Gilbert de Eversholt

Many of the Kelly’s and Post Office trade directories of Eversholt contain this sentence:

 “Some centuries back, Gilbert of Eversholt, was rector of this parish, he  was employed in the restoration of St. Albans Abbey and was an architect of some considerable eminence.”


The wonderful Trove turns up this rather more nuanced view of Gilbert’s life, in An historical and topographical description of the municipium of ancient Verulam… by J Frederick Lake Williams, 1822, reproduced by the equally wonderful
The abbot, then assigned the work to the care of one of the brethren, named Gilbert de Eversholt, and imposed an annual tax of a sheaf of corn for every acre sown on the abbey estates; this tax was first levied in the third year of John’s abbacy, and it continued during his whole life, and seventeen years more; this was however made quite to the wishes of the pious abbot: he had held out the temptation of many presents of gold and silver, to any person who would forward the works; this promise was proclaimed through all lands of the abbey, as well as to some of the diocese, without success, so that he was at length compelled to resort to a species of duplicity, which no other situation could palliate, except for reasons of state, and which nothing could justify. He sent out one Amphibalus to travel about with relics, and he was instructed to pretend he had been raised from the dead, by the merits of Alban and Amphibalus, and was able to give good proof of their miracles. In that age of superstitious darkness he collected by these means, large sums of money, but all proved inadequate. Subsequent to the death of Eversholt, the building was once more suspended, but had a recommencement under the superintendance of William Sisseverne, who is noticed for receiving great supplies for their work, although its progress was so very slow that it is recorded it did not advance above two feet in any one year. It should also be remembered, that besides these works in the church, there were also some very extensive repairs and rebuildings, performed in the monastery at that identical period.

So Gilbert may have been “an architect of some considerable eminence” but he also almost certainly connived at, and may have been the chief proponent of, the raising of money by charlatanism and roguery. The text above implies he was a monk at St Albans monastery. The abbot mentioned above seems to have been John de Cella, and the building work here is the extension to the abbey church around 1200 described in Wikipedia. Amphibalus was the saint for whom Alban sacrificed his own life, thus gaining his own sainthood, so maybe the rogue above was just renamed in his honour.

From The History of the Ancient and Royal Foundation Called the Abbey of St Albans…, by Peter Newcombe, 1793, comes a rather damning indictment of Gilbert de Eversholt:
The abbot then assigned the work to the care of one of the brethren, named Gilbert de Eversholt, and imposed a tax of one sheaf of corn, to be paid yearly, for every acre sown of the abbey’s estates: this tax, being begun in the third year of John’s election, was continued during his whole life, which was seventeen more, and for ten years of his successor’s; nor did the work advance in any manner to administer joy to the old abbot, but was a constant source of grief and sorrow. He offered many presents of gold and silver to any person who would forward the work, and caused this offer to be proclaimed through all the lands of the abbey, and some of the dioceses; and, having sent one Amphibalus to travel about with relics, and pretend “that he had been raised from the dead by the merits of Alban and Amphibalus, and was able to give good proof of their miracles,” he collected, by this illusion, great sums of money ; but this unfortunate work absorbed all the supplies, just as the sea drinks up all rivers: and as the sea receives thereby no signs of increase, so this work received no advancement. After much useless expence, and at the death of Eversholt, the the work was given up; though entrusted to another curator, named Sisseverne, who had the care and conduct thereof for thirty years  after; and, though he received great supplies, yet the work did not advance two feet in height in any one year.
At the death of Eversholt, the abbot turned his thoughts to more prudent counsels; and, finding the refectory to be decayed and ruinous, he caused the same to be pulled down and rebuilt: this was completed in a handsome manner and brought to a happy conclusion, during his life, to the no small joy of himself, and to the better entertainment and festivity of the brethren. While this work was going on, he caused the dormitory, now old and ruinous, to be rebuilt, and also a dwelling adjoining, used and inhabited by the domestics. These improvements he finished in a complete manner, and with the entire consent and approbation of the convent; for, in order to discharge the expence of these two splendid edifices, as they were called, the convent gave up their wine, by general consent, for the space of fifteen years: though the good abbot lived not to see the end and conclusion of the compact.
Sir Giles Gilbert Scott had a more benign view:
James Kellaway Colling – 1874 – 72 pages – Snippet view
Sir GG Scott, in his report on the Abbey Church (1872), says of these Western porches, ” I venerate the Architect who designed them, who I believe was Abbot John de Cella’s second Architect, Gilbert de Eversholt (about the year 1195). …

St Alban’s Abbey, by Mr John Chapple, is even more gushing:

But, in the judgement of Sir Gilbert Scott, “The quality goes far to compensate for incompleteness.” “I doubt,” he adds, “whether there exists in England a work so perfect in art as the half-ruined western portals of St Alban’s.” The architect was probably one Gilbert, of Eversholt; and it is remarkable that in the church of his native parish, Eversholt, in Bedfordshire, some work is in existence which closely resembles this at St Alban’s, and which in all likelihood is also due to him.


One possibility is that Sir Gilbert Scott was looking for inspiration when he was commissioned to refurbish Eversholt church in the 1860s. He could certainly have been aware of the reputation of Gilbert de Eversholt as an architect, because he was mentioned in a local description in 1831 and was in the 1864 post office directory. Scott was also probably familiar with St Albans cathedral. It’s possible he just copied some bits of the cathedral, passing them off as the sort of thing that Gilbert de Eversholt might have put in Eversholt church if he’d ever been there. The only mention of Gilbert de Eversholt does seem to be in the writings of Matthew Paris, chronicler of St Albans in the 1200s. The only accessible translations of that seem to be the paragraphs quoted above, which seem to appear in one form or another in many different printed books.

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