Sir Philip de la Beche
Sir Philip had six sons, - John, Philip, Nicholas, Edmond, Robert, Edward, - and one daughter, Joan. He was sheriff of Berkshire and Wiltshire in 1314 and together with his sons, took part in a rebellion against Edward II in 1322. With their leader Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, they were defeated at the battle of Boroughbridge, Yorkshire and were lucky not to lose their heads along with Lancaster. They were imprisoned for five years and their lands confiscated until the accession of Edward III in 1327, when they were subsequently restored to their former position.
Sir Philip's first son, Sir John, lies with his wife, Isabella, in the nave of the church together with his younger brother, Lord Nicholas de la Beche. Lord Nicholas became a man of much importance in the early years of the reign of Edward III. By 1336 he was seneschal or steward of the province of Gascony in France, Constable of the Tower and custodian of the King's first son, Edward Prince of Wales, later the Black Prince. Lord Nicholas died in 1348, living just long enough to see the fulfilment of his duties in England and France, enjoy the glorious victory over the French at Crecy in 1346 and the personal glory that the Black Prince found for himself in the battle.
Lord Nicholas de la Beche
Lord Nicholas' elder brother Sir Philip, the second son of Sir Philip de la Beche, lies together with his mother, Lady Joan, along the south aisle of the church. Lady Joan appears as a graceful figure and the carving of her traditional dress carries the most painstaking detail of fold and shape. The last effigy is that of John, the son of Lady Isabella. He is badly mutilated and as records show we know he died in 1340 at the age of twenty. It seems likely that the effigies were made at the same time and presented by a de la Beche in the middle of the 14th Century just before the family became extinct in the male line.
The damaged condition of most of the carvings, notably the headless Lady Isabella, her husband John and the limbless and headless young John, stems from the 1650s when an Act of Parliament passed by the Cromwell regime decreed "the demolition of monuments of idolatry and superstition". It was too much for the curate, Thomas Longland, who was appalled by the sacrilegious acts of destruction committed by the people and had no alternative but to resign from St. Mary's.
The castle of de la Beche, long since vanished, by the crossroads at the Four Points, is now the site of the present de la Beche Manor, and it was here that the identity of the Aldworth effigies was confirmed. The site of the castle was being excavated in 1871 when a seal was discovered bearing the name of Isabella de la Beche. The seal is a beautiful piece of silver-work; perhaps the finest of its kind in the country. In 1968 it was sold to Reading Museum where it is on show.
During the Civil War, an officer in King Charles' Royalist army, Colonel Symonds, visited the church and prepared notes and drawings of the effigies which are preserved in the British Museum. From them we know that the carvings were still intact in 1644 and that a tenth effigy existed under the arch on the outside of the south wall. About the outside tomb Colonel Symonds writes:
"The common people call this John Ever Afraid and say further that he gave his soule to the Devil if ever he was buried in the Church or Churchyard so he was buried under the covering wall under an arch."
It is also from the diary of Colonel Symonds that we learn of a visit made to the church by Elizabeth I riding with Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, from Ewelme. His entry for May 2, 1644 reads as follows:
....."In ye east end of ye south yle did hang a table, fairly written in parchment, of all ye names of ye family of de la Beche ; but ye Earle of Leicester coming with ye Queen Elizabeth in progress, took it down to show it her, and it was never brought again"..…
Symonds also says that the effigies were spoken of as "John Long, John Strong, John Ever Afraid, John Never Afraid". Obviously the presence of the de la Beches in Aldworth loomed large enough in the minds of the village folk for the legends of the members of the long dead family to be preserved.