Tong, Shropshire

Tong is a village in Shropshire in England. It is near junction 3 of the M54 motorway (A41) near Albrighton.

The village is remarkable mainly for its church, St Bartholomews, outside of which is the supposed grave of Little Nell, a fictional character in Charles Dickens book, The Old Curiosity Shop. It is thought that Charles Dickens visited Tong church when his grandmother worked at Tong Castle (demolished in 1954) that stood to the south. Its site is now occupied by the M54 motorway.

The 'grave' is thought to have come about because Charles Dickens' novel was serialised and shipped over to America, and as a result, Americans began coming over to England to visit scenes featured in the book. The tourists recognised the references to Tong church from the book and came to view the supposed 'grave', which of course was not there.

However, a verger and village postmaster, George H Bowden (16 August 1856 - May 1943) apparently asked local people to pay for a headstone, forged an entry in the church register of burials (apparently the giveaway was that he used post office ink to do this), and charged people to see the 'grave'. The headstone has been moved from time to time to make way for genuine graves.

A particularly notable feature of St. Bartholomew's is the collection of memorials to the Vernon family and other proprietors of the Tong estate inside the church. St. Bartholomew's was chosen by Simon Jenkins of The Times in 1999 as one of the best 1,000 churches (out of 15,000) in England. He awarded the church, which was mostly rebuilt in 1409, three stars out of a possible five. He refers to the collection of village tombs, the masterpiece of which being that of Richard Vernon, who died in 1451.

In "White-ladies," one of the "Boscobel Tracts" that describe the events of Charles II's escape from England after the battle of Worcester, there is a statement that Charles, while sheltering at Boscobel House about two miles away, "had the pleasure of a prospect from Tong to Breewood, which satisfied the eyes, and of the famous bells at Tong, which entertained the ear." The bells he heard were the bells of St. Bartholmew's.

  • Funerary art in St Batholomew's church, Tong
  • Isabel de Lingen (died 1446) and her third husband, Fulke de Pembrugge (died 1409). Isabel founded the chantry and college at Tong for her own and her husbands' souls. It became the shrine church of the Vernon family of Haddon Hall.

  • Richard Vernon (died 1451, foreground) and Benedicta de Ludlow. Through their marriage the Vernons of Haddon Hall obtained Tong. Tomb in St Bartholomew's Church, Tong, Shropshire. Richard was Speaker of the House of Commons in 1432 and 1433.

  • Benedicta de Ludlow (foreground) and Richard Vernon (died 1451). This tomb has the most impressive sculpture at Tong.

  • Tomb of Anne Talbot (died 1494) and Henry Vernon (died 1515). Henry was put in charge of Catherine of Aragon and Arthur, Prince of Wales by Henry VII and was with them when Arthur died at Ludlow in 1502.

  • Arthur Vernon, priest and son of Anne Talbot and Henry Vernon, in the robes of a University of Cambridge MA, on his tomb in the floor of the Golden Chapel at Tong.

  • Arthur Vernon portrayed preaching in the Golden Chapel at Tong.

  • Margaret Dymmok and Richard Vernon (died 1517). After his death, Margaret married Sir Richard Manners.

  • Margaret Vernon and Thomas Stanley (died 1576). George Vernon, son of Richard and Margaret, died without male heir. He left his estates to his daughters: Haddon to Dorothy and Tong to Margaret, who married Stanley, the second son of Edward Stanley, 3rd Earl of Derby. Part of a double family tomb.

  • Edward Stanley (died 1632), last of the Vernon heirs to own Tong, which he sold to Thomas Harries about 1630. He was the father of Venetia Stanley, a famous courtesan of the early 17th century. Lower tier of a double family tomb.

  • Memorial to Ann Wylde, daughter of Thomas Harries of Tong, who died in childbirth, aged 16, in 1624.

  • Memorial to George Durant (1731–1780), who bought the Tong estate in 1764.