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

Monday, 23 September 2013


The  Huntrodds’  Memorial


On the south east side of the parish church at Whitby in North Yorkshire, close to the entrance to the Cholmley Pew, is the  Huntrodd’s  Memorial  1600 – 1680.  The inscription tells us :

‘ Here lie the bodies of Francis Huntrodds and Mary his wife who were born on the same day of the week, month and year (viz) Septr ye 19th 1600
marry’d on the day of their birth and after having had 12 children born to them
died aged 80 years on the same day of the year they were born, Septr ye 19th 1680

the one not above five hours before ye other.’

‘Husband and wife that did twelve children bear,

 dy’d the same day; alike both aged were.

Bout 80 years they liv’d, five hours did part,

(Ev’n on the marriage day) each tender heart, so fit a match,

surely could never be, both, in their lives, and in their deaths agree.’

Fact is indeed stranger than fiction.

Huntrodds Tomb

The watery grave.
Colonel and Mrs John Harrison, who lived in Kirby Malham in North Yorkshire in the 19th century, were separated for long periods due to the Colonel’s frequent overseas service, with the result that his wife Helen decided that as water had separated them for so much of their married life, so it should in death. To that end she arranged for their burial plot to be situated in a corner of the old churchyard where a small stream runs. This stream would separate the double plot. Helen died in 1890 and she was buried on the south side of the stream. John died in 1900 and, it is said, when the gravedigger attempted to dig the grave on the other plot on the north bank, he hit impenetrable rock. The result was that John had to be buried with his wife and so in fact they were united. The stream still runs through the plot which is marked by a stone kerb and a very fine marble cross.

Nuptial discord

The church of St Lawrence in the tiny village of Ayot St Lawrence in Hertfordshire (the last home of Sir George Bernard Shaw), is  like a Greek temple, with Doric portico and two colonnaded wings leading to pavilions on each side, a perfect example of the Paladian style.   The front of the church is stuccoed, but the back has been left in plain brick, whilst the roof is of copper sheeting.   The very fine interior is in keeping with the structure and the altar is at the west end.

Sir Lyonel Lyde of Ayot House and Lord of the Manor in 1778, was responsible for this curious edifice, having decided to build a new church for the village.  Actually, he decided that the old medieval church obstructed the view from his house  and decided to demolish it and to build the new church to the west of his house where he could see  and admire it from a distance.   Before he could demolish the old church, the Bishop intervened with an injunction, but the old building was never restored and was left in ruins as seen today.

The appearance of the exterior of the new church is due to the fact that Sir Lyonel could only see the front of the building and this also explains why the altar is at the west end of the church, i.e the opposite end to the front.

The tombs of Sir Lyonel and his wife are under the two side pavilions, one on each side.  It is said that these unusual separate mausoleums were the outcome of a life of nuptial discord.   Sir Lyonel had apparently vowed that since the church had united them in life, it should make amends by separating them in death.

The faithful wife

A desciptive tablet in the parish church at Tenby in South Wales tells its own story:

Margaret Mercer's fine memorial

Nine  husbands


A tablet in the church at Birdbrook in Essex records :

 ‘ Martha Blewitt of the Swan Inn at Baythorpe End in the parish of Birdbrook,

who died on May 7th 1681.

She was the wife of 9 husbands successively, but the 9th outlived her.’


The funeral text was :  ‘Last of all the woman died also.’  

 Which was recorded in the register.  
It was also recorded that,

‘Robert Hogan of this parish  had 7 wives successively.’

He married his 7th wife, Ann Livermire, , January 1st 1739



The  Pudsay  family


An unusual family tomb can be seen in the lovely church of St Peter and St Paul at Bolton-by-Bowland in Lancashire.  It commemorates local Lord of the Manor, Sir Ralph Pudsay (died 1468), his three wives and  twenty five children! The figures of each one of the family are carved in relief on the huge grey marble slab, together with the names of each of the 25 children


The King’s barber


Edmund Harman also had a large family, nine boys and seven girls, and their images are carved on his fine memorial in Burford Parish Church in Oxfordshire.  Harman prepared the monument himself and part of the inscription, which is in Latin reads :


Whom God from his earliest years blessed with countless benefits,

Put this monument to the Christian memory of himself

and of his only and most faithful wife AGNES

and of the 16 children whom, by God’s mercy, she bore him.


As barber and personal servant to King Henry V111 he was trusted to hold a razor to the King’s throat and once when he was ill with no doctor available, Harman successfully ‘bled’ the King.  Harman was also a witness to the King’s will, a close servant indeed.    Figures of Red Indians and strange fruits also adorn the monument which are thought to commemorate discoveries made by Harman’s brother on voyages abroad.


The Bradshaw Memorial
In about 1600, Anthonie Bradshaw erected his own memorial in his parish church at Duffield in Derbyshire. Although he described it as a ‘little monument’ it was in fact 12 feet tall and commemorated his living self, his two wives and his (then) 20 children. Born of an old Derbyshire family, Bradshaw became a successful London lawyer before returning to his native Derbyshire.
His monument is of sandstone, with obelisks and rusticated pillars, and is inset with alabaster panels. They are full of inscribed information, some in Latin and some in  English, about Bradshaw and his family. He and his family are portrayed  in half-figure incisions identified by initials with full names above and at the foot of the monument is an acrostic of his name. The whole thing is topped with his coat of arms and crest.   One thing missing is the date of his death in 1614.
Bradshaw had a further three children before he died.
The monument was restored in 2002.

 Duffield Parish Church

Another large family
The church of St Martin was a Collegiate church until 1547 when it became the parish church and in the late 18th century the church was reduced to its current standing of the medieval nave, leaving the old chancel in ruins.  A striking gravestone can be seen inside the church having been removed from the ruined chancel for preservation. It depicts the figures of a man and a woman draped in a cover over which a tree is growing. Shields are at the roots of the tree and at the ends of its branches are the heads of 13 children, 7 sons on the male side and 6 daughters wearing caps on the female side. It is thought to commemorate Sir Thomas de Heslerton and his wife Alice and their children.



The Stonemason's family


Back in the 18th century, James Faichney was a stonemason living at Inverpeffray near Crieff in Perthshire.  During his lifetime he carved a large elaborate stone depicting himself, his wife and each of his ten children and he built it into the churchyard boundary wall.    Apart from the images, dates of birth, marriage etc., are included, making a complete record of his family.

In 1994 the stone was removed from its original position and after restoration it was place inside the interesting pre reformation church at Inverpeffray.



Entrepreneur James Leach was a larger than life figure in Keighley in the 19th century.  He was known as ‘Pie’ because of his one time meat pie business, but he also ventured into other trades such as handloom weaver, wool comber, coal pit sinker, beer house keeper, spoon maker, horse & cart driver, gambler, hawker, travelling showman, docker, green-grocer, nightwatchman/ policeman.  He also became very much involved in local organisations and public offices.  Pie got married on a particular afternoon only because he had time on his hands when his loom broke down.  Unfortunately he arrived late at the church and fearing that the ceremony would have to be postponed because it could not be held within the permitted hours, Pie persuaded a friend to climb the church tower to alter the clock in order to mislead the parson.  Then, when a ring was unavailable for the bride’s finger, he enlisted the help of the landlady at the nearby Lord Rodney Inn and she loaned her own wedding ring.

Apparently Pie was a little more organised when it came to making his funeral arrangements, making elaborate arrangements.  He erected a fine tombstone in Keighley Utley Cemetery some six years before his death and had it engraved with a testimonial and details of his public service:

 ‘We the undersigned have pleasure in certifying that the bearer JAMES LEACH is of sober and steady habits. He has been employed in the Keighley Police Force for upwards of 5 years and retired therefrom last October having been so long in the Force  and accustomed to the duties of a Police Officer, we have confidence in recommending him to your notice. We are yours obediently

William Busfield Rector. John Craven JP. Jno Brigg JP. John Sugden JP. James Kershaw Superintendent of Police. July 29th 1854.’

Mr James Leach was a representative of the Ratepayers as follows:

He was elected a member of Keighley Local Board and served about 12 years. He was elected a member of Keighley Board of Guardians and served 7 years. He was elected a member of the Keighley School Board and served 2 years. He was elected a member of the Keighley Burial Board and served 3 years. He was a Commissioner of The Baths and Washhouses for 7 years and moved the resolution for the incorporation of the town officially in the Finance and General Purposes Committee of the old Local Board of Health.

The burial chamber was also excavated and, as Pie had nowhere to keep his prepared coffin, he obtained permission from the Burial Board to store the empty coffin in the grave until needed!  Suffice to say that Pie was successfully laid to rest, as planned, on 13th October 1893 aged 78 years.

He kept a diary of his duties as Police nightwatchman (1848-1853) which is preserved in Keighley Public Library.

Pie Leach's epitaph


Jemmy Hirst from Rawcliffe near Goole, also planned his own funeral and for some reason he stipulated that his coffin was to be borne by eight old maids who would receive one guinea each. When he died in October 1829 at the age of 91 years, it was in fact eight widows who performed that last service and they were paid half a crown each. In accordance with Jeremy’s wishes, the Mayor of Rawcliffe declared the funeral day a public holiday and as the glass-domed coffin was carried to the churchyard, a piper from Aberdeen and a fiddler, each hired by Jeremy on payment of £5, preceded it. A great procession of his racing friends and acquaintances marched to lively music and the event was followed that night by a firework display.
Jemmy or James to give him his correct name, was of course an eccentric of the first order. He was born on a farm at Rawcliffe and had a great love of animals which he liked to train and it was said that a hedgehog and an otter followed him to school. Later in life he trained a young bull – Jupiter as Jemmy called it – as a horse, riding it to market and even hunting to hounds with it. When his father died Jemmy inherited nearly £1000 and, after shrewd investment, he became a rich man. He built a wickerwork carriage with very high wheels and  a top shaped like a chinaman’s hat, and of course it was pulled by Jupiter. Off he went to Doncaster Races followed by two foxes he had tamed, where he was as popular as he was colourful with harlequin breeches, yellow boots, red coat and huge hat said to be three yards in circumference. For betting he used his own bank notes to the value of five pence ha’penny. Later he attached sails and a bed to his strange carriage and replaced the bull with four mules.
Jeremy had of course carefully planned his funeral. His coffin, made to his own design, was equipped with a bell (in case he need to call anybody from his grave),  had folding glass doors and it stood in his dining room instead of a sideboard and served as a bar for his favourite tipple – brandy. After imbibing, his friends would be invited to try the coffin for size and were only released on payment of a fee, a penny from the men and from the women – a garter, which would be used as embellishment. His generosity knew no bounds and he was called the ‘King of Rawcliffe’.
He married the lady who had been his housekeeper for a number of years and he wore a toga for the occasion, insisting that the ceremony be conducted in sign language.
 He was a great practical joker and lived in a strange house where each of the four walls had a door to confuse visitors and some inside doors led only to a blank wall or gruesome painting. The windows were of different sizes and were curtained with newspaper and a variety of staircases led nowhere,
 Apparently because of his famed oddity, King George 111 invited Jeremy to Court and he travelled to London in his wickerwork carriage. Jeremy was not greatly impressed with the capital or with Court etiquette, but he did invite the King to visit Rawcliffe and promised him ‘as much good brandy as tha can sup.’
 Jeremy was mostly remembered for his generosity and his great love of practical jokes. Strangely there is no known grave for Jemmy. It is thought that he may have been buried with his parents.
Rawcilffe Parish Church




John Metcalf was born into a poor family at Knaresborough in North Yorkshire in 1717 and at the age of six he lost his sight as a result of smallpox.   Never daunted, young Jack lived life to the full, he could climb trees, run, box, wrestle, ride and swim with the best and he married the prettiest girl in the area.   He became a fish merchant, learned to play the fiddle and he even fought at the Battle of Culloden.  He also ran a horse drawn taxi service and a pack horse service before his big break came.  Following the passing of an Act of Parliament which authorised the building of turnpike roads, Jack somehow managed to obtain the contract for such a road between Harrogate and Boroughbridge, which he completed successfully to be followed by several others and eventually he employed some 400 men.   It seemed that Jack had a nack, determined by instinct for his task, despite the obstacles, and the fame of Blind  Jack  spread. He died a rich man with some 180 miles of northern roads behind him,    at Spofforth when he was 93 years old and the epitaph on his gravestone in Spofforth churchyard tells his story :
Knaresborough Market Place
‘ Here lies John Metcalf; one whose infant sight
Felt the dark pressure of an endless night.
Yet such the fervour of his dauntless mind
His limbs full strung, his spirit unconfin’d.
That long ere yet life’s bolder years began
His sightless efforts marked th’aspiring man.
Nor mark’d in vain.  High deed his manhood dar’d
And commerce, travel, both his ardour shard’d.
Twas his, a guide’s unerring aid to lend,
O’er trackless wastes to bid new roads extend,
And when rebellion reared her giant size
‘Twas his to burn with patriot enterprise,
For parting wife and babes one pang to feel,
Then welcome danger for his country’s weal.’
Reader! Like him exert thy utmost talent giv’n,
Reader! Like him adore the bounteous Hand of  Heav’n!

Jack's gravestone at Spofforth churchyard

This old inn on the edge of Ilkley Moor recalls one Job Senior who lived nearby in a ramshackled shelter  in the early 19th century.   Apparently Job was born at nearby Ilkley in the 1780’s, the illegitimate son of a wealthy landowner.  He became a drunkard, which together with a problem with women, proved to be his downfall.   He became very unkempt and eventually suffered from rheumatism which necessitated him walking with two sticks.   At the age of sixty he managed to persuade an eighty years old widow to marry him.   It suited Job very much because she owned a house on the edge of the moor.  However the marriage was short-lived  when his wife died suddenly.  Her family, who were less than pleased about the marriage became more so when Job inherited his wife’s possessions including the house.   To vent their fury members of the family descended on the house and virtually demolished it leaving Job with no option but to construct his ramshackle shelter to live in.   Apparently it was so small that he had to enter on his hands and knees.   And so his lived as a hermit until he contracted cholera and ended his days in the workhouse, where he died when he was 77 years old.  


Cornishman John Knill left his own epitaph and in some style.   He was born at Callington in 1733 and subsequently went to St Ives to work with a relative, a solicitor.  He lived in Fore Street in what is now known as Knill’s House.   John Knill became very popular in St Ives and in 1762 he became Collector of Customs, holding the post for 20 years.   At the age of 34 he became Mayor of the town.

In 1782, Knill moved to London and it was in that year that he built a mausoleum at the summit of Worbas Hill overlooking St Ives.   Known as Knill’s Steeple, it is a 50ft high triangular pyramid made of granite.   On one side is written, Johannes Knill 1782.  On another side is his Coat of Arms with the word Resurgam and the motto Nil Desperandum, whilst on the third side are the words, I know that my redeemer liveth.  The steeple is hollow with an arch on the south side.  Inside is a stone sarcophagus where Knill planned to have his body interred but was unable to do so due to consecration difficulties.

Not content, Knill also made plans in his will for his quinquennial celebrations.  Once every five years, a ceremony would take place on 25th July (St James’Day).  Beginning at The Guildhall in St Ives, a party of ten girls, all under the age of ten years, dressed in white, and daughters of Cornish fishermen, seamen and tinners, would walk up to Knill’s Steeple accompanied by two elderly widows and a fiddler.  There they were to dance around the steeple for half an hour, singing the 23rd psalm, while locals dignitaries would stand and watch.    This ceremony takes place as laid down in the will and has done so since 1801 when John Knill was actually present!   He died on 29th March 1811 at Greys Inn Square in London at the age of 78 years.   Much missed by the people of his time, it seems that he will be remembered by the generations to come.   In his will, Knill wrote :

‘ It is natural to love those of whom you have had the opportunity of serving and confess I have real affection for St Ives and its inhabitants in whose memory I have an ardent desire to continue a little longer than the usual time those do of whom there is no sensible memorial.  To that end my vanity prompted me to erect a mausoleum.’

Knill's mausoleum


Anthony Ettricke was an eminent barrister in the small town of Wimborne Minster in Dorset in the 17th century.   It is said that as he grew older, he became ‘humerous, phlegmatic and credulous.’  Because he fell out with the inhabitants of the town, Ettricke made a solemn vow that he ‘would never be buried within the church or without it, neither below the ground nor above it.’    However, he lived to regret his vow and managed to obtain permission to make a recess in the wall of the Minster for his coffin.   He was convinced that he would die in 1693 and had this date inscribed on a colourful black coffin, but in fact he died in 1703.   His coffin can still be seen in its recess in Wimborne Minster and the change of date is clear for all to see.

John Hollins from Stroud in Gloucestershire had  an argument with a former friend who announced publicly that he hope to live long enough to see Hollins ‘safe underground’.  Hollins did indeed die first, but to thwart his adversary, he left instructions that he should not be buried underground but that his coffin should be left on the surface and covered with a pile of stones. The grave and tiered pile of stones can still be seen in St Lawrence’s churchyard at Stroud.
John Hollins grave



 There are many graves in the graveyard at Braemar in Scotland but. despite the burial there of John Farquharson in 1698, his grave is nowhere to be found.
‘Black Colonel’ Farquharson of Inverey fought for the Jacobite’s in the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689 and when he returned to Inverey he found that Braemar Castle was occupied by Government troops and promptly burned in down. He then spent many weeks hiding in the rocky gorge of Ey Burn , which is still known as ‘The Colonel’s Bed’.
When he died he was interred at Braemar despite having expressed the wish to be buried within the Chapel of the Seven Maidens at Inverey. However, the next day his coffin was found above ground and had to be reburied.  This occurred three more times before the coffin was put on a raft and towed along the River Dee to Inverey where it was interred in the chapel as Faquharson had requested.




Braemar graveyard

The   Old  Gentleman’s grave


A lonely gravestone, surrounded by a stone wall in a small grove of trees, is to be found near to the bottom of a beautiful Pennine valley between the villages of Oldfield and Stanbury near Keighley in West Yorkshire.   Known as ‘The Old Gentleman’s grave.’ i bears the inscription :

‘ In memory of

Mr James Mitchell, late proprietor and occupier of Oldfield House

Who died on the 27th Day of January 1835

Aged 72 years.’

The story goes that on his deathbed, the eccentric Mr Mitchell instructed a servant to roll a large stone down the hillside at the front of his house at Oldfield, and that it was his wish to be buried at the exact spot that the stone came to rest!