains were laid to rest beneath the pew of the heirs of the late Thomas Filleul, a privilege which would have come to George as great grandson of Sara Filleul, daughter of Thomas Filleul of St Clement.

When one comes to examine the story of Thomas Lahey's own life, however, one can see little, beyond the bereavement of his devoted widow, to justify the construction of such a grand monument. The intensity of her sense of loss is strongly emphasised by the following verse among the inscriptions on Thomas's equally dramatic tomb:

The only one who made, here on earth, my happiness
Has gone away to heaven with his dear Saviour
And from that high rest contemplates my sadness,
He calls me to that place of joy and of cheerfulness

Born in 1810, Thomas was baptised at Grouville Church on 6 May of that year, third son of Philippe Labey and Elizabeth Le Feuvre his wife. As Philippe was only the second son of George Josue Labey and Marie Messervy, and as his eldest brother, George Labey (1774-1847), inherited the bulk of his parents' estate, Philippe would have had to forge his own livelihood from the products of his own schemes and labours.

A deed of sale dated 10 September 1836 proves that when Thomas's eldest brother, Philippe, bought his brothers' shares in their father's estate, the value of their portions came to a modest 34 quarters in rentes. It was not until 1851, when the divisions of his mother's and uncle George's estates were ratified finally by the heirs and the pertinent transactions passed before the Royal Court, that Thomas's estate would have yielded a fair income. By that time it comprised a total of 48 quarters of rente and two fields in Saint Clement, the former bringing in just over £37 every Michaelmas Day. As Thomas and his wife were sheltered in the care of his eldest brother Philippe at Le Marais a la Cocque, Grouville, his expenses would have been minimal, thus allowing him to live in a state of modest but rather artificial gentility. The only noteworthy event in Thomas Labey's life was his election to the post of Centenier of Grouville on 13 November 1852. However, neither this event, the end of his term in office in 1858, or even his death ten years later on 15 January 1868, drew any comment from the contemporary media.

A similar shroud of obscurity envelops the lives of his wife's family, the Noels of L'Aiguillon, Grouville. Marie Noel was baptised at Grouville Church on 22 June 1817, and belonged to a family which, during the second half of the 19th century, rose to prominence in terms of material wealth, if little else. Her only brother Philippe, while a landowning farmer like the majority of his contemporaries, appears to have been involved in minor banking schemes. The name of Philippe Noel appears beside that of Amice Bertram as partners in a scheme which ran under the rather misleading name of the Grouville Parish Bank and, as one Amice Bertram was once the owner of Le Parcq, Grouville, a property just down the road from L'Aiguillon, we have good cause to believe that the Philippe Noel in question was indeed brother-in-law to Thomas Labey. Marie's eldest sister Elizabeth was an active landowner in her own right and, in 1856, became the owner of Le Carrefour au Clercq, Grouville, as receiver to the estate of Elizabeth Nicolle. Although this particular property was sold to her brother Philippe ten years later, in 1866, she continued to dabble in the property market until 1875.

Marie herself survived her husband by some 16 years, spending her last days at Maitland Cottage in Grande Route de Saint Clement but, sadly, was to meet with a rather unpleasant end. The civil registers of the time prove that she died on 20 April 1884, from gangrene of the foot. As Marie and all her siblings died without issue, the remains of their accreted estates became the subject of complex litigation after the death of the survivor, the youngest daughter Jeanne, on 15 July 1885. The legal documentation relating to the final settlement of this estate helps us to draw a fairly detailed account of the family's lineage and, from this, establish the story of their presence at L'Aiguillon. It would appear that this began on 24 May 1766, when Nicolas Nicolle sold a house and appurtenances in the Fief du Roi, Grouville, to Jean Noel son of Edmond.

However, never could Jean have imagined the extent to which his Victorian descendants would accumulate property as a result of these ostensibly modest beginnings. When the Noel estate was finally divided between the two principal heirs, namely Hannah Elizabeth Noel and the Reverend Thomas Le Neveu, the residue comprised L'Aiguillon, a house immediately to the north of L'Aiguillon on the other side of Rue Malo, Carrefour au Clerq, 1 to 4 Garden Lane, 29 George Street, and 12 Windsor Road in St Helier, together with just over 106 quarters of rente.

L'Aiguillon itself still bears evidence of the Noel's presence in the very fabric of its buildings, but of all the datestones to be found there none has caused more confusion than that which is inscribed with the text 17 EVD MLB 33. There can be little doubt that this represents Edouard Vaudin of Trinity who, on 25 April 1714, married Marie Le Brun of St Saviour at Trinity Church. As the principal heir to her brother, Thomas Le Brun, Marie inherited a property in the Fief de Gorges ou Bagot, St Saviour, which Thomas had bought from Estienne Dolbel on 4 September 1701. It was this same property, or whatever structure succeeded it, which was inherited by Marie Noel's first cousin, Jean Philippe Aubin, ECL after the death of her uncle Jean Vaudin, only surviving son of Edouard Vaudin.

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