The History of the Caffyn Immortelle
Immortelles are usually ceramic flowers sometimes under glass domes. They became popular in the Victorian and Edwardian periods in England and could be purchased through undertakers. Walking around cemeteries was a popular Victorian/Edwardian pastime and the beauty of an Immortelle would draw attention to a loved one’s grave and this tribute did not need to be replaced as frequently as fresh flowers. The immortelle had evolved out of the practice of placing long-lasting daisies, ‘helichrysum immortelle’, on graves around the Mediterranean where they grow wild. These were imported into the UK as ‘everlasting flowers’ and so were placed on graves here. This evolved into using porcelain flowers and doves as we see in the Caffyn Immortelle.
This particular immortelle was spotted in 1954 by a future member of the Friends of Tunbridge Wells Cemetery:
‘From the age of almost 8, I walked to the cemetery regularly with my paternal grandmother. My paternal grandfather had died in the August of the previous year not long after the Coronation. My Nan took flowers from her garden to place on his grave. Whilst Nan tidied the grave, I was asked to take a large jug to the nearest water tank to collect water to fill the permanent flower vase on the grave. I walked past a grave which had a glass dome, in which I could see white stone flowers. When I got back to my Nan I told her about the glass dome and the flowers inside. We had a conversation about the white stone flowers and how long would they last. Nan told me they would last forever, not like the fresh flowers she had placed on Grandad’s grave.’
It is not known exactly when this immortelle was placed on the Caffyn family grave but a descendant has written the following about Alfred Caffyn and his family:
‘Alfred Caffyn was born in early 1832 in Horsham and baptised on 3rd June in St Mary’s Parish Church. His 4x great grandfather, Matthew Caffyn (1628-1714) was a founder member and first Minister of the Baptist Church in Horsham even being imprisoned for his opposition to infant baptism. Alfred”s father, Jacob had been born and brought up in Rusper where his father was a miller but moved to Nutfield in Surrey where he ran a business as a carrier twice a week between Nutfield and London.
Alfred was raised in Nutfield. He had two sisters Frances and Margaret and three younger brothers Edwin, Peter and James. By the early 1850’s Alfred had moved to Tunbridge Wells and was working as a corn dealer and as a clerk. In 1854, aged 22, he married Harriet Maidman (1831-1880) daughter of Robert Maidman (1792-1869), a butcher from Maidstone and Sarah nee Roots (1792-1866). In the autumn of 1855 their son, Alfred, was born. Surviving only 7 months, he was buried in Woodbury Park Cemetery, Tunbridge Wells. By 1860 they had left to try life in Bridgeport, Connecticut, America where their next child, Sarah Maidman Caffyn, was born in about 1860.
Within 5 years they had returned to Tunbridge Wells where a second daughter, Emma Margaret, was born in 1865. Alfred’s mother died aged 64 in 1870 in Nutfield, Surrey and life must have been hard for his father who by 1871 was no longer a Carrier but an Agricultural Labourer living with his nephew in Nutfield. Alfred and his family were living at 1 Beech Street, Tunbridge Wells and Alfred was working as a carrier. In 1876 Alfred’s father, Jacob Caffyn, died on the Nutfield railway line. The death certificate states: ‘Injury to Head. Suicide on a Railway. Struck by a locomotive engine in transit, when mentally deranged.’ Witnesses saw the event and local newspapers reported it.
Then, in January 1878, news arrived that Alfred’s younger brother, James, who had been living in Ryde on the Isle of Wight, had murdered his girlfriend, Maria Barber, with an axe. A month later on February 11th James Caffyn was hanged for murder at Winchester County Prison.
Two years later, on 27 October 1880, Harriet, Alfred’s ‘beloved’ wife died age 50 and was buried in Tunbridge Wells Cemetery. By 1881 Alfred, now a widower had moved and was living at number 32 London Road and running a successful Road & Rail Carrier business employing 8 men. The same year he married again, a Jane Dedman from Limpsfield in Surrey.
1883 was another eventful year in the Caffyn family. Alfred’s eldest daughter, Sarah Maidman Caffyn, aged 23, married John Card (1854-1900) a builder from Rose Cottage, Main Street, Frant. The wedding took place on August 4th in St John’s Church, Tunbridge Wells. The couple lived in Frant. However later in 1883, on 12th October 1883, Alfred’s brother Edwin Caffyn died aged 49 – his death certificate states “suicide by hanging. Mentally deranged through intemperate habit”. Edwin left behind a second wife and two adult children. Edwin’s first wife appeared to still be alive and living in a Mental Asylum.
In 1884, Sarah Maidman Caffyn and John Card’s union brought the first of three grandchildren, William John Card (1884-1950), followed by Emily Caffyn Card (1886-1974) and the baby Albert Card (1887-1948). But tragedy strikes again and when baby Albert is only about 6 months old, his mother, Sarah Maidman, dies of pneumonia and is buried in Frant’s St Alban’s graveyard. With three children under 5yrs, John Card’s mother and sister who live with him, help bring up the two boys and Emily Caffyn Card, 2yrs old, is brought up by her grandfather, Alfred Caffyn, his second wife Jane and her aunt, Alfred’s 21yr old daughter Emma Margaret, in Tunbridge Wells.
In 1891 Emma Margaret Caffyn, marries Alfred Russell Parsons (1864-1933) in Bletchingley, Surrey. By May 1907 they are living with four sons at 66 Sprules Road, Brockley. By the 1901 census Alfred and Jane Caffyn, with their 15 year old granddaughter, Emily Caffyn Card, are living at Oak Villas in Speldhurst. Alfred is 69 and listed as a Retired Farmer. On October 4th 1907, tragedy strikes again. Alfred, 75, is knocked down by a horse and trap. He dies in Tunbridge Wells General Hospital with ‘respiration and heart failure due to injuries’ and is buried on October 23rd with his first wife. There he is later joined by his second wife Jane, in 1911.’
In 2018, the badly damaged immortelle, which had been hidden and broken by undergrowth, was rediscovered by the Friends of Tunbridge Wells Cemetery, who recognising its rarity, began researching the grave owners, looking for restorers and raising funds for the restoration enthusiastically assisted by the TWBC Parks Department who helped the Friends rescue the smashed dome containing broken porcelain roses, doves and a ribbon card. The base, which appeared to be lead and wood, was badly damaged by insects. Research identified a specialist London firm, Guillame Pons, who completed the restoration in August 2020.