Harry Pollard Ashby was one of the earliest benefactors of All Saints’ and, along with Robert Fenwick, is commemorated on the memorial in Wandle Park as one who ‘spared no effort to improve the condition of those amongst whom they dwelt.’
The memorial fountain in Wandle Park, commemorates their pioneering and benevolent work and part of it was the work of Fritz Roselieb, a gold medallist of the Royal Academy , and designer of the Wilfrid Lawson memorial at Cockermouth.
Harry Pollard Ashby was born in 1809 – the son of Harry Ashby, an engraver, whose main employment was engraving notes for the emerging banks at home and abroad. In this he showed unusual skill and ingenuity, and many of his bank notes and plates are now at the British Museum, London.
From 1857-1881 Harry Pollard Ashby lived at Wandle Park. Here his daughter Alice met and married Robert Fenwick and the two families took an active part in the formation of All Saints’ Parish in the latter part of the 19th C. Ashby was an earnest churchman, member of the Wimbledon Local Board from 1860-1890, and one of the first advocates of open spaces for recreation in the area.
When not pursuing his more philanthropic work, Ashby was an accomplished landscape artist and engraver, and exhibited twenty paintings at the Royal Academy between 1835 and 1865. He was a friend of John Constable and various documents preserved by his daughter Alice’s descendants, and by Constable’s, attest to this friendship. In a letter of 30th June 1836 Constable thanked Mrs. H. P. Ashby for an invitation for his children to visit the Ashby’s at their Wimbledon home and regretted that he could not come himself. A month later he inscribed an impression of the small Salisbury Cathedral mezzotint to Ashby. Hugh Constable, John’s grandson remembered Ashby, telling him in 1884 ‘that he had painted with John Constable and seen him put in peeps of clouds through trees afterwards.
In the fairly recent past several previously unknown sketches by Constable have come to light, and in April 1981 a group of five sketches was brought to the Tate Gallery for examination. These works turned out to have been given to Alice Fenwick (nee Ashby) by Isabel Constable in the 1880’s when she was given the task of distributing the huge family collection of her father’s works. The earliest is a study of Willy Lott’s House with a Rainbow, dated 1812, and is the second earliest known depiction in oil by Constable of a rainbow. Four of the five above-mentioned sketches were sold at Christie’s on 19th November 1982, but the fifth – Stoke-by-Nayland – is still with the family.
There are several memorials relating to the Ashby’s connection with All Saints’ remaining in the church today.
The Alms Dish (L) given in memory of Harriet Ashby and the Portable Font (R) given by Mr. Ashby
A personal gift of Mr. Ashby was the small portable font that is still kept in the church safe, and Miss. Mary Ann Whittal – a devout Christian who had been in the service of the Ashby’s for 44 years – gave a chalice, paten and other vessels for the administration of the Holy Communion in 1888. The brass alms dish that we use every Sunday was given in 1891 in memory of Mr. Ashby’s wife, Harriet, and on All Saints’ Day 1893 the east window in the chancel was dedicated to the memory of both Harriet and her husband Harry. The window represents our Lord Enthroned with the Blessed Virgin Mary and S. John the Baptist on either side. On the north extremity is S. Augustine of Canterbury, on the south S. Alban, the first British Martyr. The other two figures depicted are those of S. Peter and S. Paul, and the whole fabrication conceived to represent “typical saints” and christened “The All Saints’ Window”.
Alice, Harry Ashby’s daughter, died on 17th January 1893 and her death was greeted with much sorrow in the parish and beyond. So respected was she that nearly all the blinds in the All Saints’ area were drawn on the day of the funeral when, at 10.00.a.m. her body was conveyed to All Saints’ church for the first part of the burial service. Thence she was conveyed to Wimbledon station and taken by the necropolis train to Woking Cemetery where she was interred in the same vault as her father. There were handsome wreaths from both the congregation and choirmen of All Saints’, and in the Parish Magazine Reverend Pickering wrote this tribute:- “Almost everyone in the parish knows what a loss we have sustained in the death of Mrs. Fenwick. Since her childhood she has been associated with active church work in this part of Wimbledon…she has left behind a memory of deepest affection and regard.” The stained glass window on the south side of the chancel was given in her memory – “loved, respected and remarkable for the gentleness and universal kindness of a simple and unostentatious life of piety and service for others.”
Ashby himself died a year before his daughter in 1892. He was living in Mill Cottage at the time – the house that was later to become the first All Saints’ Vicarage. He is interred in the family vault at Woking.