Thursday, 19 December 2013


It is inevitable that there will be interesting curiosities connected with famous people and there are many buildings, memorials and the like to remind us of our famous forefathers.   Some things are just a little more curious than others.

The  death  of  a  King


The Rufus Stone. Which can be seen in a New Forest clearing at the side of an unclassified road north of the A31, recalls the death of King William 11 (1056 – 1100).  It was erected in 1745 to replace a tree which had marked the original spot where William Rufus was killed by an arrow whilst hunting in the New Forest.   But was the death an accident ?   Called Rufus supposedly because of his ruddy appearance, William was a man, so it is said, who was ill tempered and small both in body and in mind.  He was loathed by his people and few tears were shed when he was killed, and indeed the clergy at Winchester Cathedral refused religious rites to his remains.

Whilst his death was probably an accident, Sir Walter Tyrrell has  by tradition been suspected of being responsible.   Was it an accident or was it regicide? We will never know.    The Sir Walter Tyrrell Inn can be found nearby.   The former forge at nearby Avon is where, according to legend, Sir William stopped before fording the river, and made the blacksmith reverse his horse’s shoes in order to mislead his pursuers.


 The  secret  portrait


A curious painting can be seen in the West Highland Museum at Fort William in the Scottish Highlands.   Known as the ‘ secret portrait’, it is just an apparent mess of paint until it is viewed as a reflection in a glass, when it becomes a very nice portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie.




 The  lady  with  the  lamp


Florence Nightingdale, the name is legendary, the popular heroine of the Crimean War.  She was actually born in Florence, Italy, on 12th May 1820 of a well to English family, and on her return from the Crimea, she settled in the family home at East Wellow in Hampshire and eventually became something of a recluse.   She died on 13th August 1910 and was buried in the family vault at St Margaret’s church, Wellow, where a very simple memorial can be seen – just a simple engraving of a cross inscribed – FN, Born 12 May 1820. Died 13 August 1910 -  in accordance with her express wishes.

Inside the church are a number of memento's and a copy of the Scutari Cross.  This cross is believed to have been given to Florence by a British soldier during the Crimean War (1854 – 56).  It was made of shot and shrapnel from the battlefield.  She left it to the church when she died, but very sadly the original cross was stolen from the church on 20th December 1991 and has not been recovered.









Anne  Bronte’s  grave


In the graveyard alongside the parish church of St Mary at Scarborough in North Yorkshire, is an attractive gravestone – it marks the grave of Anne Bronte.
The inscription gives her age as 28 years when she died – she was in fact 29 years old.
Anne of Bronte family fame, was a frequent visitor to Scarborough, a place she loved.  In 1849, with consumption of both lungs too far advanced to be curable,’ she yearned to visit Scarborough for one last  time.   She did so in the company with sister Charlotte and friend Ellen Nussey and they lodged at 2 The Cliff (where the Grand Hotel now stands).  Within a few days Anne died and had discussed with Charlotte her wish ‘to die at Scarborough where she had known peace and happiness

 Champion of the World


A marble cross, erected by a few of his friends in the churchyard at Beeston in Norfolk, has the simple inscription -  ‘Jem Mace – Champion of the World’.    Jem was born on the 8th of April 1831, the son of the village blacksmith.   He was handy with his fists and developed his own style beating all comers.   Known as the ‘Swaffham Gypsy’, he also played the fiddle outside the local pubs to earn a few coppers, but he was encouraged to take up bare-knuckled prize fighting.   He became so successful that he was able to travel to America and Australia, eventually becoming world champion.   He is said to have fought over 500 professional fights, some of 40 rounds or more, and he made a fortune.


D’ye  ken  John  Peel?


John Peel  (1776 – 1854) was no more than a local character in his native village of Caldbeck in Cumberland, who kept his own pack of hunting hounds.   Peel, who was more than 6ft tall, fathered 13 children after eloping with his loved one to Gretna Green.   He was immortalised in the song, D’ye ken John Peel’,  the words of which were written by his friend John Woodcock Graves, and it was set to music by William Metcalfe, Carlisle Cathedral organist.   A very fine gravestone marks the Peel family grave in the churchyard at Caldbeck.


Grace Darling


Grace Horsley Darling was born at Bamburgh in 1815. Her father was a lighthouse keeper at Longstone lighthouse. At 4.0am on the morning of 7th September 1838 during a violent storm, the steamship Forfarshire was wrecked at Big Harcar Rock on the nearby Farne Islands and 40 lives were lost. At 7.0am Grace saw the wreck some half a mile from the lighthouse and spotted that there were survivors. Her father William thought that the weather was two bad for the Seahouses lifeboat to be launched and so he and Grace launched their little coble in the atrocious conditions which resulted in them rowing around the jagged rocks for nearly a mile to reach the survivors. William went ashore whilst Grace kept the coble steady, and they took five survivors back to the lighthouse.

Grace died of tuberculosis in 1842. A fine memorial tomb was erected in the churchyard at Bamburgh by public subscription in 1844. The original sculpture of Grace in Portland stone weathered badly and was removed to the inside of the church and a new effigy in local stone replaced it. The original coble can be seen, together with other artefacts, in the Grace Darling Museum opposite the church.



Three Roberts


Robert Fergusson 1750-1774 was a celebrated Scots poet who was born and died in Edinburgh. His untimely death at the age of 24 was the result of a fall which left him with severe head injuries. He died after spending 2 months in an asylum and was buried in a paupers grave in the cemetery at Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh.

Robbie Burns was much influenced by his work and actually paid for a gravestone to mark Fergusson’s grave with the epitaph:

‘No sculptured marble here nor pompous lay

No storied Urn nor animated Bust

This simple Stone directs Pale Scotias way

To pour her Sorrows oer her Poets Dust.’


A plaque on the grave tells us that R. L Stevenson planned to renovate the stone with the following inscription,  but died before he could do so :

"This stone originally erected by Robert Burns,

has been repaired at the charges of Robert Louis

 Stevenson and is by him re-dedicated to the memory

 of  Robert Fergusson as the gift of one Edinburgh lad to another."

The Saltire Society, on its 50th Anniversary, with support of
Edinburgh District Council, commemorates the three Roberts
by inscribing Stevenson’s words.




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