An initiative is now underway to restore the Gwinnett family tomb in Down Hatherley churchyard, which dates from the late 18th century. Various sources are being approached to see whether funding can be made available. See Note below
Restoration of the Gwinnett Family Tomb,
Down Hatherley, Gloucestershire
The present church of St Mary & Corpus Christi in the village of Down Hatherley, Gloucestershire, dates from the 15th century. The tower and remnants of the chancel remain from this period, but the body of the church was rebuilt in 1859-60.
As a village with a long history (it was listed in the Domesday Book of 1086), Down Hatherley has had a number of distinguished people connected with it. A 2007 churchyard survey re-established a link with perhaps the most famous: Button Gwinnett, second signatory of the US Declaration of Independence.
Button Gwinnett’s place in American history
Button Gwinnett was born in 1735 when his father Samuel Gwinnett was Rector of Down Hatherley. As a young man he pursued a career as a merchant and in 1762, set sail for America. Establishing himself in Savannah, Georgia, Button rose to prominence in the local community, eventually becoming Governor for a short period. It was in his role as state representative that on 4 July 1776 Button voted for the US Declaration of Independence and became the second signatory of this historic document. However, Button’s political differences with a rival led him to an untimely end. He was involved in fighting a dual and although initially surviving the shot, he succumbed to his wounds and died on 19 May 1777, aged 42.
It is not known how Button’s revolutionary activities were greeted within his home parish of Down Hatherley. His elder brother, also Samuel, is thought to have commissioned the tomb to hold the ‘mortal remains’ of their mother Ann, who died in 1768, and their father, Samuel, who died in 1775.
Evidence confirming the family tomb
The tomb was recorded in 1985 as a Grade II listed monument , but with very little detail. Its historical significance also appears to have been lost within the recent history of the parish. Although there are tales from villagers recalling choir boys promised half-a-crown if they could find the Gwinnett tomb, its lack of obvious inscriptions seems to have hidden its true identity for many years.
However, a churchyard survey begun in 2007 unearthed a Latin inscription on the monument. Further research matched this with the description given in Bigland’s survey of historic monuments (1789 –1889) and the link was re-established.
Like many small rural parishes, Down Hatherley has limited funds for maintaining the fabric of the church. Whilst the body of the church is in good order, and we have plans to upgrade facilities for the benefit of the community, we have not had the funds to routinely maintain all the ageing monuments in the churchyard.
The Gwinnett family tomb is clearly a priority for restoration given its historic interest. There is now a drive to raise the funds necessary to fully restore it and to provide information about Button Gwinnett’s place in American history and his early Gloucestershire links.
This project will involve sensitive restoration in accordance with guidance from all interested parties. We will be working closely with the Diocese of Gloucester, Historic England, Gloucester City Council, Tewkesbury Borough Council and Down Hatherley Parish Council. We welcome interest from historians, researchers, visitors and the wider community as our plans take shape.
For further information, please contact Ellie Stevenson (email@example.com).