Cemeteries and graveyards, full of love, betrayal, tragic deaths, murder, and suicide. What will you find?

Friday 28 June 2013

Flashback Friday - Sir Stanley Spencer of Cookham

**Originally posted 19th June 2012**

Gravestone of Sir Stanley Spencer CBE RA, Holy Trinity Churchyard, Cookham Berkshire.

"To The Memory Of
Stanley Spencer
1891 - 1959
And his wife
Buried in Cookham Cemetery 1950

Everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God.  He that loveth not knoweth not God for God is love - 1 John 4:7"

Sir Stanley Spencer was born at Fernlea, High Street, Cookham on 30th June 1891 to William, a music teacher and Anne Caroline Spencer nee Slack.  On the that day a crow fell down the chimney and flapped about the living room until released. The family thought it a good omen and named Stanley after Stanley Spencer, a prominent balloonist of the era.


Much of Stanley's early education was at the village school run by his sisters, he eventually attended Maidenhead Technical School where his artistic training began, before enrolling at Slade School of Fine Art at University College, London.  Here he won the Composition Prize for ‘The Nativity’, and oil on canvas painted in 1912

The Nativity - 1912

In 1915 Stanley volunteered to serve with the Royal Army Medical Corps where he served as a orderly at The Beaufort War Hospital.  In 1916 he volunteered to serve with the Royal Army Medical Corps in Macedonia where he served with the 68th Field Ambulance Unit.  He later requested to be transferred to the Berkshire Regiment.  Stanley's experience of the horrors of war were to forever mark his attitude towards live and death, an influence that can be seen in many of his religious paintings.

Towards the end of the Great War Stanley was commissioned by the the War Artists Advisory Committee to paint visions of war from Macedonia.  Stanley painted what is now referred to as 'Travoys Arriving with Wounded at a Dressing Station at Smol.'  The painting is kept at the Imperial War Museum.

Travoys Arriving with Wounded at a Dressing Station at Smol

In 1925 Stanley married Hilda Carline, who at that time was a student of Slade School of Fine Art.  They had two daughters together, Shirin and Unity. 

Hilda, Unity and Dolls - 1937

However Hilda and Stanley were to divorce in 1837 when the girls were 7 and 11 due to Stanley's obsession with another woman, Patricia Preece.  A week after his divorce Stanley had married Patricia, but it was not to be a happy marriage.  Patricia was a con artist and a lesbian, whose interest in Stanley only extended as far as his money.  She somehow managed to persuade Stanley to sign over his house to her.  Patricia continued to live with her lover Dorothy Hepworth and the marriage was never consummated, yet when her 'relationship' with Stanley fell apart she refused to grant him a divorce. 

Hepworth, Preece, Spencer and guest
at Stanley's wedding to Patricia Preece in 1937

Stanley was to forever regret his decision to leave Hilda and his daughters for Patricia.  When Hilda's mental health began to fail, Stanley would visit her, but the damage to their relationship was already done.  In 1950 Hilda died of cancer.  Stanley continued to write love letters to Hilda long after her death.  In 1945 Stanley had moved to Cliveden View House in Cookham Rise, a house built by his builder grandfather Julius Spencer and previously lived in by his sister Annie.

Stanley was to become a familiar sight in Cookham, pushing a battered black pram that contained his canvas and easel.
Sir Stanley Spencer with his pram in Cookham Lane - 1958

In 1959 Stanley was knighted, later that year on 14th December he died of cancer at The Canadian Red Cross Memorial Hospital in Taplow Buckinghamshire.

1954 Portrait of Sir Stanley Spencer by Ida Kar
© National Portrait Gallery, London



  1. I love to see the old headstone in village churchyards - people have told me it's creepy but there's nothing to be scared of. My parents ashes are in the churchyard of the village where they lived and I find it a very peaceful place to visit.
    Hannah and Lucy's Mum Sue

    1. Beneath Thy Feet28 June 2013 at 13:25

      Thank you for visiting my blog and taking the time to comment. I have always found cemeteries and graveyards peaceful places. Yet I cannot quite put my finger on what their draw is for me. I guess it's a number of things, not just one.

  2. I have lots of Spencer's in my tree, so I really enjoyed this!

    1. Beneath Thy Feet29 June 2013 at 11:36

      Thank you for visiting my blog and taking the time to comment. I have also researched the life of Stanley's cousin Daisy Spencer.


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