THE LIFE OF A VICTORIAN RECTOR IN RURAL SUFFOLK
© Sarah Doig and Suffolk Family History Society 2010
The beautiful round tower church of Rickinghall Inferior in mid-Suffolk is perhaps unremarkable in that it contains various memorials both in the church and in the churchyard to its incumbents and their families. However, the memorials to the family of Richard Compton Maul are particularly intriguing and I was therefore prompted to research the family history of this Rector. The results paint a vivid yet painful picture of the life of Revd. Maul. As this was a local history project rather than a personal one (I have no family connection to the Mauls), all the sources I used were either available for free on the internet or accessible at the Suffolk Record Office. It just goes to show how detailed a family picture one can draw up without spending any money.
Richard Compton Maul was baptised on 10 August 1821 in Brisley, Norfolk where his father, the Revd. John Maul (Abt. 1770-1838), was the Rector. Like his elder brother, John Compton, Richard's middle name derived from his mother, Ester (1789-1843), daughter of Thomas Compton. Richard also had an elder sister, Charlotte Ester (1820-1892) and a younger brother, Spencer Woodfield (1825-1861). After having enjoyed a comfortable middle-class upbringing and a sound education, all three of John and Ester's sons followed their father to Cambridge. John Compton became a lawyer whilst the other two sons both entered the church following their graduation. Richard was ordained as a deacon in 1845 and as a priest by the Bishop of Norwich on 25 January 1846. Between 1846 and 1850 he served as Curate at Somerleyton in Suffolk and Thelveton, Norfolk. He married Sophia Lee French, daughter of Thomas French of Eye, Suffolk in 1846.
Richard and Sophia's first three children - Richard Compton French (1847-1874), Sophia Charlotte French (1848-1870) and John Frederic (1849-1915) - were born and baptised (by Richard himself) while they were living in Thelveton. In 1850 Richard's elder brother, John, generously bought for him the livings of the parishes of Rickinghall Inferior and Rickinghall Superior, and so Richard and Sophia moved their family from Norfolk to the Rectory in Hinderclay Road, Rickinghall Inferior (depicted in this undated photograph) where they set about extending the property in order to house their growing family. It was during Richard's time as Rector in Rickinghall that his three youngest children - daughters Florence Mary (1851-Aft. 1915), Clara Joanna (1854-Aft. 1915) and Sybil Compton (1861-Aft. 1931) - were born and baptised.
Rickinghall in the second half of the nineteenth century was a village dominated by agriculture. There were also many businesses and public houses along the main street due to the fact that it lay on one of the main East Anglian coaching routes. One of the Revd. Maul's major contributions to the parishes was undoubtedly his genorosity in giving over a piece of his glebe land adjacent to the churchyard at Rickinghall Inferior for the building of a National School (which opened in 1853). According to the school log books (which commence in 1863) Richard and his eldest daughter, Sophia, were regular visitors to the school, helping with the teaching of Religious Education and other activities. The Maul family also played a key role in cultural events held in the village and some delightful accounts of concerts and the like can be found in back copies of The Bury and Norwich Post.
On 15 February 1861 Richard suffered the loss of his younger brother, Spencer Woodfield, at the tragically young age of 26. Spencer was unmarried and was no doubt close to Richard given that they had both followed their father's calling into the church. At the time of his death, Spencer had been Rector of Drinkstone, Suffolk for less than two years and, although I can find no proof, it is very likely that Richard decided to lay Spencer to rest in Rickinghall Inferior churchyard (rather than in Drinkstone) so as to ensure that he was near his family.
It is evident that Thursday 2 June 1870 was one of the happiest days ever for the Maul family. Richard proudly led his eldest daughter, Sophia Charlotte French, down the aisle of Rickinghall Superior church on the occasion of her marriage to George Badeley Marke. There is a simply wonderful account in the local newspaper of the ceremony and of the associated festivities in the village. However, it was during Sophia and George's honeymoon in Switzerland that tragedy struck. Exactly two months after their wedding day, and at the tender age of just 22 years old, Sophia lost her life in a climbing accident on Mont Blanc. Her body was never recovered and, despite a search of all available records, her death seems not to have been recorded as expected by the relevant British Consulate. This sad event was covered by the national press in Britain and a first-hand, anonymous account was published in The Times of 16 August 1870. Such was her family's grief at her loss, that the stained glass of the east window in Rickinghall Inferior church is dedicated to her memory. The inscription reads: "To the glory of God and the memory of Sophie his dear wife George Badeley Marke Esq. of Wood Hill Liskeard Cornwall affectionately dedicates this window. She was the eldest daughter of the Rev. R.C. Maul Rector of this parish and lies asleep beneath the snows of Mont Blanc where she accidentally met her death August 2nd 1870 aged 22 years'.
After having suffered the severe blow of losing their eldest daughter, Richard and Sophia undoubtedly continued to ensure that they gave their other five children the best possible start in life. By the time of the 1871 census Richard Compton French had bought (or been bought by his father) a commission in the British Army and John Frederic was studying at Oxford. However, it was only a matter of years before tragedy once again struck the Maul household. This time is was the untimely death on 25 April 1874 of the eldest son, Richard Compton French, at Southampton after having been invalided out of India where he had been serving as a lieutenant with the 3rd (East Kent) Regiment of Foot (known as the "Buffs"). He was just 27 years of age. The heartbroken father and Richard's regimental colleagues were so moved by his untimely death that they erected a rather grand tall stone cross on an octagonal pedestal (in the foreground of this undated photograph) which is often mistaken for a world war memorial. The wording on the eastern face of the memorial reads: ‘To the glory of God and to the memory of Richard Compton French Maul late lieutenant rec. The Buffs his brother officers affectionately dedicate this cross July 1875". Sadly this memorial has since lost its uppermost piece (the cross) and its whereabouts is unknown.
On 4 October 1888 Richard Compton Maul died at the age of 67, still holding the position of Rector of Rickinghall Inferior & Superior and leaving an estate of just over £18,000. He was buried in the Rickinghall Inferior churchyard next to his brother, Spencer. The stained glass in the south side of the chancel is dedicated to his memory. Sophia, Richard's widow, lived to the age of 85 and when she died on 25 January 1908 she was laid to rest alongside her husband. Of their surviving four children, John Frederic followed his father (and grandfather) into the church and ended his days as Rector of Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire. Florence Mary and Clara Joanna both married clergymen and the youngest, Sybil Compton, was married - relatively late at the age of 34 - to Sir William Everard Browne Ffolkes.
Sarah E Doig BMus (Hons) DipLib
© Sarah Doig and Suffolk Family History Society 2010
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International Genealogical Index [www.familysearch.org]
Brisley (Norfolk) parish registers [www.familysearch.org]
GRO indexes [www.ancestry.co.uk - access free at Suffolk Record Office/libraries]
Census returns [www.ancestry.co.uk - access as before]
Principal Probate Registry Index of Wills and Administration [www.ancestry.co.uk - access as before]
Alumni Cantabrigienses [www.ancestry.co.uk - access as before]
The British Magazine, Volume 29, 1 February 1846 [www.books.google.com]
Rickinghall Inferior parish registers [microfiche at Suffolk Record Office]
Rickinghall Superior parish registers [microfiche at Suffolk Record Office]
Deeds to Rickinghall National School [Author's own]
Rickinghall National School log books [Suffolk Record Office]
The Bury and Norwich Post [19th Century British Library Newspapers - access online via Suffolk libraries]
The Times [The Times Digital Archive - access online via Suffolk libraries]