The words “Part of Our History” written in the St. Lawrence’s Visitors Book are partly responsible for this article. They were written by David Legrew Hesse when he and his wife, Jerri, visited the Ancient Church. David is a descendant of the 19th century Rector of St Lawrence’s – the Reverend James Legrew M.A. – and he sent us a very impressive family tree. The information gleaned from him and from various other sources enabled this article about James Legrew and his family to be written.
James Legrew was born on December 16th 1769 in Stewart Street, Spitalfields, London. He was the son of Obadiah and Martha, nee Hesse. Obadiah was a weaver and was descended from a family of Huguenot refugees. James was ordained deacon at Norwich in December 1792 ands priested a year later. In 1792 he became the curate of Wetherden, Suffolk which is where, I assume, he met his wife to be, Elizabeth Harrison. She had been born at Wetherden in January 1771 and died in September 1825 at Ramsgate, Kent, ‘after a lingering illness’. This is how her demise is described on her memorial in St Lawrence’s church. The lovely monument, which depicts a kneeling woman, was made by her son James who became a sculptor. But more of him at a later date.
In 1830 James became Rector of Chaldon church and a year later Rector of Caterham as well. However, the church register shows that he was already an officiating minister at St. Lawrence’s in 1797. He was bequeathed the advowson of St. Lawrence’s by his grandfather, Solomon Hesse, in his will of December 1792 and it remained in the family until 1951 when it was relinquished to the Bishop of Southwark under the Advowson Act.
At St. Lawrence’s we have much to thank James Legrew for. In 1832 he shared the cost of the new church porch and vestry with the Lord of the Manor, Charles Day. A year later he paid £11 for the iron gates and pillars which we still pass through today as we enter the churchyard on the south side of the church. His name is on several pieces of church silver including a flagon given to the church by his family after his death.
James died at Caterham on 5th August 1856 and was buried at St. Lawrence’s on 11th August, aged 86.
There is a lovely description of James Legrew reproduced in the Bourne Society’s Local History Record, volume eight. It was written by James Balch who wrote an account of life in Caterham from about 1856. He himself was born in 1845.
“The Rector the Rev. James Legrew was a quaint old gentleman of the old school, who wore black breeches and gaiters like our Bishops wear at the present day. He was very kind-
James and Elizabeth Legrew had five children: Jemima Anne (1798); James (1803); Eliza (1805); Frederick (1810) and Arthur (1812). The Parish Register shows that all five children were privately baptised and later received into the church.
James (junior) was born on 5th October 1803. He was well educated and seemed to have a flair for foreign languages, including Hebrew and Syriac. However, his leaning was towards sculpture which he studied at the Royal Academy under Sir Francis Leggatt Chantrey. He was awarded an R.A. silver medal in 1824 and a gold in 1829. Records show that he exhibited some 30 pieces of sculpture at the R.A. It is no wonder then that the memorial to his mother, which he made in 1832 after her untimely death, is so beautiful.
It is disappointing to learn from the R.A. that, although James must have been quite successful in his day, he isn’t listed among the R.A. greats. Whether he knew that his talent wasn’t quite top knotch and this preyed on his mind is not known, but something pushed him into taking his own life. He died at his home in Kensington in September 1857 and was buried at Caterham in September, aged 54.
Sadly, the fourth child, Frederick, only lived for four months. He was buried at Caterham on 28th February 1811. Of the two remaining sons, James (junior) became an eminent sculptor and Arthur followed his father into the priesthood.
Arthur, the youngest member of the Legrew family, was educated at Charterhouse and then at the age of 18 he went to Cambridge University. There he studied at his father’s Alma Mater, St John’s College, and gained his B.A. in 1835 and M.A. in 1838. In 1835 he was ordained as a deacon at Winchester and was priested the following year, when he became the curate at Chaldon church. Following his father’s death in 1856 he briefly became Rector of Caterham.
Unlike the rest of his family, Arthur married and had children. He married twice; firstly to Sarah Hedger on 7th May 1840 and secondly to Emma Frere on 15th December 1849. He had five children in all, 2 sons and 3 daughters. He died young, aged 45, while at Nice on 9th March 1857, six months before his brother James.
The years 1856 and 1857 must have been sad ones for Jemima and Eliza, for they had lost their father and two brothers in the space of 13 months. The Caterham census returns show that they remained unmarried and lived at the Rectory in Caterham.