The Friends of St. Peter's Berkhamsted

Friends of St Peter's, Great Berkhamsted

Katherine Finch [nee Ellice] (1794 – 1872)

Grave Number 314

It is always difficult to give recognition to women among those buried in the cemetery, especially those of more noble birth. This is also evident in memorial inscriptions, where a widow’s or wife’s name is added almost as an afterthought.  Yet so often the woman of the household can be the ‘power behind the throne’, or if that is too extreme, at least a very active supporter of her spouse’s aims, ideals and benevolent actions. That could well be said of Katherine Finch, who remained resident at The Castle for a further eleven years after the death of her husband. Her husband, General the Honourable John Finch is buried in Packington Hall, the seat of the Earls of Aylesford, whilst Katherine is buried in Rectory Lane Cemetery, perhaps endorsing her husband’s memory among the people for whom he did so much, in their adopted town.

Katherine Ellice was born in Middlesex in c.1794. On 29thJuly 1835 she married Lieut. Colonel the Honourable John Finch, brother to the Earl of Aylesford. According to the report in the Belfast Newsletter Katherine was the daughter of the late Alexander Ellice, Esq and niece to Earl Grey. It was a childless marriage. What brought the couple to Berkhamsted, we do not know. We know from the 1841 census that they were living in a comparatively small household in Wellington Crescent, Preston by Wingham, near Ramsgate, Kent. Finch is listed as Colonel in the Army.  Sometime in the 1840s Finch retired partially from the army and came to live at Berkhamsted Place (the Castle, as it was known from the 18th century onwards.) Perhaps Finch wanted to retire to an estate which reminded him of his childhood at Packington Hall. By 1851 the couple were living at the Castle, and Finch is listed as Colonel in the Amy on half-pay. The estate had sixty acres of farmland for which two men and a boy were employed.  They had many servants, including a house keeper, two ladies’ maids, a housemaid, dairymaid, kitchen maid, butler, coachman and footman.

Berkhamsted Place – ‘The Castle’

General Finch, and no doubt his wife too, were actively involved in the affairs of St Peter’s soon after their arrival in Berkhamsted. Finch was a churchwarden from 1847 until his death in 1861. No doubt Mrs Finch, as the Churchwarden’s wife, paid particular attention to Sunday School attendance and the welfare of the Women’s groups. In the early days of Berkhamsted’s first photographer, William Claridge, both General Finch and his wife feature among the early photographs of Berkhamsted residents. She appears to be a very serious-minded woman, interested in improving the education of the poorer sections of the community, girls as well as boys. All Finch’s benevolent acts have an educational basis. By 1853 it had become obvious that a larger schoolroom was required for the Bourne School. An additional room was built at the back by public subscription. Of the £391 raised, Finch contributed over £200. In the following year, he defrayed the entire cost of rebuilding the original school which was in a dilapidated state.

General Finch is particularly remembered for his work in establishing the Market Hall, Town Hall, with rooms for the Mechanics Institute, which replaced the Market House which had burnt down in 1854. Nash in his Reminiscences pays tribute to his contribution: ‘The part he took in the erection of the Town Hall called forth the admiration of all who were acquainted with the difficulties surrounding it … His determined perseverance combined with influence which he exercised in high places enabled him to bring it to a successful issue.’ In all these matters Finch was particularly supportive of the interests of the Mechanics’ Institute.

Additionally, Finch erected a school for poor children in Potten End. We know from reports in the school log books that Katherine Finch was a regular visitor, showing particular interest in the children’s progress in reading. In his Will Finch bequeathed to his wife an immediate legacy of £500 with his furniture, carriages etc, ’she being otherwise amply provided for.’ She almost certainly had additional independent means. On her death £200 was to be invested towards the support of the school at Potten End.

On Katherine’ death the contents of the house and estate were sold by auction. These show a fairly simple way of life of an aristocratic family, with a well-stocked wine cellar, but also 1,200 volumes of well-bound books and a plentiful supply of board games, furnished with needle-work top ottomans, gilt and china candelabra, where the difference in the sleeping arrangements of the General and Katherine were sharply distinguished from those of the maids in the attics.  

Katherine died on 12th January 1872 aged 78. The Will of the Honourable Katherine Finch, late of Berkhamsted Castle in the County of Hertford, was proved by William Ellice, her nephew, one of the Executors. She left effects of under £50,000.

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