From the Thorley Archives

Thorley's Amazing Connections

The Pennington Files, Part Two

As a result of these 'From the Archives' articles being published on our website, we have discovered that Thorley has a direct connection with the leading French general of the First World War and also with the tradition of oranges and lemons at St. Clement Danes church in the Strand.

The Pennington Files - Part One, (March 2005) described how our Rector 1798 - 1852, Rev'd Thomas Pennington and his wife Mary Sarah (Sale) started a dynasty that, it now transpires, had far reaching connections in the church and the army. A recent e-mail from France sought biographical details of a Thorley ancestor Theodora Louisa Sparrow born in 1828, the granddaughter of Thomas Pennington and second daughter of Robert and Theodora Louisa Sparrow. It transpired that Theodora Sparrow married Marie Jacques Auguste Ange Nivelle in 1852 and that their second son Robert George Nivelle, born in Tulle, France in 1856, became a prominent general in W.W.1.

General Robert George Nivelle
is credited with the order,
issued at the battle of Verdun,
'Ils ne passeront pas'
(They shall not pass)

Robert Sparrow and Theodora Louisa (Pennington) had twelve children and their seventh son, John James Horatio Septimus Sparrow, provides the link to a second e-mail enquiry. On August 3rd 1917 the funeral was held at Thorley church of a prominent local government official, Edmund T. Watts. The service was conducted by the Rector, J.E.I. Procter and Rev W. Pennington - Bickford, (who also sent a floral tribute 'to an old family friend').

Wondering what the Pennington connection was, Philip Hargrave set about tracing a path that led back to Robert and Theodora Sparrow's seventh son. After finishing his studies at Cambridge University, John J. H. Septimus Sparrow embarked upon a career in the church that ended with him becoming the Rector of St. Clement Danes in the Strand, London (1889 - 1910). In 1886, John assumed the surname Pennington in lieu of Sparrow and was appointed to St Clement Danes as Rev'd Septimus Pennington. His daughter, Georgina Louisa, married Rev'd William Bickford in 1907 and in 1910, as William Pennington-Bickford, he was appointed to succeed his father-in-law at St. Clement Danes.

The Rev'd Pennington-Bickford and his wife 'Louie' became well-known for their devotion to their parish. He was reputed to be one of the most remarkable clergymen of his generation and an outstanding publicist. In 1919 they restored the famous bells and later in 1920 they returned to use the carillon to the tune of the well known 'oranges and lemons' nursery rhyme. On the 31st March 1920 they instituted the annual tradition of gifts of oranges and lemons to the local school children. Later, they established a respite home for local central London children at Portslade, Sussex.

Sadly their church received a direct hit from an incendiary bomb in May 1941. William Pennington - Bickford died five weeks later - it was said of shock and grief. His funeral service was held, appropriately, in the ruins of his church.

The old curate's house in Thorley Street is still known as 'Sparrow's Nest'. It would be intriguing to know what became of the remaining Sparrows / Penningtons who were christened in Thorley between 1817 and 1837. A monument behind the organ pipes in St. James commemorates Mary Sarah Pennington's grave as being located in Le Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Our French e-mail correspondent has been able to locate Mrs Pennington's death certificate. It appears that Le Père-Lachaise cemetery contains the graves of many notable members of French society.

Bill Hardy
October 2005

The Pennington Files, Part Three

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