The Aldworth Giants
The tiny atmospheric parish church at Aldworth, contains numerous huge effigies of the De La Beche family. The figures are supposed to be life size representations, depicting knights all over seven feet tall. The De La Beche family were powerful landowners and knights in the 14th century. Many of them were retainers to the king, warders to the Tower of London, and Sheriffs of Oxfordshire and Berkshire.
The family were influential during the reign of Edward the II (deposed in 1327) and Edward the III (died 1376), and were embroiled in the royal intrigue of the time. Sir Phillip was imprisoned in Scarborough castle from 1322 to 1327, but later pardoned by Edward the III; His father, also Sir Philip was jailed and later pardoned during the reign of Edward the II.
Unfortunately many of the effigies were vandalised by Cromwell’s men during the Civil War in the 17th century. Many of the knights are missing the lower part of their legs, noses and arms, no doubt the easiest parts to break off. They were probably seen as a symbol of royalty by the parliamentarians, although many churches were ransacked in the same period.
According to tradition the giants were known by other names: John Long, John Strong, John Never Afraid and John Ever Afraid. The effigy said to represent John Ever afraid no longer exists, but was set in an alcove in the outside wall of the church, which has now been blocked. It is said that he sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for worldly riches. The bargain was that the Devil would claim his soul whether he was buried inside or outside the church. Burying his body within the church walls meant that the Devil was cheated of his prize.
Also of note is the ancient Yew tree, which stands (aided by supports) in the churchyard. It is thought to be around a thousand years old, and probably dates from the first church on the site. The tree has been struck by lightning several times, and only part of it remains alive, although it has seeded into new growth nearby.
Yew trees are often found in ancient churchyards symbolising immortality and rebirth, it was also a sacred tree in ancient times.