Ness window at Mortehoe

Mortehoe not only has a tomb, the origin of which is lost in the mists of time, but also a window, mid-Victorian, which should present no puzzles but currently has me baffled.

The window, we are told, was erected by Rev. John Derby Ness, Curate of Mortehoe from 1826 and subsequently Vicar until his death in 1884.  The window, we are told again, is in memory of Rev. Ness’ eldest son, John Derby Rowe Ness, who died, as far as I can find, in 1857 aged 18.

The window displays four shields, one quartered and one impaled, giving six coats of arms altogether.


At the top is a coat of arms which can only be intended for Ness, although none of the usual sources list it.

Argent, on a saltire Azure 2 lions’ gambs in saltire Argent; in chief a crescent Or charged with a label of 3 points Argent.

The crescent is the conventional difference for a second son, and the Rev. Ness was indeed the second son of Rev. Richard Ness.  The label is the conventional difference for a first son, so we can be confident that this coat of arms is intended for John Derby Rowe Ness to whose memory the window is dedicated.



The second coat of arms is that of Rowe –  Or, on a bend cotised Azure between 6 trefoils slipped Vert 3 scallops Or.

Elizabeth Rowe became the wife of the vicar and the mother of  John Derby Rowe Ness, so this coat of arms was easy to identify and account for.




At the bottom of the window we find the arms of Ness impaled with …?  Papworth offers Astley, Bloomfield or Hun as owners of Azure, a lion passant gardant Argent.  The impalement indicates a marriage, but we already have the arms (Rowe) of the vicar’s wife, and his mother was born a Derby.  The obvious answer is that the arms are for John Derby Rowe Ness’ wife, but I cannot find any record of his marriage and, if he died aged eighteen he was unlikely to have been married.

Maybe the arms were for the young man’s great-grandmother or some earlier ancestress of whom the Ness family were particularly proud. More likely he died later than 1857, or did indeed marry young.  Over to you, dear reader, to find the clue I’ve missed.



The last shield represents Derby (family, not city.)  The vicar’s mother was born Elizabeth-Mary Derby and was the daughter of Rev. John Derby whose family seems to have provided a high proportion of the clergy of Dorset for about two centuries.

“Per chevron embattled Az & Or, 3 eagles displayed counterchanged”  is given as the arms of Derby (or, often enough, Darby.)

Papworth gives half a dozen bearers of Sable, three scallops Argent.  Their names include variants of Bisse, Craven, Eastcott, Shelton and Strickland.  Unfortunately, I have not found any evidence of any of them having been heiresses married into the Derby family.  Equally, I have not found that coat of arms associated with ladies who have married Derby men.

To be frank, I have not been able to go back more than four generations before Elizabeth-Mary.  From 1620, we have Jeremiah, Benjamin, Benjamin and John, Elizabeth’s father.  Jeremiah, a chapman of Sherborne, married Mary Walter.  Rev. Benjamin Derby the younger probably married Mary Burrows of Bicester.  I do not know who married Rev. Benjamin Derby the elder or Rev. John Derby.

The quest for these silver scallops has provided me with an excuse to visit various churches in Hampshire and Dorset looking for memorials related to these clerical Derbys.  Jeremiah had at least four ordained sons; Benjamin the elder had at least another seven; young Benjamin had two more.  Some of those went further than I can easily reach, but between them various members of this branch of Derby were curates or incumbents in Bryanston, Dorchester, Hilton, Hooke, Loders, Minterne Magna, Poxwell, Turnworth, West Parley, Woodsford and Wotton Glanville in Dorset, and Damerham, Ellingham, Grateley, Sopley and Winchester in Hampshire.  Poxwell church no longer stands.  Some of the churches listed were shut when I visited, but I have been inside those listed in italics.  All so far deficient in evidence of Derby, other than as a name in the list of incumbents, although the bellows chest of Bob Derby did make me laugh out loud in St John’s, Woodsford.



Muddying the waters a little, we find another branch of the Derby family, originating, as far as I have been able to find, in Beaminster and prominent in Dorchester in the seventeenth century.  They too supplied a few clergymen.  One of these, Rev. Roger Derby, married a Jane Palmer, who seemed like a likely* candidate to be the heiress of Sable, three scallops Argent.  She and her husband however were not in the line that could have contributed to the arms in Mortehoe.

Another example of the Derby arms is to be seen in a bookplate belonging to Rev. Richard Derby of Hilton.  He was elder brother of Rev Benjamin Derby the younger, and so Elizabeth-Mary’s great-uncle. On the bookplate, the arms are drawn as “Per chevron embattled Or & Az, 3 eagles displayed counterchanged,” reversing the colours as shown at Mortehoe.   That transposition of tinctures may raise some other questions, or may just be an example of a less fussy use of arms than would be considered acceptable today.

Bookplate of Roger Derby

So, Hilton may be the next place to visit, to see if Rev. Richard left a memorial confirming that he habitually used the arms shown in his bookplate, and then Somerton, perhaps, in hopes of finding some Palmers.

And where might there be a resolution of the marriage and death of John Derby Rowe Ness?


Update 26th November 2017

I visited Hilton and Somerton churches yesterday.  There were no memorials or coats of arms for Derby or Palmer.  Neither were there any Derby related memorials in Turnworth, Minterne Magna or Wotton Glanville.

Update 19th April 2018

I visited St George’s church, Damerham, last week and found no evidence of the Derbys other than Thomas Derby’s name in the list of vicars.

Update 2nd October 2018

Loders and Hooke have succumbed to my relentless quest.  Thomas Darby was listed as Vicar of Loders 1670 – 1674, (after which he went to Damerham.) A charming lady took a break from flower arranging to inform me that until recently there had been many Derbys living in the village, a family still prolific in sons.  Neither church had any armorial evidence of the family, however.


*Only “likely” because “Palmer” means “pilgrim” and scallop shells were a badge worn by some mediaeval pilgrims.  Strictly speaking, palmers wore a sprig or badge of palm to show that they had been to the Holy Land, whereas the scallop was associated with pilgrimages to the shrine of St. James at Compostella, but the distinction was not maintained.



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