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Now ever since ancient man learned, that with a hard stone, a mark could be made on a softer stone, he has been scratching away at an astonishing rate. Erosion has of course put paid to his earliest efforts, but in a few places, some designs have survived. Having no written language though, it's anyones guess what some of the ancient symbols represent. The oldest form of language comes from the near east, made by scatching marks with a wooden stylus onto wet clay, then baking it. The Egyptians used symbols that everyone could understand, most of it praising the countries rulers, and their conquests. The Greeks and Persians did the same, followed by the Romans, who were masters of spinning history to suit themselves. There is however, one thing that stands out from the Roman era, scribbling messages on walls. Perfectly preserved in Pompei, Italy, are thousands of these, some of which are rude, others, full of everday thoughts and wisdom. So many in fact, that it's almost certain, that a large part of the population were more educated in AD 78, than they were in England in 1878. The Romans left behind a few Funeral and Tomb inscriptions when they left our fair island, but the people who followed, left virtually nothing.

The Saxons seemed to prefer, unless it was an important Warrior or King, to just put the body into a small hole hole in the ground, leaving no markers. Only the rich, later on, could afford the expence of employing a stone mason to mark their achivements. In the Middle Ages, the Church Yards were used for fairs and other celebrations, it was only in the 1500s, that this was concidered to be rather crass, and burials closer to the Church began to appear. Prevoiusly, burials had taken place in a field, well away from the Church, with just simple wooden markers. Lets face it, the majority of the population wouldn't have been able to afford a wooden box, never mind a headstone. In some older Parish Churches, you may find a tomb from the 12th century, but these are inside, rather than out, and inscribed in Latin. ( No, I don't understand Latin either ) When looking for the older graves, always start on the South side of a Church, as the Devil was supposed to lurk in the dark shadows of the North side. With the arrival of the Monumental Mason, in the 17th Century, the idea of fancy headstones began to take root, as did the idea of adding words and verses, to the dear departeds last resting place.

One of the earliest and most common Epitaphs, was one that warned others,

As you are now; so once was I;

As I an now; so you shall be;

Therefore prepare to follow me.

A variation on this theme appeared around 1698, and can be seen in Bury Saint Edmunds, fixed now into a wall.

Good people all as you,

Pas by, looke round.

See how Corpes' do lye,

for as you are, som time Ware We,

and as we are,so must you be.

The spelling on some will take a time to get used to, but the sentiment, no matter what form the letters are, is always the same. Some headstones have weathered well, but the softer sandstone ones are in most part, now unreadable. As time went on, a bit of humour began to creep in, only to disappear when epidemics of Cholera and Smallpox struck. This put paid to any fancy funerals, as bodies were piled on top of each other in deep pits. Those still able to afford it though, could use the following verse.

Afflictions sore long time I bore,

Physicians were in vain,

Till God did please Death should me seize,

And ease me of my pain.

However, in 1799, this little verse surfaced in Gloucestershire, with just a hint of a bit of humour.

As through the fields he walked alone,

By chance he met grim death;

Who with his dart did strike his heart,

And robbed him of his breath.

Trying to find the oldest Church yard incumbant is yet another form of the entertainment that can had. Once again, the best place to look is on the South side, and, unless the place is well looked after, you may wish you had taken a few Gardening implements with you. Up in Bolton-on-Swale, Yorkshire, you will find the oldest man ever to be buried. His name was Henry Jenkins, reputed to have been born in 1501, and who died in 1670, making him 169 years old. This long lived man, ( allegedly ) or more likely his son, is mentioned several times in the Parish registers and court rolls of Northallerton. One interesting episode he could remember, was as a youth, being sent to the Town with a load of Arrows, prior to the Battle of Flodden, in 1513. Disputes can arise from such claims of longevity, take one Thomas Newman, who died in 1542, supposedly 153 years old. There is some doubt over whether he was born in Brislington, Bristol, or Bridlington, in 1389, but as the only surviving stone commemorating the event is at Saint Lukes, Brislington, I would concider the case solved. ( Although not the stated age.) Several more, including one in Westminster Abbey, (152 years) one in Chester, (154 ) and one in Sussex, ( 120 ) are all interestingly suspect. More believable, are the two buried in Stoke-on-Trent, Henry and Sibil Clarke, who both reached 112, in 1684, and Matthew Peat, buried in Wirksworth, Derbyshire, in 1751,also aged 112, and whose Epitaph reads, 'Few live so long; who lives well?' Sounds like he was a bit of an old rogue then. The epitaph of Sarah Jarvis, aged 107, in Corsham, Wiltshire, claims that some years before she died, she grew a third set of teeth. ( has anyone told the NHS ) Social history is helped, by the recording of other events of the persons long life, in a final farewell message. William Billinge, born, it says on his stone, in a Cornfield in 1679 at Longnor,Staffordshire, served at the battles of Gibralter and Ramillies, and gave up the ghost in 1791, being 112 years old. It must have been all that fresh air when he was young.


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August 8, 2012 at 4:26 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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Now you would have thought, that being married, back in the past, which didn't have the many stresses and strains of a modern hectic lifestyle should have been easier. Far from it. Sadly, time has eroded many old headstones, and some of the more pithy epitaphs only exsist because someone took the trouble to record them.

Here lies Mary the wife of John Ford,

We hope her soul is gone to the Lord;

But if for Hell she has changed this life,

She had better be there than be John Fords wife.

Not very nice really, but there were some that were far worse. It make one wonder why on earth some of them got hitched in the first place.

Here lies my poor wife, without bed or blanket,

But dead as a door-nail, God be thanke'd.

You wouldn't be allowed to have such words inscribed in stone today, they would be concidered by many to be offensive. To whom though, thats the question, certainly not to the person covered by six feet of good old british soil.Take the two epitaphs below, it would appear all the Husbands wanted was a quiet life.

Beneath this silent stone is laid,

A noisy, antiquated maid.

Who from her cradle talked till death,

And ne'er before was out of breath.

The second one caused a family row.

Here lies the quintessence of noise and strife,

Or, in one word, heres lies a scolding wife;

Had not death took her when her mouth was shut,

He durst not for his ears have touched the slut.

And a bit more polite.

Here lies a woman,

No man can deny it,

She died in peace, although she lived unquiet.

Her husband prays, if e'er this way you walk,

You would tread softly--- if she wakes, she'll talk.

There are several epitaphs that tend to reverse the trend somewhat, like this one.

When dear Father went up to heaven,

What grief Mother endured.

And yet that grief was softened,

For father was fully Insured.

Even when the poor old long suffering wife expressed some affection at departing, the other half had the last word.

Grieve not for me, my husband dear,

I am not dead but sleeping here.

With patience wait, prepare to die,

And in short time,you'll come to I.

Added beneath are these lines.

I am not grieved, my dearest wife,

Sleep on, I've got another wife.

Therefore I cannot come to thee,

For I must go and sleep with she.

Women though, sometimes had the last laugh.

Here lies the man Richard, and Mary his wife,

Whose surname was Pritchard.

They lived without strife, and the reason was plain,

They had abounded in riches, they had no care or pain.

And his wife wore the Britches.

It couldn't have all been bad though, for quite a few were married several times, both men and women. Down in Essex, there was one woman who must have had charm aplenty, or at least a stash of cash, for Martha Blewitt married no less than nine times. She had seen out, and buried, eight of them, but the last one out did her, and she died on 7th May, 1681. Robert Hogand, place of burial not listed, had seven wives, the last one he married was  in 1739, shortly before he pegged out. Old age? too much excitement? take your pick. At the age of 93, most folk would be taking it a bit easy, not so the spritely Nicholas Toke. Leaving his home in Chart, Kent, he set off for London, seeking wife number six, after having buried the previous five. It's all very well chasing after women, but would a 93 year old still remember what to do if he caught one. We shall never know, for he died on the journey, his intentions forever snuffed out. He would not have been numbered among the men though, that would have chosen these last epitaph lines as a memorial to any of his wives.

This spot is the sweetest I've seen in my life,

For it raises my flowers and covers my wife.


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August 9, 2012 at 11:35 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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Continuing the theme, it wasn't all doom and gloom on the marriage front, as a few Epitaphs from centuries past will tell you. How this next one found all the energy, remains an enduring mystery.

Here lyeth the body of William Strutton, of Partrington.

Buried the 18th May 1734, aged 97.

Who had, by his first wife, twenty-eight children,

And by a second, seventeen;

Own father to forty-five, Grand-father to eighty-six.

Great Grand-father to ninety-seven,

And Great, Great Grand-father to twenty-three;

In all, two hundred and fifty-one.

Thats from Holderness, in East Yorkshire. There must have been something special in the air in the 18th century. It must have spread a bit further south as well, for in Wolstanton, Staffordshire, we find this one about Ann Jennings.

Some Have children,

Some have none.

Here lies the mother of twenty-one.

Even further back in time, we come to a few like this one from 1605.

Here lieth the body of Michael Honeywood.

Who was grandchild and one of the three hundred and sixty-seven persons that Mary, the wife of Robert Honeywood Esq, did see before she died, lawfully descended from her, viz, sixteen of her own body, 114 grandchildren, 288 of the third generation, and 9 of the fourth. Mrs Honeywood died in the year 1605 in the 78th year of her life.

Finally, we should the time to extend a little sympathy to the midwives of the period, who must have been run off their feet.

In memory of Phoebe Crewe,

Who died May 28,1817, aged 77 years.

Who, during forty years practice

As a midwife in this city,

Brought into the world 9,730 children.

Norwich has much to thank old Phoebe for, although it doesn't record how many of the children survived the treatment available at the time. Nor, if she ever had any children of her own, perhaps she wisely decided to give the experience a wide berth. ( Oh dear, sorry about that ) Below, on the other hand, we have this.

Of children in all she bore twenty-four.

Thank the Lord there will be no more.

Sometimes, the dead left behind a reminder that not all was well with a married life, as the next one from Cornwall shows.

Here lies the body of Joan Carthew,

Born at St Columb; Died at St Cue.

Children she had five,

Three dead and two alive.

Those that are dead choosing rather,

To die with their mother,

Than live with their father.            St Agnes Churchyard.

Some chose not to get married at all, which drew some rather telling comments from their friends.

Here lies the body of Martha Dias,

Who was always noisy, and never over pious;

She lived to the age of three score and ten,

And gave that to the worms she refused to the men.

That one can be found in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, and dates from 1675. There are many variations of the next one, which was a very popular epitaph in some parts.

Here lies the body

of Mabel Charlotte.

Born a Virgin

Died a harlot.

She was a virgin

Till her 21st year,

A remarkable thing in Oxfordshire.

And finally, a short epitaph on a tombstone in Wimbledon, London.

Dorothy Cecil, unmarried.

As yet.


A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

August 12, 2012 at 4:38 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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As well as informing any passing strangers, some Epitaphs carried a warning as to the contents of such verses. Admittedly, some were appalling puns, some folk liked to play with words, others with a few insults, and some giving the incumbant below undue praise.

Reader, pass on, nor waste your time,

On bad biography and murdered rhyme.

What I was before's well known to my nieghbours,

What I am now is no concern of yours.

Well that was clear enough, mind you, over in Leicestershire they do tend to speak their minds. Maybe the writer had a few of these next ones in mind when he penned this one.

Poor Martha Snell, her's gone away,

Her would if her could, but her couldn't stay.

Her had two bad legs and a baddish cough,

But her legs it was that carried her off.

Now who said the Welsh didn't have a sense of humour, they certainly did in Bangor. Going back to some of the earlier warnings, sometimes someone, and they are never named, added a litle extra line.

As I am now,so you must be,

Therefore prepare to follow me.

added later,

To follow you I'm not content,

Until I know which way you went.

Sibling rivalry is fairly common in everyday life, and way back in time it must have been the same. Who would have thought though, that you could continue the practice after you were dead and gone.

Here I lie,

Snug as a bug in a rug.

The relative purchased the burial plot right next to it, and when he in turn kicked the bucket, had this engraved on his stone.

Here I lie,

Snugger than that other bugger.

That old trait of the English, a bit of eccenticity, always goes down well, especially when it's a witty piece of verse, and carved into a stone.Such is the case with a man commonly called " Bone Phillip ", who died in Kingsbridge Devon,in 1793. At that time, the rich had themselves laid to rest inside the Church. The richest being the ones nearest the Alter.

Here I lie at the Chancel door,

Here I lie because I'm poor.

The farther in the more you'll pay,

Here lie I as warm as they.

I will end this post with a rather good pun, which comes from Bromsgrove in Worcestershire, although similar stones can be found elsewhere. The mans name was Knott, but you'll see that when you read it.

Here lies a man that was Knott born,

His father was Knott before him.

He lived Knott, and did Knott die,

Yet underneath this stone doth lie;

Knott christened,

Knott begot,

And here he lies,

And yet was Knott.


A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

August 29, 2012 at 4:13 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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Some of the more elaborate headstones to be seen, are decorated with the deceased's former tools of his trade. Hammers, Saws, and Chisels for a Carpenter, Anvils and Fire Tongues for the Blacksmith, Guns and Dogs for a Gamekeeper, Spades and Rakes for a Gardener, and in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, two memorials with a image of a 1840s Steam Locomotive. These commemorate the sudden passing of two empoyee's of the " Birmingham and Gloucester Railway Company ". So badly worn were the Sandstone grave markers that for many years they have painted in black and white to render them readable.

Oh! Reader stay and cast an eye,

Upon this Grave wherein I lie.

For cruel Death has challenged me,

And soon alas, will call on thee.

Repent in time, make no delay,

For Christ will call you all away

My time was spent like day in sun,

Beyond all cure, my glass is run.

That one is the tombstone of Joseph Rutherford, aged 32, who was killed on 11th November,1840, along with Thomas Scaife, aged 28, and who has a much longer epitaph on his stone. The former was driving the engine when the boiler suddenly exploded, the result of which is illustrated in a picture in the Transport Album in the Photo Gallery. Plays on words were a favourite up and down the country, and even if you hadn't known the next one was a Brewer, it would soon have become apparent.

Poor John Scott lies buried here;

Although he was both hale and stout.

Death stretched him the bitter bier,

In another world he hops about.

He seems to have been well liked in Liverpool then, John Scott, which is more than can be said for the reputation of John Higgs in Cheltenham.

Here lies John Higgs,

A famous man for killing pigs,

For killing pigs was his delight,

Both morning, afternoon and night.

Both heats and cold he did endure,

Which no physician could ere cure.

His knife is laid, his work is done;

I hope to Heaven his soul has gone.

Back in days when reputations were hard won, especially for the Lawyers, there being a great many rogues at the Bar, there is one that stands out.

Here lies an honest Lawyer,

-------  That is Strange.

The epitaph of one Sir John Strange, 1696 - 1754. A bit of a rarity for the age.


A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

September 19, 2012 at 11:46 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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Employment was always a favourite theme, when it came to carving a few words in stone. Some praised the workman, some praised the work, others though, took the opportunity to have a crack at the poor quality of the product. There are many epitaphs to that most useful of trades, the old village Blacksmith.

My sledge and hammer lie reclined,

My bellows, too, have lost their wind;

My fire's extinct, my forge decayed,

And in the dust my vice is laid.

My coal is spent, my iron's gone,

My nails are drove, my work is done;

My fire-dried corpse lies here at rest,

And smoke-like, soars up to be bless'd

There was once a famous Clockmaker from the town of Berkeley, Gloucestershire, who ticked away in 1665. Thomas Peirce, aged 77, a self taught and well respected man so it seems, had these words inscribed on his memorial in time honoured fashion.

Here lyeth Thomas Peirce, whom no man taught,

Yet he in Iron, Brasse, and Silver wrought

He Jacks, and Clocks, and Watches ( with Art ) made,

And mended too when other worke did fade.

Of Berkeley five tymes Mayor, this Artist was,

And yet this Mayor, this Artist was but Grasse,

When his own watch was downe on the last day.

He that had made watches had not made a Key,

To wind it up, but useless it must lie,

Untill he rise again, no more to die.

The Gamekeepers of old came in for some stick from certain sections of the population, mainly poachers. Some employers valued them highly, as can be seen on in this epitaph from Shrawley, Worcestershire.

He sleeps!  No more at early morn,

To wake the Woods with mellow horn;

No more with willing dog and gun,

To rise before the laggard sun;

No more before the social can,

To-morrow's sport with joy to plan;

Death took his aim, discharged his piece,

And bade his sporting season cease.

Everyone knows the Welsh love to sing, never more so in the past, than in the Chapel. Many organists have gone down in local folklore, but very rarely that invisible man who did all the pumping.

Under this stone lies Meredith Morgan,

Who blew the bellows of our church organ,

Tobacco he hated, to smoke most unwilling,

Yet never so pleased as when pipes he was filling.

No reflection on him for rude speech could be cast,

Though he made our loud organ give many a blast.

No puffer was he, though, a capital blower,

He could fill double G, and now lies a note lower.

Not the finest poetry you will ever read, but it certainly expressed the feelings of the congregation. A famous quotation or two appears on many old stones, this one, which still resonates today, is from a Tombstone in Berkshire, around the early 1800s.

This world is wide,

And full of crooked Streets,

Death is the market place,

Where all men meet;

If life was merchandise,

As men could buy,

The rich would live,

And the poor must die.

Recorded as early as 1689 that one, and as I said, it still rings true today.


A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

December 16, 2012 at 4:00 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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Now here's little bit of information that may surprise you, memorials, or grave stones if you like, have been subject to changes in fashion. From fairly simple shapes, they began to display designs from the likes of Thomas Chippendale, although they were ment for furniture. Robert Adams, and his brother James, were fine Architects, but I bet that they never imagined that some of their designs would grace a few churchyards. There are some really good examples of the art that developed, in the churchyard at Painswick, Gloucestershire, and a really elaborate one, not far away, at Shipton-under-Wychwood. But who, you may ask, could afford such lavish tombs.

Well heres one who could, a humble Shoemaker he may have seemed, but he had a talent for a bit of poetry. This may have impressed another poet, Lord Byron no less, for it was he that penned the Epitaph below.

Stranger! behold interr'd together

The souls of learning and of leather.

Poor Joe is gone, but left his awl--

You'll find his relics in a stall.

His work was neat, and often found,

Well stitched and with morocco bound.

Tread lightly--- where the bard is laid,

He cannot mend the shoes he made;

Yet he is happy in his hole,

With verse immortal as his sole.

But still to business he held fast.

And stuck to Phoebus to the last.

Then who shall say so good a fellow,

Was only leather and prunella?

For character---he did not lack it,

And if he did---'twere shame to Black-it.

Back further in time, and one of Englands hero's, Sir Walter Raleigh, has a fine tomb in Saint Margarets, Westminster. He is one of the few men, who had their heads cut off in the Tower of London, who has.

Even such in time, which takes in trust,

Our youth and joyes and all we have,

And payes us but with age and dust,

Which in the dark and silent grave,

When we have wandered all our wayes,

Shuts up the story of our dayes,

And from which earth, and grave,and dust,

The Lord shall raise me up, I trust.

He had been sentenced to death by Elizabeth 1, respited to lead an expedition in the search for Eldorado, failed misably, cost the backers a lot of money, and upset our allies by attacking their property. James 1 took the easy way out and had him put to death. His trust in raising without a head was a bit mis-placed. Sometimes, the locals clubbed together to commemorate a tragic event, like this murder near Richmond, Yorkshire, in 1753.

Unto the mournful fate of young John Moore,

Who fell victim to some villain's power;

In Richmond Lane, near to Aske Hall tis said,

There was his life most cruelly betray'd.

Shot with a gun by some abandon'd rake,

Then knock'd out with a hedging stake,

His soul, I trust, is with the blest above,

There to enjoy eternal rest and love;

Then let us pray his murderer to discover,

That he to justice may be brought over.

Amen to that brother, for his aim wasn't apparently that good, and he could have injured an innocent passerby.


A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

May 8, 2013 at 3:55 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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