Sir Galahad Memorial Window
At All Saints Church, Freshwater
Announcement of the death of Richard Bowland Cross in the Isle of Wight County Press, 16th September 1911
Cross—Sept. 11th, at a nursing home, Ryde, under an anaesthetic prior to a simple operation, Richard Bowland, only son of W. Bowland Cross, Freshwater Bay, aged 20 years.
This beautifully coloured window in the south wall of the church is a memorial to Richard Bowland Cross, who died aged 20 on 11th September 1911. Richard was the only son of Captain William and Amelia Bowland Cross, who owned the Freshwater Bay Hotel.
Richard’s father, William Bowland Cross, was proprietor of the Freshwater Bay Hotel, seen here on the cliff-top. This image was taken in 1910/11. (Postcard by Levy & Son Ltd)
Richard’s birth was registered in Liverpool in August 1891. His father, William Bowland Cross, was at that time captain of a cargo ship, SS Lanark, but it was wrecked off the east coast of India in 1894. After the loss of his ship, William moved with his wife, daughter and son to the Isle of Wight. Here they became proprietors first of the Royal Esplanade Hotel at Ryde and then, in 1898, of Freshwater Bay Hotel.
Richard was initially schooled on the Island but between 1903 and 1910 he boarded at Cranleigh School in Surrey. During his final year there, he was made Senior Prefect of North House. He then spent a year at Tamworth Agricultural College and Training Farm in Staffordshire and decided to emigrate to Australia to become a farmer, where the opportunities were good.
Richard was back in Freshwater with his family in summer 1911 and was finalising his plans before leaving for Australia that November. A mild hernia was causing him some concern, so he went to see a doctor in Ryde. He feared that he might be far from medical assistance if it became troublesome in Australia and that it would be best to have an operation to repair it before the journey. The doctor agreed to perform the operation and, on 9th September 1911, Richard rode to Freshwater Railway Station on his bicycle, where he took the train to Ryde, and then on to the Alexandra Nursing Home in Spencer Road. At the nursing home two days later, he was anaesthetised with chloroform but before the operation could begin, he stopped breathing. Artificial respiration was performed for half an hour but to no avail and the patient was pronounced dead.
Richard had been a fit young man and had won prizes for running as well as being a good all-round sportsman so his death was difficult to explain. The anaesthetic had been administered carefully and according to correct procedures. An examination prior to the operation had shown no enlargement or abnormalities of the heart. The verdict of the inquest was that the deceased had died under the influence of an anaesthetic, lawfully administered.
Chloroform was a commonly used anaesthetic between the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, statistics were later produced showing that sudden and unexplained deaths were occurring as often as one in every 3,000 cases and in 1911 it was discovered that chloroform could cause cardiac arrest even in healthy patients. Despite this, it continued to be used in 80% to 95% of all operations performed needing an anaesthetic between 1865 and 1920. By 1932, other, safer forms of anaesthetic had been discovered.
The funeral of Richard Bowland Cross, at All Saints Church on 15th September 1911, was well attended by the local gentry, businessmen, and members of the Parish Council, all with the deepest sympathy for Captain and Mrs Bowland Cross and their daughter in their loss. Over 20 floral tributes included those from Hallam Lord Tennyson and his wife Audrey, Lady Ritchie and Miss Hester Ritchie, Orchard Bros, the Hotel and stable staff, and the members of the Parish Council.
After Richard’s death, his parents commissioned the company Morris and Co. Decorators Ltd to produce a stained-glass window in memory of their son. This was designed by J. Henry Dearle and based on paintings by George Frederic Watts. On 13th January 1914, the newly installed window was dedicated by the Rector of All Saints Church, the Rev A. J. Robertson.
The window consists of two lights, both depicting Sir Galahad, one of the Knights of the Round Table in Arthurian legend. In the left-hand light, Sir Galahad is standing at the side of his white horse, gazing with rapt eyes on the vision of the Holy Grail, which he has been in search of and has just caught sight of in the gloom and solitude of the forest. In the right-hand light, he has lain his sword down on a table and is praying while an angel touches his hair before his soul is borne up to Heaven.
Sketch of Arthur Prinsep by George Frederic Watts 1855/56. © Watts Gallery
The face of Sir Galahad is sometimes erroneously attributed to that of Ellen Terry, Watts’s young wife, who was his model for Joan of Arc. However, Elizabeth Hutchings, in her book Busts & Titbits: Woolner Busts & Freshwater Fragments, shows a sketch made in the winter of 1855/56 by Watts of a young Arthur Prinsep with his thick mop of fair hair and this is clearly a study for the head of Sir Galahad. Arthur was the son of Thoby and Sara Prinsep, for whom Watts built The Briary in Totland. The left-hand light appears in several memorial windows around the country produced for men who died young, during war or peacetime.
Beneath each light is a quotation from Tennyson’s Idylls of the King: ‘My strength is as the strength of ten because my heart is pure’ and ‘Follow the Christ, the King, live pure, speak true, right wrong, follow the King—else wherefore born?’ Beneath the window, a brass tablet is inscribed: ‘This window is dedicated to the glory of God and in memory of Richard Bowland Cross, born 22nd August, 1991, died 11th September, 1911, by his mother, father, and sister.’
Freshwater, Yarmouth & Totland Advertiser 15th September 1911
Hutchings, E. 2007. Busts & Titbits: Woolner Busts & Freshwater Fragments. Hunnyhill Publications.
Isle of Wight County Press 16th September 1911
Isle of Wight County Press 17th January 1914 (Report on the dedication of the window)
Isle of Wight Family History Society www.isle-of-wight-fhs.co.uk
Watts Gallery, Compton, Surrey
Wreck Report for ‘Lanark’, 1894. PortCities Southampton www.plimsoll.org/resources/SCCLibraries/WreckReports/16769.asp