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Unwanted fame, unwanted flowers continue at family home

September 9, 1997

GREAT BRINGTON, England (AP) _ With hundreds of people bringing their flowers, their sympathy and their curiosity to the gates of the estate where Princess Diana was buried, the family and nearby villages are feeling the stress of unwanted fame.

The Spencer family asked Tuesday for an end to flowers. ``It is turning into a problem and it is getting worse,″ a family spokeswoman said.

In nearby Great Brington, a village 75 miles northwest of London, there is pride and affection for Diana but concern about a rush of outsiders.

``There will be no shrine while I am priest-in-charge here,″ the Rev. David MacPherson said as he watched people stream through the doors of the 17th century church of St. Mary the Virgin. His church is awash with flowers, cards, kids’ drawings and gifts including a well-used teddy bear.

``Life goes on with this community and we must continue to do our work,″ MacPherson said.

Twenty local volunteers take turns escorting visitors through the small stone church, ensuring there is no crowding outside the ornate, gloomy Spencer family vault.

Before the family’s announcement Friday that Diana would be buried on a lake isle at Althorp, a mile away, she was expected to have been laid to rest in the vault among 20 generations of her ancestors.

``We are very pleased that the earl has placed Diana at Althorp,″ said steward Linda Shaeffer, a Newark, N.J., native guiding visitors Tuesday. ``We never could have coped.″

``Last week, we were absolutely beleaguered,″ said Ann Bellamy, a 40-year resident of Great Brington. ``But people have been well-behaved. The only trouble we had was when someone parked in our driveway.″

When pressed, she recalled that she often used to bump into teen-age Diana buying ice cream at the village post office cum store. ``She was just an ordinary teen-ager _ all legs.″

Other locals are also clearly tired of the attention. ``Politely _ no press,″ reads the notice outside the Fox and Hounds pub.

The church guidebook has sold out and staff have a long list of orders from Diana fans keen to get their hands on anything associated with the princess.

Dr. Stephen Mattingly, a retired consultant physician and amateur village historian, said the Spencers were sheep farmers when they moved to the area in 1486.

John Spencer, the 2nd Earl of Sunderland _ a precursor to the present title _ bought the 100-room Althorp House and Great Brington, a hilltop cluster of honey-stone houses, in 1508. As agriculture declined, later earls gradually sold off chunks of land.

Mattingly _ who remarked that he was in his 41st interview _ said although the Spencer family now only owns small pieces of Great Brington, it must still give permission for changes. Otherwise, he said, the village might ``become another Graceland.″

The Rev. MacPherson, who confesses to ``something of a sense of humor failure″ after a week of intense scrutiny, is confident the village will not be inundated.

``I think we will cope after all,″ he said. ``Things are definitely calming down.″

But outside Althorp’s tall iron gates, people continued to arrive bearing flowers by the armful. A local farmer has opened his field for cars.

``I took my flowers right to the gate because I hope they will be in the next load to go inside,″ said Carol Tsang, from nearby Northampton. She hadn’t heard the family’s announcement that no more flowers would go to Diana’s island.

``I don’t think you can stop people bringing flowers,″ said Edna Henton, who came from Leicester. ``People want to do it. It’s not like giving money _ it’s something you can see.″

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