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.
Champion of the World
A marble cross, erected by a few of his friends in the churchyard at Beeston in
has the simple inscription - ‘Jem Mace – Champion of the World’. Jem was born on Norfolk 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
of Caldbeck , 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 Cumberland 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 Horsley Darling was born at Bamburgh in 1815. Her father was a lighthouse keeper at Longstone lighthouse. At on the morning of
7th September 1838 during a
violent storm, the steamship Forfarshire was wrecked at Big Harcar Rock on the
nearby and 40 lives were lost. At 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. Farne Islands
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
church. Grace Darling
Robert Fergusson 1750-1774 was a celebrated Scots poet who was born and died in
. 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. 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
lad to another." Edinburgh
The Saltire Society, on its 50th Anniversary, with support of
Edinburgh District Council, commemorates the three Roberts
by inscribing Stevenson’s words.