Mystery of monks missing gravestone is finally solved

Rufford Abbey, Ollerton.
Rufford Abbey, Ollerton.
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A fine stone grave slab belonging to a medieval monk which mysteriously vanished from Rufford Abbey has been rediscovered - in Bedford.

The ornate tombstone of Robert de Markham, which dates from 1399, was once set into the floor of Rufford’s long lost chapel and can be seen in old photos of the abbey taken before 1938.

But where it went after the demolition of the abbey’s chapel in the 1950s has been a mystery - until now.

Archaeologist Peter Ryder came across the slab whilst researching for the Southwell and Nottingham Church History Project, making a survey of medieval cross slab grave covers across the county.

He said: “It is one of the best medieval grave slabs in the county, and was in the chapel at Rufford until the 1950s, when Professor Lawrence Butler made a rubbing of it.

“I sent English Heritage Butler’s 1965 illustration and it is definitely the same slab.

“It commemorates Brother Robert Markham ‘of this monastery’ and is dated 1399, although older accounts had misread the date as 1309 or 1329.

“I think the slab has quite a story to tell – for one thing it is unusual for monks to have as elaborate a memorial as this – and it may be connected with him being from an important family.”

The news is particularly exciting as Rufford is working on a new conservation plan to help shape the future development and management of the park.

All ‘finds’, such as a recent Egyptian column shipped back to Rufford from former owner and anthropologist Lord Savile, discovered by Nottinghamshire County Council’s archaeology team, help deepen experts’ understanding of the fascinating history of the country park.

English Heritage’s collections team said the stone had been stored with significant pieces of stone from Bolsover,, so curators had assumed it originated from the Derbyshire area, but knew it was not quite right but could not confirm its source until Peter’s research made the connection.

Peter then contacted the county council, which manages the country park, about his discovery.

Councillor John Knight, committee chairman for culture said: “Rufford Abbey has an enthralling history and this story underlines the different periods of history that our wonderful country park has witnessed”

The grave slab is currently stored in one of English Heritage’s National Collection Stores at Wrest Park where it is looked after in environmentally controlled conditions, and is one of 153,000 items of stone and archaeological finds in the collection.

The collection is open to researchers and pre-booked guided tours, visit www.english-heritage.org.uk and search for ‘Wrest Park’.