This week I don't bring news of newly visited Prime Ministerial graves, so I thought I'd explore those I won't be able to see. To my knowledge, no Presidential graves in the United States are off limits, but the mother country does things differently and, by my calculations, has two that are off limits to bucket-listers.
One of the earliest British Prime Ministers, the 1st Earl of Wilmington (1673-1743) is interred in the estate chapel at Compton Wyngates in South Warwickshire. The Elizabethan manor house to which the chapel belongs used to be open to the public, but not since the 1960s. It's now a fully private residence inhabited by Lord Northampton. The church is only open when the house is open – which is never.
A bit of online research revealed that roads to the house and estate buildings are marked 'private', with the latter even specifically highlighting 'no access to church'. The closest I'd be able to get is on a walk passing the front entrance of Compton Wyngates and up onto the ridge behind the house. Which is disappointing, for the chapel sounds interesting. It dates from the Restoration, having been damaged during the (English) Civil War. It has high box-pews and a pulpit located halfway down the aisle.
The 1st Earl of Wilmington's family name was Compton, thus his connection to the Tudor manor house. He is considered to have been the second premier of Great Britain after Sir Robert Walpole, having served as a member of the English, and subsequently British, House of Commons. A Whig, he served continuously in government from 1715 until his death in 1743.
One of Wilmington's pre-premiership positions, unusually, was Speaker of the House of Commons, a position he held for 12 years. Some considered him lax in the Chair, while one contemporary called him 'a plodding, heavy fellow, with great application but no talents'. It was Walpole who created Compton a Baron in order to remove him from the Lower House. Two years later, in 1730, he was upgraded to Viscount Pevensey and the Earl of Wilmington.
Wilmington succeeded Sir Robert as First Lord of the Treasury in January 1742. His reputation appears to have improved by this point, becoming known as a forceful and hard-working premier, though one with a reputation for taking action without first having reached consensus. He died without 'issue' and thus his titles died with him. The Wilmington name lives on, however, in the eponymous cities of Delaware and North Carolina.
My second inaccessible premier is Lord John Russell, 1st Earl Russell, who served as Prime Minister twice in the early Victorian era (1846-52 and 1865-66). The third son of the Duke of Bedford, Russell was educated at Westminster School and Edinburgh University. It's the Duke of Bedford connection which makes viewing Earl Russell's burial place all but impossible.
Judging by Google Images, the Bedford Chapel looks incredible, but it remains the private family mausoleum for their Graces and the wider Russell family. I contacted the Deputy Curator of Woburn Abbey to ask if I could see it, but she told me that 'requests' for access are 'submitted to His Grace to consider on a case by case basis, in order to retain this as a private and personal space, appropriate to its function, rather than an attraction'.
This struck me as fair enough – there's nothing obliging the owner of a property to permit access to perfect strangers. But there was more. Further to the submission of requests, potential visitors would also be requested to contribute two charitable donations: a modest sum towards the upkeep and maintenance of St Michael's Church, and an identical sum towards the Tavistock Trust for Aphasia. Both worthy recipients, no doubt, but not an outlay I could really justify for a quick glimpse of the Russells (including Bertrand). Besides, I was informed that no photography would be permitted inside the chapel.
Earl Russell had a more substantial career than his 18th-century predecessor. The principal architect of the 1832 Great Reform Act, he was one of the main promoters of parliamentary reform throughout the 19th century. As Home Secretary, he reduced the number of criminal offences punishable by death, leaving only murder and high treason. This was pretty liberal by Victorian standards. Some, however, regarded Russell as aristocratic and out of touch, although Charles Dickens held him in high enough esteem to dedicate his novel, A Tale of Two Cities
, in 'remembrance of many public services and private kindnesses'.
Lord John Russell was the last Whig Prime Minister and died in 1878 in Richmond Park, London. He's buried at the aforementioned Bedford Chapel at St Michael's Church in Chenies, described by Nikolaus Pevsner as the 'richest single storehouse of funeral monuments in any parish church in England'. It sounds beguiling, it's just a shame I won't get to see it.