The Nave of Winchester Cathedral. Wikimedia Commons.
In many British churches one can find memorials with a Huguenot connection. Winchester Cathedral in Hampshire, where many Huguenot refugees and their descendants settled, has several. One such explains in Latin: “here lies buried Jean Serre, a French man of honourable stock from Montauban, who condemned for 27 years to gaol at Marseilles, had with indomitable spirit, in chains and in prisons defended the Protestant faith, until, freed by the piety of Queen Anne, he migrated to England in the year when peace was concluded. He died in AD 1754 aged 85.”
He was one of three brothers caught trying to escape France on the Swiss border, and aged 18 was sentenced to the galleys. Britain secured the release of such prisoners at the time of the Peace of Utrecht, 1713-15, a series of treaties which, towards the end of the reigns of Queen Anne and Louis XIV of France, brought to an end the War of the Spanish Succession.
Three members of the Portal family are commemorated. A large elaborate memorial dating from the late 19th century commemorates two brothers who were descended from Louis de Portal “of an ancient and noble family” some of whose members were killed fleeing the dragonnades, brutal campaigns perpetrated in the 1680s by regiments of dragoons persecuting the Protestant minority. Four Portal children avoided capture by hiding in an oven. Pierre, the youngest, was taken and brought up by a baker, whilst the other three escaped France in empty wine casks bound for Holland. This was before the authorities had started fumigating below decks on ships to winkle out escapees.
The two brothers commemorated are Sir Gerald Portal (1858-1894), a “diplomatist administrator who displayed in his brief career the resolution and the heroic courage by which empires are built and by which alone they can stand.” He was Special Envoy to Abyssinia in 1887, Consul General in Zanzibar 1891, Commissioner in East Africa and Head of Mission in Uganda in 1892. His brother, Captain Melville Raymond Portal (1857-1893),“died for his country at Kampala while serving under his brother Gerald in Uganda”.
A second Portal memorial, dating from the 20th century, commemorates the life and benefactions of Sir William Wyndham Portal (1850-1931), who was president of The Huguenot Society from 1908-11. The Times’ obituary stated: “he was the head of the old Huguenot family who have for generations manufactured at the Laverstoke Mills the paper for the Bank of England notes.” As described in the previous post, Portal descendants started a paper milling business at Bere Mill on the River Test in Hampshire and in 1724 won a contract to make banknotes for the Bank of England.
The memorial to Major General Digges Rigaud (1820-1885) explains that “he served with the 60th Royal Rifles for 32 years, took part in the South African Wars of 1851-3 and in the war with China and commanded the Second Battalion of the 60th till he retired in 1873, a good soldier, a genial commander, a genuine friend, an unaffected Christian. His sorrowing comrades and friends have erected this tablet.” The Rigauds were descended from Jean Rigaud, merchant of Crest in the Dauphiné (Drôme) who fled to Geneva after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. The Tour de Crest, one of the tallest castle keeps in Europe, still stands as a chilling reminder of the incarceration and persecution of the Dauphinois Huguenots.
Another large monument commemorates General Sir George Prevost (1767- 1816). He was “Governor General and Commander in Chief of the British forces in North America in which command by his wise and energetic measures and with an inferior force he preserved the Canadas for the British Crown.” He died shortly after returning to England. The monument contains a long encomium from the Prince Regent, the future George IV. The Prevosts were of Huguenot origin, arriving in England via Switzerland.
A tablet commemorates Thomas Garnier (1776-1873). He was Dean of Winchester for forty years and was descended from Isaac Garnier who fled France after 1685, and became Apothecary General to the College of Chelsea. Thomas was a distinguished botanist and the garden near the Cathedral is named after him. He was a keen supporter of the campaign to have a proper sewage system, the expenses of which were resisted by the wealthier ratepayers, the “Muckabites” who tended to live on higher ground. Garnier was a keen “Anti- Muckabite.” The battle raged for decades in the middle of the nineteenth century, with eventual victory to the Antis. The first sewage pumping system survives, though converted to other uses, in Garnier Road, Winchester, which was renamed after him. A well-deserved epitaph.
This post is based on detailed notes kindly provided by Mrs Tatham, one of the volunteer guides at the Cathedral, on the occasion of a Huguenot Society visit there in 2004.
Proceedings of the Huguenot Society, vol. 27, 2, 2003-4, pp.299-300. T.Wilson, ‘Summer visit to Hampshire, 22 June 2004’.
Proceedings of the Huguenot Society, vol. 34,2, 1930-31, p.273. Miscellanea, ‘Sir William Portal’.
Huguenot Society Blog, J. Hampton, ‘Huguenots and the World of Finance: Part Two’.