St James’ Church Burton Lazers Article By Elizabeth Lewin
St James’ is a modest sized 12th Century church in the equally modest sized village of Burton Lazars, found to the south of Melton Mowbray. Although a typical village church in many ways, St James’ has a very surprising churchyard, in terms of particular monuments and persons interred therein.
Dominating the North West corner of the churchyard, and clearly seen from the main road, is the Squire Monument. One of the largest and most ambitious churchyard monuments in the county, one would naturally expect it to stand in perpetual testimony to the life and works of a famous local son. However this triumphant structure was created for the memory of a simple weaver.
William Squire had, by his death in 1781, amassed a fortune of £600. With this money he intended to erect a monument to himself and his parents, pay for its continual upkeep and for the remainder to help to pay for the education of poor children in the parish. Sadly these worthy intentions were not realised, as the construction of this grand design consumed the funds, leaving none left for the Good Works.
The Monument itself is a fine example of cramming as much detail into one design as possible. It is built of limestone and stands at 20ft tall. When completed it was gilded and painted to imitate marble, and it would have made quite an impression to the viewer. The inscribed panel is unfortunately now illegible, but the sculptural forms are still clear to see. It boasts about its sarcophagus and pyramid, numerous skull and cross-bones as memento mori, Father Time, a snake swallowing its tail for eternity and the figures of Faith and Hope, along with assorted globes, urns and other decorative miscellany.
A contemporary writer and student of antiquities, John Throsby, wrote shortly after its completion that it was, “a gingerbread tomb. It abounds with imitations of skulls, angels, crosses and glories.” Perhaps this is a little unfair. William Squire’s intention with the monument was that he should be remembered, and 230 years after his death he is still noted by all that pass through and by the churchyard.
In contrast to the scale and grandeur of the Squire Monument, some 30 feet away is a small family enclosure, with three laid headstones surrounded by railings. Here lie the bodies of Count Eliot Zborowski, his wife Margaret Astor Carey and their son Count Louis Zborowski.
Eliot Zborowski (1858-1903) was born into a family of Polish immigrants in New Jersey, and in 1880 married Margaret Astor Carey, an heiress from the prominent and very wealthy Astor family. He had a passion for motor racing and was also an all round sportsman. The family resided in Melton Mowbray to enjoy the hunting and became naturalised Britons. In 1903, Eliot Zborowski was killed during a race when his car crashed during the La Turbie hill climb in Nice.
This love for motor racing was inherited by his son Louis (1895-1924). On Margaret’s death in 1911, Louis inherited her fortune and became (aged 16) the forth wealthiest under 21 in the world, with a property portfolio that included 7 acres in Manhattan and several blocks on Fifth Avenue, New York. The combination of extreme wealth and a passion for speed allowed Louis to be both an early patron of and driver for Aston Martin, and to design his own racing cars.
Working at his estate Higham Park in Kent, he produced a number of cars which he called ‘Chitty Bang Bang’. Their noise was by all accounts tremendous and Canterbury reportedly passed a bylaw prohibiting the cars from entering the city walls. Ian Flemming took inspiration from the life of Louis Zborowski and his cars to write ‘Chitty-chitty-bang-bang’ in 1964.
Louis died racing for the Mercedes team in 1924, hitting a tree during the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. He is buried with his parents in this small churchyard in a quiet village in rural Leicestershire.