Gloria mundi

Hemingstone Hall.
Hemingstone Hall. By the mid-1850s no Brands lived there. There were none left.

I’ve always been surprised that there was never an American sitcom with a zany heroine called Gloria Monday, but as Americans used to not do irony maybe not. One thing The Donald definitely has done is blow that stereotype away completely.

You know the quote or you’ve heard it or just saw it most of your life: sic transit gloria mundi. Thus pass worldly glories. Dust to dust. You can’t take it with you, the biggest, most profound and inescapable joke ever played on the unscrupulous, the richest and the worst. Our tomorrow is the night, as Victor Hugo put it.


I don’t know what the Brand family were like. Nobody does, now, because I think they became extinct in the early 1800s. But I know where they lived and from their memorials in a tiny Suffolk church that started-off Saxon I drove past for 15 years, perched high on its hill all alone apart from what I hope is called Church Farm next to it, The Hut, the 1920 wooden village hall a hundred yards away along the ridge.

One sunny afternoon in September I stopped and went in, just to see. Up near the altar were two memorials to the same family in the tiny village of Hemingstone. The dates seemed to tell a sad little story.

Squire John Brand’s wife was first to die, aged XXIIII, just 24, in 1792.  He followed her to their marble plaque on the wall of their church – and being the squire and his wife I’m sure they felt it was actually their church – 9 years later, in 1833, aged 63. Well, if we must then…..That means he was born in 1770. She was two years older than him.

Just two years later, in 1805, Miss Elizabeth Brand died on January XVIII, the 18th, just as the days seemed to be getting longer again. She was 16, meaning she was born in 1789. If she was Elizabeth’s daughter her mother died when she was two.


Then Miss Elizabeth, surely the other daughter with that name, on a tour of the Hebrides, died at Stirling in Scotland, in 1812, aged just 23. She had to have been born in 1789 as well. Twins? It’s hard to see how they can’t have been. All have the same marble slabs on the wall of the church, handsomely carved.

1812 was the time when Mendelsohn was just born, later writing Fingal’s Cave and spurring a whole new strain of mock-Scottish legend. In 1795 Southey and Coleridge had a joint wedding in St Mary Redcliffe, although not to each other. Wordsworth was maundering around the Lake District and fashionable young ladies of a romantic inclination did their own Grand Tour. To be able to afford it in this pre-industrial age the family must have been pretty well-off. Certainly their Jacobean-style house with its Dutch gables that may cover a much older building says so.

But there were a thousand things to die from in 1812, however rich you were. Simple infection from a cut finger could do it, 140 years before antibiotics were around. The squire lingered on, his wife dead, his son and heir dying in the womb even as his inception killed his mother, I’m guessing from the dates, the two twin girls, one named in her likeness, cold and dead as the marble that commemorates them now.


It’s a beautiful little church, high on its hill. The house was shrouded in fog when I went again, yesterday, to find the church busy and being decorated for the Christmas carol service. A welcoming little place, full of grace. And not the worst place to be peacefully remembered on a wall, not quite unknown.

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