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Post memories: Secretive captain’s tomb in Barking church is ranked ‘listed’

PUBLISHED: 12:00 20 June 2015

Captain John Bennett's tomb in St Margaret's Church in Barking (Picture: LBBD local studies and archives centre)

Captain John Bennett's tomb in St Margaret's Church in Barking (Picture: LBBD local studies and archives centre)

Archant

The tales suggest adventures on the high sea, smuggling and money laundering – but in truth, Captain John Bennett’s life remains largely a mystery.

Rachel Williams is an assistant designation advisor at Historic EnglandRachel Williams is an assistant designation advisor at Historic England

The eighteenth century tomb of the distinguished naval captain, which lies inside St Margaret’s Church in Barking, was recently granted grade II listed status.

The seaman died in Barking at the age of 46 and was buried in the churchyard alongside his parents on January 30, 1717.

He set aside the substantial sum of £500 to memorialise himself – an amount estimated to be worth £40,000 in those days.

“He was in his forties and knew he was dying and left this huge amount of money to pay for his funeral and tomb,” explained Rachel Williams, an assistant designation advisor at Historic England. “He also left furniture to relatives with a condition in his will that the contents of the furniture must never be shared – so he obviously had his secrets.”

Bishop Trevor Mwamba said the tomb paints a picture of the time and adds value and interest to the churchyardBishop Trevor Mwamba said the tomb paints a picture of the time and adds value and interest to the churchyard

The story goes that Bennett miraculously survived the Scilly naval disaster of 1707 – where severe weather off the Cornish peninsula claimed the lives of 1,400 sailors.

He was royal naval captain for 21 years and parts of his career are well documented.

His family were from Dorset but they moved to Barking part way through his life.

Rachel, 35, guessed he was the third generation in his family potentially involved in smuggling using navel contacts.

“I’d imagine he was smuggling alcohol and tobacco but I think he did good work for the country while in the navy too,” she said.

She assessed the monument before it was granted listed status by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and explained the tomb is an early Georgian chest which is “very well composed, excellent quality and with excellent decoration.”

Bishop Trevor Mwamba, who is in charge of holy orders at St Margaret’s Church, said the tomb’s placement shows the church is a “very special place.”

He added: “He was an interesting character and it’s absolutely great having it here but for me it’s about appreciating the history which enhances the place.

“It paints a picture of the time but above all he left a donation to the poor. It shows he had a very clear local interest.”


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