Jonah and his "Partner"
The most definitive account of Jonah’s route to Turvey is probably contained in John Higgins’ 1844 entry into his scrapbook of Turvey Abbey. The figure called Jonah, or some say St Peter, is of Portland stone and originally stood in a square tank of water in the centre of a quadrangle forming part of Ashridge House in Buckinghamshire.
Ashridge was originally built in 1283 for the monks of the order of St Augustine, known as Bon Hommes, an order of begging friars from the south of France. Following the disillusion of the Monasteries by Henry V111 the house and grounds were taken over by the Crown. In 1603 Thomas Egerton, then Lord Chancellor, purchased the estate becoming the first Earl of Bridgewater. It is he who is reputed to have had the statue installed in the quadrangle.
John Higgins saw the statue in situ in 1800 and admired both the statue itself and its surroundings. Ashridge underwent a massive reconstruction between 1808 and 1825 and parts of the old building were sold. A Mr Collins, then living at Flamstead House in Hertfordshire purchased the statue but on finding it too heavy to move relinquished his purchase. The statue was then moved to Buckingham where it remained until about 1838.
Jonah moves to Bedford
The statue was then purchased by Mr Prior, a stonemason of Bedford, and taken to his premises on the corner of Bromham Road and Union Street. There, it was seen and recognised by John Higgins who immediately purchased the statue. Mr Higgins gave instructions to Mr Prior to surprise the villagers by installing the statue in its present location in the mill pond on the night 15th April 1844 which he did with the help of his son.
There he stayed until in 1895 when a severe frost caused Jonah to collapse. He was taken to Turvey Abbey where he was cleaned and given a larger base before being returned to his original and present position. Jonah is a Grade II listed monument.
The origin of the name “Jonah” for the three-metre-high statue is not known but this Jonah, rather than being eaten by the whale, has him at his feet. There have been many poems written to honour Jonah, but the most appropriate must be that written by Thomas Andrew, known as the Poet of Turvey, in 1914 and which can be found in the article on Thomas Andrew.
Since 1953 Jonah has had a companion known to many locals as “Eve”. It is the nature of history that we can be more certain as to the provenance of the 1844 Jonah than we can of his 1953 partner. It is agreed that in 1953 the walls of a barn, situated behind the Mill and owned by Mr Dashwood of Holmwood House, had collapsed. On removing the rubble, the workman found a statue. A newspaper report at the time stated that an elderly villager remembered, some 50 years ago, bringing down two statues, known as Adam and Eve, from Turvey Abbey to the barn. “Eve” has rather sturdy legs and large feet and clearly has a beard and a three-cornered hat. The statue was placed in the mill pond on the 8th and 9th October 1953 to keep Jonah company.
There are currently two theories as to the origins of “Eve”: the first is that when the statue was found it had no head, so another was found and placed on the torso, possibly Adam’s head. The second theory is that the statue is actually Adam, but he was called Eve to provide Jonah with female company.
Whatever the truth, they have become a much-loved sight.