Major Owen Evans was an exectutive at Morris Motor Cars, Oxford. He was an expert on Monumental Brasses and a member of the County Archaeological Socety. He "discovered" the Ruinous Grotto on Boxing Day 1945, after being told there was a ruined "chancel" in the woods of Thornton convent. He recognised the tomb chest sides as belonging to the Robert Ingleton tomb from the description by the historian Browne Willis, in 1735 in his book, 'History and Antiquities of the Town, Hundred and Deanery of Buckingham'.
Letter from the Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society May 22 1946
Dear Major Owen-Evans
I managed to pay a brief visit to Thornton Hall last Monday week, and saw the tomb figures in the “grotto” - very interesting indeed. I wonder why the writer of the article in the “Records” describes it as a “a chancel with I believe a North Chapel and some beautiful sedilia…in a grotto or fernery in the grounds”. It doesn’t look at all like a chancel and I think it is an 18th century summer-house of the “folly” type. (That queer pointed pinnacle, like a witch’s hat, for roof indicates somebody’s whim, surely?) We had to wade through yards of nettles to get there - the Nun was all right with her flowing skirts, but a friend with me who had bare legs suffered agonies in the sacred name of archaeology! I have asked a firm of photographers in Buckinqham (Chapman) if they can do the work of photographing the place - they have done other jobs for us before - and they reply that they can, and the college authorities are quite willing to give permission.
Is there any chance of your being able to come over and help me supervise the work of photography, make some measurements, take notes, and generally write the thing up for our “Records”, or would Mr. Spokes like to do this do you think?
I should like to fix up a day towards the end of June, or before July 1st, if possible, so as to get on with it.
The 14th C tiles are of the same (or similar) design to those noted by C. Howler at Thornborough (next village). I am so glad you put us on to the place, but what we can do towards getting the grotto restored I don’t know - and I despair of getting the tomb back into the church - that would take an army of Bishops to manage, I suppose! I did so enjoy my afternoon with you a fortnight ago!
Our ref : JJ/VB
E.A.G. Lamborn, Esq.,
21 August 1946
My dear Lamborn,
Do you remember in those happy days before the war you took Lady Rose and me to a village in the recesses of the Cotswolds where there were two churches (two villages) looking each other on the two sides of one stream? What was that village and how did we get there? On Friday I am taking my annual party into the country, Sidney Hodgson, the auctioneer of Chancery Lane, and Mr. William King of Blackwells. That is a little tradition which was born also in those happy days and which I have revived since the war.
I wondered whether I should carry them on from there perhaps up to the Roman Villa taking one or other side of the Colne Valley and then perhaps go on to Tewkesbury or somewhere like that to give variety of scene as we go. But you shall plan the trip as you planned last year’s trip by Nether Avon and all that blessed region.
P.s. Did I tell you that I saw Nutt at work on the tombs? Very fine, isn’t it? He is hoping to finish by the end of this week.
Sketch by Major Owen Evans dated Boxing Day 1945:
The plinth of the tomb was not found at the time. (However recently I have located sections of the plinth in the walls of the grotto.)
4.Letter from The Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society dated February 1949
Dear Major Owen-Evans
I am astounded at the length of time I have kept your dossiers of information re Thornton, also so sorry that I have had no opportunity to calling on you in Oxford. The petrol situation is so tiresome (no extra for the winter six months) that I have had to come over by bus, or other peoples’ cars, on the few occasions I’ve been there.
I shall be at a meeting at the Ashmolean on Saturday week, which I hope will be over by 5 o’clock, and I wonder if you would be at home if I came along then, as I shall have the car this time? You will be pleased to know that the Thornton tomb is now safely back in the Church - the work has been supervised by Clive Rouse, and paid for by the Morris Fund - some £70.00 - I regret to say that our Society did not contribute a penny, and were annoyed with us for spending £11 on getting the photographs taken which were intended to arouse interest in the first place.
It is a magnificent piece of work, and I am so thankful that you told me about it in the first place, or I should never have known about it. It was so interesting to see inside the tomb, and see how it was made. Clive Rouse said - I have not yet been able to get over to see it restored - there is a new Vicar there, and the Church is being looked after properly, so it should be safe now. There will probably be an article about it in the Illustrated London News soon -s the editor is one of our members. It would be nice if I could come along on the 12th, but shall quite understand if inconvenient - and if foggy I should be afraid of being too late back! I could ring you up about 2 o clock when in Oxford.