Madeline Seys Phillips
by Linda Ayres
Madeline Seys Phillips was well known in Bedford for her charitable work. Her one priority was to care for the sick, aged, and poor in St. Paul’s parish. She was, for many years, on the Board of Governors of Bedford County Hospital. She was President of St Paul’s Church Working Party as well as a member of the Mothers Union. Every Christmas the choirboys would receive a gift of money from her. She also gave to the children of the Bromham Road Orphanage.
Madeline was born on 8th January 1859 at Abbey Close, 17 Cardington Road, Bedford. She was one of nine children born to Lady and Sir Frederick Howard. Her father was a prominent industrialist who, with his brother James, founded the Britannia Works in Bedford.
On 7th August 1890, Madeline married William Seys Phillips in St Paul’s Church, Bedford. William arrived in Bedford in the early 1880s to take up a position as Assistant Master at Bedford Grammar School, where he set up and took charge of the Civil and Military department.
William and Madeline had two children. Their son Howard was born in 1892 and their daughter Hilda in 1894. Hilda was a pupil at St Andrews School. Sadly, after just a few hours of illness, she died at the age of 8 years on Whit Sunday morning, 11th May 1903.
In 1883, William built “Glanyrafon”, the school boarding house at 1 Newnham Road, Bedford, where he took on the duties as House Master and he and Madeline lived there until his retirement in 1906. After his retirement, William and Madeline lived at Caldwell Priory. Years later, they moved to Abbey Close where William died on 25th September 1925.
In 1928, Abbey Close became a Dr. Barnardo’s Home. The home provided care for children with learning difficulties. It was closed down in 1969 and the Bedford Girls’ School now occupies the house.
As President of St Paul’s Church Working Party, Madeline was responsible for the planning and decoration of the inside of the church. This included the sanctuary, its marble floor, oak panelling, altar and its dossal (the ornamental cloth hanging behind the altar). All the work she carried out was in memory of her late husband. She was also responsible for the relocation of Wesley’s pulpit from the Trinity Chapel part of the church to its current location. She paid for its restoration as a working pulpit when an oak canopy and wrought iron staircase were added. The Wesley pulpit dates from the 15th Century and it was originally part of the wall in the Trinity Chapel but was turned into a pulpit in 1680. It was from this pulpit that John Wesley, founder of Methodism, preached the Assize sermon on Friday 10th March 1758.
In 1936, she commissioned a new west doorway as a memorial to her cousin Rev. C. F. Farrar. Charles Frederick Farrar was an eminent figure in Bedford. He wrote ‘Ouse’s Silent Tide’ (published in 1921) and ‘Old Bedford’ (published in 1926).
Madeline died at her home at 32 Shakespeare Road on 20th February 1944. Her funeral service at St. Paul’s Church preceded her burial in Foster Hill Road Cemetery. She was laid to rest with William and her daughter Hilda.
Inscribed on the family memorial the words dedicated to Hilda
“There’s a home for little children above the bright blues.”
Their memorial is a Celtic cross a symbol of eternity decorated with ivy a symbol of immorality, also of long friendship. The centre of the cross is the letters IHS Iesus Hominum Salvatore (Jesus Saviour of Mankind).
Bedfordshire Times & Independent 19th February 1932. Bedfordshire Times & Independent 25th February 1944
Photography Linda S. Ayres
April 23, 2019