Their memorial is a representation of an open book, which on a basic level is a neat way of representing two people – in this case John Daziell Sprunt born in 1850, and died 1938, and his wife Jane, who died 1946.
This benign memorial is surely understated for a couple who must have experienced utter desolation in their lives. Three of their five sons were killed in the First World War – Alexander died 17 March 1915, Edward died 16th June 1915, and Gerald died 15 Oct 1919. Gerald was wounded accidentally by a fellow officer and died later on a ship bound to India ‘weary of hospitals and home’.
See also the War Memorials and Dedication Plaque in St Peters Church.
The family clearly placed enormous store on education and the power of the written word. They had moved to Berkhamsted in 1903 to take advantage of a public school education for all of their eight children (five boys and three girls). Imagine the fees! Just as well Joseph was a general merchant in the City of London and was clearly well off, living at ‘Montgomerie’ in Doctors Commons Road. Alexander and Edward both went on to Oxford. Alexander had been nominated Assistant Professor of Natural History at Glasgow University at the age of only 23 just before war broke out.
Part of the reason for this emphasis on the book was that John, the father, was Scottish – a Glaswegian – and belonged to the Scottish Presbyterian Church. All the children were baptized at the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Camden.
So, the open book, which of course often represents the bible, in this case also captures the rise of Nonconformity and the central role the bible played in that momentous movement – Luther inspiring Tyndale to produce a printed version in English in 1526. If you read their respective epitaphs:
John: Until the day dawns and the shadows flee away
Jane: And the Lord shall wipe away all tears from her eyes
They are taken directly from King James Version of the bible (Song of Solomon 2:17 and Revelation 21:4) The latter is particularly poignant as the full verse is:
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
As well as showing the vital role of the written word in shaping our society, the invention of the printed book was a double-edged sword – it opened us up to greater literacy and the sharing of ideas across Europe in particular as well from the wider world, but it also played a part in creating the strife and conflicts that really culminated in global war that killed the Sprunt’s three sons – an ultimate test of book-based faith.