Mile Oak churchyard; a nice place to spend Eternity


Yesterday morning the low Winter sunlight hit this gravestone at just the right angle; for the first time I could read the inscription. I’ve read William Kerr’s name before, but not the rest. I would go on my way wondering what might have brought a Scotsman to a Sussex village in the Nineteenth Century, to lie with all these generations of Buckolls and Borrers, Blakers and Patchings.


Now I know. He seems to have had no heirs, so I wonder if his fellow parishioners arranged his memorial. He was clearly much-loved, and it reads like an Honourable Discharge.

Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold of eternal life.

In memory of WILLIAM KERR who died March 25th 1854 Aged 75

William Kerr was for eighteen Years a Private in the 12th Light Dragoons and served in Egypt, Spain and Flanders under Abercrombie and Wellington. He was present at the Battles of Alexandria, Salamanca, Vittoria and Waterloo.

He resided thirty six Years in this Parish and was remarkable during the latter part of his life for his gentleness of disposition and general good conduct. He died hoping and praying for mercy in the name of his Redeemer.

The battles Pte Kerr fought in were some of the bloodiest of the Napoleonic Wars: Alexandria 1801 where Sir Ralph Abercrombie died chasing Napoleon out of Egypt; Salamanca 1812 and Vitoria 1813, where the Duke of Wellington chased the French out of Spain, and Waterloo 1815 where Wellington chased Napoleon out of Europe for good, ending twenty years of war. He was a lucky man to survive such long service; his retirement to Portslade was well-deserved.

Old Portslade, the area between the A27 and the Old Shoreham Road now known as Mile Oak, still feels like a country village, not yet swallowed up by the City of Brighton and Hove. William Kerr would recognise the streets round St Nicolas’s church, though in his day the Norman Manor house behind the church was still standing.


High Street with cottages c.1800 and Southdown Brewery 1881 (founded c.1850)


Kemps, originally 16th Century with later facade; you can just make out the late-17th Century chimney with brick pilasters.


Portslade Manor, 12th Century, converted to almshouses in the Nineteenth Century before being demolished to make rubble to build a folly-ruin nearby.

When I’m eating my sandwiches in the churchyard I always think it must a rather good place to spend the rest of time.


Buckoll Graves, 1740s Photos (c)JM

A couple of days after writing this, I discovered that two medals belonging to William Kerr, his Military General Service medal with Egypt and Vittoria clasps and his Waterloo medal, had been auctioned recently by Dix, Noonan Webb, Orders, Medal, Decorations and Militaria December 12th – 13th 2012 lot 1338, sold for £3,100.

Internet Image 1_w280h280

The catalogue entry, which gives some additional biography, reads:

Pair: Private William Kerr, 12th Light Dragoons

Military General Service 1793-1814, 2 clasps, Egypt, Vittoria (William Kerr, 12th Light Dragoons) ex Gray Collection 1911; Waterloo 1815 (William Kerr, 12th Reg. Light Dragoons)

William Kerr was born at Woodman, Kent, and served for 3 years in the Lanark and Dunbarton Fencible Cavalry before enlisting at Sandwich into the 12th Light Dragoons on 20th March 1800. A note sold with his medal states that he was ‘wounded in the left thigh on 21st March 1801’, but this is not recorded on his discharge papers which state only that he ‘Served in the Peninsula & Waterloo’. He was discharged to Pension on 16 February 1819.

William Kerr died at Portslade, East Sussex, in March 1854, and was buried in the parish church where his headstone still survives.

Sold with photograph of his headstone and copied death certificate and discharge papers.

I’m glad that the lot included a photo of his gravestone. I’m glad too that the medals have been reunited after being in separate collections earlier last century. William Kerr was born in England, then. But he must’ve had strong links to Scotland to join a Scottish fencible regiment at the start of the Napoleonic War. Fencibles (from ‘defensible’) were raised for home defence; clearly by 1800 he fancied the adventure – and better pay – of serving overseas.

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