A blustery day found me staggering across uneven ground and stumbling over corner posts that had become dislodged from the stone grave kerbs in St Andrew’s churchyard in Chesterton. I had gone in search of the grave of Frederick Leach, Cambridge artworkman. I knew from a photograph taken several years ago by fellow Leach researcher, Robert Halliday, that I was looking for a tallish stone bearing three names: Frederick Richard Leach (1837 – 1904), his wife, Mary Ann Leach, nee Goodenough (1838 – 1909) and their fifth child Walter Perry Leach (1870 – 1934). I found it after about twenty-five minutes of searching – it would have been quicker if I had been able to resist reading all of every gravestone I saw!
The headstone is decorated with swags and a cherub similar to the carved wooden cherub in the Leach family archive which is attributed to Frederick’s younger brother John McLean Leach (1839 – 1908). John outlived his brother by four years. He spent most of his working life at Lichfield cathedral, working for the firm of ecclesiastical sculptors, Robert Bridgeman. It may well be that John had a hand in designing and carving his brother’s headstone.
Frederick Leach’s firm specialised in the highly ornate interior decoration of churches and civic buildings in the second half of the nineteenth century using colourful stencil work and carved and gilded decorations. One of the most lavish examples of his gilding work are the 880 cast lead gilded stars on the ceiling of the Old Hall in Queens’ College, Cambridge. It is now possible to take a virtual tour of this glorious room thanks to Google Streetview.
Among the items salvaged from Leach’s City Road workshops was a beautifully soft gilding brush and a box of gold leaf.
Completely fanciful, I know, but as I looked back towards Frederick Leach’s final resting place, I couldn’t help but find it entirely appropriate that his was the only headstone which appeared (thanks to a particularly bright orange lichen) to have been gilded.