Wednesday, 25 September 2013


The wild boy
A tiny gravestone stands just opposite the church porch of St Mary’s church at Northchurch in Hertfordshire.  It bears a simple inscription :


The  Wild  Boy


Peter was a German boy who was found almost wild in a forest near Hanover in 1725.  He was apparently brought to England on the instructions of Queen Caroline and was looked after by a Northchurch farmer.  Because of his wandering habits, he wore a collar around his neck which bore his name and address.   The same collar is preserved in Berkhamstead school.



Hospital  benefactor


John Cowane was a prosperous Scottish merchant in  17th century Stirling .  In 1637, Mr Cowane endowed an almshouse for poor members of the merchant guild, and Cowane’s Hospital can still be seen today opposite the church near Stirling Castle, as can the very fine statue of Mr Cowane in an alcove over the entrance.   It is said that at midnight on new year’s eve,  Auld  Staney  Breeks,  as the statue is known locally, comes down from his lofty perch to dance in the courtyard!   We are not told who has witnessed this event!


Old Tristram


A rare alms box in Halifax Parish Church is a life size wooden effigy of an 18th century man, dating from c1701.   ‘Old Tristram’ was a beggar who used to beg for alms in the church porch and is now immortalised in the church.


The Snake Catcher


A very fine marble stone in the old churchyard at Brockenhurst in Hampshire marks the grave of an unusual New Forest character Harry Mills who died in 1905 aged 67 years.   Better known as  ‘Brusher Mills’ he had lived in an illegal shack in the forest for almost 30 years.   Actually the shack was burned down just one day before the 30 years required to claim the home and land upon which it stood under ancient forest law.         He was known as ‘Brusher’ simply because of the meticulous way he brushed the village cricket pitch.   His main occupation however was that of ‘snakecatcher’ and he is credited with having killed a total of 3186 New Forest adders which he sold to London Zoo as live feed for the larger snakes.   The gravestone depicts a carving of Mills near to his shack and several snakes.    The local pub is called ‘The Snake Catcher.’

The slave who made good


The churchyard at Kirkoswald near Ayr in Scotland is famous as the burial place of several characters connected with Robert Burns.    One gravestone, very much like all the rest, was erected by Douglas Kennedy in memory of his father Scipio Kennedy who died June 24 1774 aged 80 years.    Scipio was a former African slave who made good.

In the 18th century it was fashionable to employ black servants and as early as 1702 a Captain Douglas of Mains in Dumbartonshire brought a young boy from Guinea in West Africa as a slave.   He named the boy Scipio and when the Captain’s daughter married John Kennedy of Culzean Castle in 1705, Scipio became their servant.  They obviously thought a lot about the boy and he was given the surname of Kennedy. The Kennedy’s subsequently became Earl’s of Cassillis

After 20 years with the family Scipio signed a legal contract to continue service with the family for a further 19 years for twelve Scottish pounds yearly, plus ‘a share of the drinks money’ ?

One argument against slavery was that it was offensive to Christian teaching.  However it was also thought that as African tribes were not Christian, then slavery was beneficial to ensure Christian teaching.  Thus Scipio was converted to Christianity in Scotland and so became a free man.   He married a local girl, Margaret Gray and they and their family took the Kennedy surname.  They were given a home and a plot of land on the Culzean estate and Scipio remained in the employ of the Earl until his death in 1774.





A simple stone slab marks a lonely grave on the water’s edge at Sunderland Point overlooking Morecambe Bay in Lancashire.  A metal plate reads :

Here lies Poor Samboo

A faithful Negro who (attending his mafter from the Weft Indies)

Died on his arrival at Sunderland


A nearby jetty was where cotton, first brought from the West Indies, was unloaded en route to the Lancashire mill towns.

The Lover’s Tragedy


A memorial stone which was erected in the churchyard at Bowes, Durham in 1848 reads:

The Lover’s Tragedy

Roger Wrightson jun. & Martha Railton,

both of Bowes, buried in one grave.

He died of a fever & upon Tolling his passing bell she cried out,

‘My heart is broke’ and in a few hours Expired thro love.

March 15  1714-15.

Such is the brief and touching record contained in the parish register of burials.
Tradition is that the grave was at the west end of the church directly beneath the bells.
The sad history of these true and faithful lovers forms the subject of Mallets pathetic Ballad of Edwin and Emma.

The stone, which can be seen close to the west end of the church has weathered badly and the writing is almost worn away.   A plaque with the wording was attached to the bottom of the stone in 2005 by the Parish Council

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