In search for the truth about giants, our journey takes to the church of St. Mary located in Aldworth, an English village.
In this small parish there are several interesting figures that are supposed to be life size representations, depicting knights all over seven feet tall. These people were the Aldworth giants, who people tried to erase from history. The giants were members of the De La Beche family.
According to tradition these giants were also known by other names such as John Long, John Strong, John Never Afraid and John Ever Afraid.
According to Aldworth Parish, “after Harold II and his house earls were defeated and killed on Senlac Hill, Hastings in 1066, Duke William of Normandy crossed the Thames at Wallingford and marched triumphantly on London. In the following years after the invasion, many of the Conqueror’s sympathizers and supporters crossed the English Channel in search of land and favours in the new Norman Kingdom.
One of these was a knight from Flanders named de la Beche who, probably as a result of services given to the king, was granted licence to build a castle at Aldworth.
In addition to this he was given land and the right to build property near Swallowfield, Compton, Bradfield, Yattendon and a second castle at Mortimer.
The Doomsday Book, compiled from 1086 onwards, records Aldworth as Elleorde and assessed the land value at one hundred shillings with tillage potential of five ploughs and woodland sufficient for ten swine. The inhabitants seem to have numbered not more than twenty-five souls, all of them simple folk, villeins, serfs and swineherd.”
As previously mentioned, inside the church there are numerous huge effigies of the De La Beche family.
Sir Philip De La Beche second son of Sir Philip and Lady Joan, A Knight of Berks. Committed to Scarborough Castle in 1322 but pardoned in 1327 by Edward III. Image credit: My Grave Place Aldworth Giants
The effigy said to represent John Ever afraid no longer exists, but was set in an alcove in the outside wall of the church, which has now been blocked. It is said that he sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for worldly riches.
The bargain was that the Devil would claim his soul whether he was buried inside or outside the church. Burying his body within the church walls meant that the Devil was cheated of his prize.
Sir Nicholas De La Beche, third son of Sir Philip & Lady Joan. He was made Constable of the Tower of London and custodian of King Edward III’s eldest son, later known as the ‘Black Prince’. He was granted leave by the King to castellate his manor of De La Beche in Aldworth and was co-founder of the south aisle chapel. He died in 1345.
The damaged condition of most of the carvings, notably the headless Lady Isabella, her husband John and the limbless and headless young John, stems from the 1650s when an Act of Parliament passed by the Cromwell regime decreed “the demolition of monuments of idolatry and superstition”.
Sir John De La Beche, eldest son of Sir Philip & Lady Joan. He was a Knight of the Shire (Member of Parliament) for Berkshire in 1316, and also Keeper of Winchester Castle. Comitted to the Tower in 1322 by King Edward II, he was eventually pardoned by King Edward III in 1327. He lies in the armour of a knight, with dogs and a lion at his feet. He died in 1328.
It was too much for the curate, Thomas Longland, who was appalled by the sacrilegious acts of destruction committed by the people and had no alternative but to resign from St. Mary’s.
Today, the castle of de la Beche, long since vanished, by the crossroads at the Four Points, is now the site of the present de la Beche Manor, and it was here that the identity of the Aldworth effigies was confirmed. The site of the castle was being excavated in 1871 when a seal was discovered bearing the name of Isabella de la Beche.
It is truly a shame that De Le Beche memorials were so badly damaged, but at least some part were preserved for future generations so that knowledge and memory of the Aldworth giants will not be lost.