Doomed love story

Brede churchyard has a relic of a tragic Victorian love story in the form of a small oak cross bearing the single word Damaris.

Damaris Richardson lived with her uncle in a modest cottage in Rectory Lane.

She was a beautiful orphan who worked at the rectory and in a small residential school operated by the Rev. Maher to supplement his income.

She fell in love with Lewis Smith, the handsome young son and sole heir of a wealthy Brede landowner, and they would meet in secret at the west wall of the churchyard - she on the graveyard side and Lewis on the other, in the grounds of the big house where he lived with his parents.

They soon agreed to become unofficially engaged.

But affairs are hard to conceal in a small village community and somebody told Lewis’ father of the clandestine meetings.

He angrily forbade any ideas of marriage. Beautiful, charming and respectable Damaris might be, but she stood far below the station of the Smith family.

Lewis, threatened with being cut off without a shilling, gave way to his father.

There was one final meeting of farewell beside the wall before they parted forever.

Damaris, they say, died of a broken heart at the age of 22 and was buried near the trysting place on September 4, 1856.

Her grave was unmarked until the Rev. Aylward, who years later succeeded Mr Maher as rector of Brede and remembered the orphan from his days as a pupil at the village’s school, commissioned the erection of the cross.

Lewis Smith never married, living alone and withdrawn in the big house he inherited.

Villagers said he was often to be seen walking gravely in the gardens, close to the wall.

He died, aged 64, on February 23, 1896 and was interred in the Smith family tomb on the north side of the church.