I am out of the closet (or should that be the crypt?) as a self-proclaimed taphophile. Graveyards have long held a fascination for me and many hours over my fifty plus years have been spent in cemeteries both here in the United Kingdom and across Europe.

On occasion, on my forays into these tranquil spaces, a particular grave will pique my curiosity. This may be for a variety of reasons, an association with local history, an intriguing epitaph or a family connection.... it doesn't take much. The online availability of censuses, official registries and newspaper archives have in recent years made it possible to learn something more about the lives lived by those remembered only as fading names carved in stone. These resources provide an opportunity to put 'flesh on old bones' as the turn of phrase goes, hence the title of this blog 'Beyond the Grave'.

If anyone reading these posts has anything to add please feel free to contact me at adrianandrews@myyahoo.com.

Wednesday 17 June 2020

Coroner's Inquest and Magistrates Trial Concerning the Death of Lydia Unwin Death in 1904

The Death Memorial
Old Cemetery, Bishops Stortford

Well, it seems that Stortford’s most (in)famous son has very much been in the news this week, but I would not dare to venture into that minefield of opinion here! However, I do have a post that relates to the property where Cecil Rhodes was born.

Rhodes was born in the property known as Netteswell House, a property originally built by a man of means, William Death (1760-1846). On the land where South Mill Road and South Road meet, William ordered the construction of an impressive semi-detached property, originally bearing the name of South Terrace, but later upon a split becoming Netteswell House (the adjoining property being known as Thorleybourne).

The property was built by the Grandfather of another of my ‘acquaintances’ who reside for all eternity in the grounds of The Old Cemetery in Bishops Stortford.

However, before I continue I would just like to point out that the wider history of the Death family was previously provided to me by a fellow ‘Memories of Bishops Stortford’ member, Tim Howard-Smith. I think it is fair to say that the real-life story of the Death family could easily have formed the basis of a Georgian/Victorian soap opera in that it had all of the requisite elements, life, love money and death. Sadly one of the strongest themes running through the family was one of tragedy. However, fascinating as the Death’s may be, the wider story is not mine, but Tim’s to tell.

I will focus on one element of the history, a snapshot of a former time and as is the case, then as now, it is a clear indication of how our times are forever changing and that is the nature of history.

Having come out of the closet (or should that be crypt) as a self-confessed taphophile, it should come as no surprise that my daughter, Mo, has appreciated my appreciation of the dying art and all things funereal.

A few weeks ago I posted some information on the family grave of Robert Heath. I mentioned the plot to Mo and without hesitation she told me about her favourite grave (hey, whose daughter doesn’t have a fave grave!), that of the Death Family in the same cemetery. The Heath post prompted the initial contact from Tim in which he mentioned the Death memorial, which just so happened to be Mo’s grave of choice! 

Earlier in this lockdown odyssey, Mo and I took a walk into the cemetery and she took me to the memorial with all of the uncertainty of a guided missile (‘know your cemeteries’… a good Andrews’ family motto!).

It is one lady who is commemorated on this fine marble and granite (I think, although I am no geologist) that this post concerns. Her name was Lydia Unwin Death, who sadly met a rather violent death in a very early Road Traffic Accident (of the motorized variety at least).

Memorial to Lydia Unwin Death
Old Cemetery, Bishops Stortford

Lydia is remembered on one face of the memorial with the words:

ON AUGUST 13TH 1904,
AGED 78.

In short Lydia in the company of her sister, Sarah (or Sally) Death, died after being struck by a motor-cyclist whilst on holiday in Scarborough. 

What follows are the details of the Coroner’s findings, the Magistrate’s hearing and verdict, as well as details of the funeral back here in Stortford, as were reported in the Herts. And Cambs. Recorder issue of Friday 19th August 1904. It is a long and detailed read (it took an age to type from the newspaper facsimile that much I do know!) but please persevere as I would be interested in other people’s thoughts on the verdict.

I grew up in the 1970’s at the time of the first skateboard craze (1977-1978). In that time it was fun to board a skateboard, grab the belt or saddle of a bike riding mate and then hold on for dear life as you reached otherwise unattainable speeds. In my mind Norris Hepworth and his mate John Webber were larking about on in a very similar manner, was this wreckless or negligent  behavior on behalf of the pair? Was the horn sounded or not? Was the motor-cycle travelling at a furious pace or a walking pace? There seem to be a lot of contradictions. What would the present day verdict be based on the evidence presented?

I do not seek to trivialise such a tragedy but having read all of the available information I am genuinely interested in how this early RTA would be viewed over a century later.

However, the Chief Constable named as Mr. W. Basham did raise a smile.

The photographs show the Death memorial in Bishops Stortford Old Cemetery with detail on the inscriptions remembering Lydia, Sarah and their uncle Woodham who took charge of the sisters after the tragic death of their father William.


A very painful impression was caused in both the Bassingbourn and the Bishop Stortford districts by the appearance in Monday morning’s papers of a brief paragraph stating that “Miss Lydia Unwin Death, 79, of Bassinbourn, Royston, who was spending a holiday in Scarborough, was crossing Crown Crescent, when she was knocked down by a motor cycle ridden by Mr. Hepworth. She was so seriously injured that she died within an hour. M. Hepworth who was also on holiday, at once surrendered himself to the police.”

In some of the Monday’s papers the lady was described as Miss Death, of Bishop Stortford, a mistake which is easily accounted for from the fact that the deceased lady’s sister, Miss Sarah Death, lives at Bishop Stortford, and the painful interest and to some extent the uncertainty was increased in both districts on that account. In fact both the sisters were on a visit to Scarborough together, and had only arrived a short time before the sad accident occurred.

It appears that Miss Death and her sister from Stortford had arranged to go on a visit to Scarborough together. On Thursday Miss Lydia Death left her home at the “Cedars”, Bassingbourn, and travelled from Royston to Cambridge, where she met her sister from Stortford, and the ladies travelled together to Scarborough.

For the following particulars of the sad fatality we are indebted to the Scarborough Evening News:-
A sad fatality occurred on the South Cliff on Saturday Evening, when a visitor was run down by a motor cycle and died three quarters of an hour after the occurrence. The victim was an elderly lady, Miss Lydia Unwin Death (79), who with her nephew and sister came to Scarborough last week from their home at Bishop Stortford, Hertfordshire. They were staying in apartments at 10, Crown Crescent, South Cliff. 

The deceased had just left the house and was crossing the roadway towards Belmont Road, which is near the southern entrance to the Valley Bridge, when she was run down by a motor cycle ridden by Norris Hepworth, junr., aged, 20, son of Mr. Norris Hepworth, head of a well known firm of clothiers at Leeds. She was conveyed to her rooms, and Dr. Berverley and other medical gentlemen called in, but all aid was unavailing, death ensuing three quarters of an hour after the occurrence, and the deceased never regained consciousness.

As soon as the injuries sustained terminated fatally, Mr. Hepworth went to the Police Station and gave an account of what had taken place. He was detailed in custody, and a special sitting of the magistrates was held in the evening, at which he was charged with manslaughter, and remanded till Monday, bail being allowed in his own surety of £100 and two others of £50 each.


The inquest touching the death of Miss Lydia Unwin Death, was held at the Court House, Castle Road, Scarborough, on Monday evening.

Mr. Tasker Hart, solicitor, watched proceedings on behalf of Mr. Norris Hepworth, junr, of Headingley, Leeds, who had been staying at 26, Grosvenor Crescent, Scarborough, and who was riding the motor cycle; and Mr. S. Jones (Deputy Town Clerk), and the Chief Constable (Mr. W. Basham) watched the case on behalf of the police.

The Coroner, at the outset, said deceased was in the company of another person – her sister- when she was knocked down. He asked the jury when they went to view the body to take particular notice of the road, or whether there were any obstacles which would intercept a rider on a motor cycle. There was no question that the deceased was knocked down by a motor-cycle, and there was no doubt that it was ridden by a person named Hepworth, but they had to find out whether the collision was the result of a pure accident or whether it was due to culpable negligence on the part of the rider of the cycle, or whether the occurrence could have been avoided had there been care exercised, and had the person riding gone at a reasonable pace.

Alfred William Davie, Harold View, Sunnifield, Henley, nephew of deceased, identified the body and said she lived at the “Cedars” ,Bassinbourn, near Royston. She arrived at Scarborough on a visit last Thursday afternoon in company with her sister. Being so elderly  - 79 – she was rather infirm, and was slightly lame. 

The Coroner: Had she good sight?
Witness said she needed spectacles, but would be able to see anything coming on the road. 

Further examined witness said deceased never uised spectacles out of doors. As to hearing she was slightly deaf, but only very slight. She was not nervous on a public thoroughfare, but was careless.
At this stage Mr. Hart said on behalf of Mr. Norris Hepworth, junr., who stood charged with manslaughter, and on behalf of his father, he was desired to say how extremely they regretted that unfortunate accident. It was a pure accident , and they were more than sorry that Mr. Norris Hepworth, junr., had been a participant in that extremely unfortunate occurrence. They desired to tender to the relatives of the lady their sympathetic condolence in their sudden and sad bereavement.

The witness said that, so far as the family were concerned, they were very sorry any case should be brought forward.

The Coroner: No, no; you mustn’t go into that. This enquiry is merely as to the cause of death, it is not a magistrates; enquiry.
Witness: Just so, only I would like to say that, and to return thanks.

In answer to Mr. Hart witness repeated that deceased was slightly deaf and slightly lame , and she was careless often when on the highway.

Sarah Death, sister of deceased, who lives at South Lodge, Bishop Stortford, wa next called. She said that on Saturday evening she and deceased left the house, 10, Crown Crescent, Scarborough, where they were staying, and had got about half way across the road and were near the other side when witness saw a motor-cycle approach. When they left the house they didn’t see it. The cycle was going up the incline from Belmont Road. When she saw it, it was ten or twelve yards away. Witness moved in in the direction she was going, and said to deceased “Take care, there is a bicycle coming.” When witness looked round again the cycle was on her. It ran into her and knocked her down. When witness spoke to deceased she did not know whether deceased stepped back or not. She might have moved a step. She did not move forward. There was very little time for her to dodge a bicycle. Witness heard the cycle, and saw it at the same time. She was not certain whether it made a sound or not. She thought she would have heard a horn, but she dare not say it did not sound for certain. She was rather deaf. Witness did not notice another bicycle besides a motor-cycle. Deceased was carried into the house, but died within an hour.

Asked whether deceased was careful on roads she replied: “I don’t think she was, generally, very careful.”

Further examined witness said the bicycle struck the deceased in the front, and she fell on her back. 
Mr. Jones asked witness whether, between the time of witness telling deceased the bicycle was approaching, and her looking round deceased had time to move out of the way?

Witness replied that she did not think she had, because deceased was not so active. 

By Mr. Hart: Deceased was staying at No. 10, Crown Crescent, and the accident occurred at opposite No. 3, Deceased could hear better than witness. Deceased had turned round, and it looked as if a horn had been sounded, although witness did not hear it. Witness had time to get out of the road, but deceased was less active. The rider gave what assistance he could, and was very kind. 

Nellie Gibson, wife of Wm. Gibson, 15, Huddersfield Road, Barnsley, who has been staying at 9, Crown Crescent, said she and her husband were having tea when they saw deceased and her sister pass the window. They were on the footpath, and then she saw them cross the road in a slanting direction. Witness saw a motor-cycle, ridden by a young man, coming up the hill from Belmont Road. It passed the window, and witness immediately got up – she got up when she heard the cycle coming – to see if the old ladies had got across the road. Neither had got completely across. One was a yard or two in front of the other, and the motor-cycle was about 3 yards off the one in the centre of the road. The cycle dashed into the one in the centre of the street, and knocked her onto her back. Deceased moved when she saw the cycle. She seemed flurried, and not to know which way to turn. She first turned one way and then the other, and then turned round facing the cycle. 

The Coroner: Did you hear a horn sounded?
Witness: No.
The Coroner: Or any signal?
Witness: No.
The Coroner: Would you have heard it had it been sounded?
Witness: Yes.

In answer to further questions witness said she did not notice another cycle there. She looked more at the old ladies than the cycle – she did not notice two cycles. The reason she got up to look at the old ladies was because of the cycle going at such a rate. Hepworth had ridden round there twice previously that night, and also on other nights had been round there.

By jurymen: Deceased was not moved any distance by the collision with the cycle. Witness did not hear a horn sounded, but she heard the ordinary noise a motor-cycle makes. That would have been sufficient to attract attention.

By the Coroner: There seemed to be plenty of room on the road for the rider to pass by deceased. 
By Mr. Jones: On other occasions she had heard the rider sound a horn when turning the corner. The cyclist appeared to have control of the machine. 
William Gibson, husband of last witness, gave corroborative evidence. When witness first saw the cycle, the latter would be about 20 or 30 yards from the old ladies. The cyclist did not sound his horn. 
The Coroner: You are certain about that?
Witness: I am. It is a good horn.
The Coroner: What pace was he going?
Witness: I cannot tell exactly, It was furious, or what they commonly call scorching – in my opinion.

Continuing, the witness said the cyclist had been round there just before on that night, and once before that night, and once before that. That was the third round. Witness saw another cycle – an ordinary one – coming up with the motor-cycle, and the rider of the ordinary had his hand on the shoulder of the rider of the motor-cycle. The motor would be in the centre of the road, and the other bicycle on the left.
Dr. Beverley said he was called to deceased on Saturday evening. She was lying almost in the middle of the road on her back. Subsequently he made an examination. There were no marks on the abdomen. Deceased was suffering from concussion and some compression of the brain probably caused by hemorrhage. Shock was the principal cause of death. Had deceased been younger she might have recovered. The shock was the result of injuries received. There were no bones broken. 

By Mr. Hart: It was fair to assume that had deceased been hit in the front there would have been marks.


Norris Hepworth, junr., of Headingly, Leeds, the young man who is charged with manslaughter, then went into the box. He was cautioned by the Coroner, and was told that he need give no evidence which would be likely to incriminate himself. He came to Scarborough, he said on the 5th of August, and on Saturday evening he met on the Esplanade a young man named Webber. Witness and Webber rode up to the Holbeck Gardens , and came back down the Esplanade together. Webber was riding an ordinary bicycle. They came down Belmont Road, Webber riding on witness’s right. They then turned up the hill going towards Albion Road, Crown Crescent being on the right. In ascending the hill, Webber took hold of witness, putting his left hand on his shoulder. Witness saw two ladies in front. They would be about 30 yards away when witness first saw them. When he saw the ladies he immediately sounded his horn with his right hand. His left hand was on his brake ready to apply it. When he applied the brake, it cut off the connection with the engine, and the machine could not proceed. He sounded his horn once – he thought twice. Webber also sounded his bell. When about five yards off the ladies, Webber let go of his shoulder, and rode around the ladies on the right. One lady at that time was near the footpath – which is not clearly defined – and the other nearly in the middle of the road. Witness tried to go round on the left side, he seeing that the old lady in the middle of the road was standing still. He steered to the left, and the lady stepped in front. Witness then saw there was room on the right, and he went that way, when deceased stepped back right in the way of the bicycle, and unfortunately the cycle came into collision when she was then facing him, and the effect was that the old lady was knocked down; his bicycle came to a stop, and he got off and went to her assistance. When he was ascending the hill his cycle was not going more than six miles an hour. He applied his brake, and when he collided with the deceased he was going at the rate of about two miles an hour. He saw the deceased carried to her rooms, and then immediately went to the Police Station, where the particulars were taken down in writing. Webber being with him. After that he went to 10, Crown Crescent and inquired after the lady’s condition. Subsequently he heard that the lady was dead, and immediately he went to the Police Station and surrendered himself. He was bailed out at 12.15. He was not going to ride the bicycle anymore. 
It was then decided to adjourn the case till Wednesday evening.


The enquiry by the Coroner (Mr. Taylor), and jury, was resumed on Wednesday evening, when the examination of Mr. Norris Hepworth, junior, was continued.

Replying to jurors, Mr. Hepworth said he knew the rules of the road, but he attempted to pass to the left, because he thought under the circumstances it was better to do so. Had the deceased lady not hesitated and stepped backwards, he and his friend, Mr. Webber, would have been able to pass her. He had never been warned for furious driving.

John Ernest Webber, of Waterloo House, London, who was riding with Mr. Hepworth, corroborated his evidence and other witnesses, and other witnesses stated that they considered every care was taken to avoid the collision.

The Coroner then addressed the jury upon the case, and said that they had to decide whether the death of deceased was in any way due to the negligence of the cyclist, remarking that it was a common idea on the part of drivers of motors and other vehicles, that pedestrians had no right to the road, and if they were there it was at their own peril – an idea that was entirely wrong.

The jury must be satisfied that there had been negligence, to bring in a verdict of manslaughter. His idea was that if there had been negligence there was very little difference between Mr. Hepworth and Mr. Webber. They were riding together. The jury must not take into consideration whether the deceased was lame or deaf, but whether her death was the result of pure accident or negligence.

The jury retired to consider their verdict at 9.30 and returned in 20 minutes.

Unusual incident.

Mr. James Tonks (Foreman of the Jury) in reply to the Coroner, said the jury returned a verdict of “Accidental death”, but at the same time they considered that there was a want of care shown by Mr. Hepworth and Mr. Webber before the deceased was knocked down.

The Coroner said he could not accept such a verdict. Was there, he asked, culpable negligence? It might have been an accident, but could the accident have been avoided by proper care?
The Foreman of the Jury: This is the mildest form in which we can agree to a verdict. If you don’t accept it we will disagree. 

The Coroner: You must bring in a verdict of “Accidental death” or the other thing. Will you return again to talk it over?

The jury retired and came back again in twenty minutes, when the Foreman said that they could not possibly agree. 

The Coroner, addressing them again, said that what they had to consider was whether the two gentlemen had been so negligent that they placed themselves in such a position that a collision could not be avoided. There could be no question whatever that Mr. Hepworth did all he could to avoid a collision when he got to within a few yards of the old lady. He did not wish to say too much, but it was the rule to give a person charged the benefit of the doubt.

A juror: Must the verdict be perfectly unanimous?
The Coroner: There are 15 of you altogether, and I shall accept a verdict of 12. 

In reply to the Foreman, the Coroner said the jury, if they thought fit, could return a verdict of “Accidental death”, and a rider censuring the cyclist.

The jury retired again, and after a further absence of 20 minutes, the Foreman said it was impossible to give a verdict.

The Coroner: You are placing yourself in an awkward position. I may keep you here as long as I like, or I may adjourn the inquiry until the next York Assizes for you to be addressed by the Judge on the law! If you say you cannot agree, I shall be disposed to adjourn to the Assizes.
A juryman: I am quite willing to go to York. (Laughter).

At the earnest request of Mr. Hart. The jury retired for a fourth time. They were absent thirty five minutes, and they returned with the following verdict: “Accidental death, but that the Coroner be asked to severely censure Mr. Hepworth and Mr. Webber for their riding prior to the accident.”

The Coroner accepted the verdict, and severely admonished both young men, pointing out that the jury, after nearly two hours’ deliberation, had taken a merciful view of their conduct, but they had placed themselves in a very delicate position. 

The inquiry lasted altogether 9 ½ hours.


Norris Hepworth, junr., a slightly-built young man of smart appearance, who bore himself calmly, surrendered to his bail on Monday morning at the Borough Police Court on a charge of manslaughter that he did “feloniously kill and slay Lydia Unwin Death”. Accused, who was represented by Mr. Tasker Hart, was accompanied by his father and by another young gentleman. Considerable interest was manifested in the case.

The Chief Constable (Mr. W. Basham) said that from the particulars obtained it appeared that at about six o’clock on Saturday evening accused was riding a motor-cycle in company with another young man who was seated on an ordinary bicycle. The latter had his hand on the shoulder of the accused. In Crown Crescent Lydia Unwin Death was knocked down by the accused. She was conveyed to her rooms at 10, Crown Crescent, and Dr. Beverley and other medical men were called in. The injuries, however, were so severe that she died in three quarters of an hour. The accused did not sound either bell or horn, and he was going at a furious pace. He (the Chief Constable) was unable to go on with the case, and he asked for a remand till Friday.

Mr. Hart said that there were certain statements made by the Chief Constable that, according to his instructions, were somewhat inaccurate. He did not purpose going into the matter that morning. All he had to ask was that the accused should be admitted to the same bail as on Saturday night.
Accused was remanded till Thursday morning, himself in £200 and two sureties of £100 each, Mr. Hepworth, senr., being one of the sureties.

The charge of manslaughter preferred against Norris Hepworth, junr., came on for hearing at the Scarborough Police Court yesterday (Thursday), and the widespread interest that it has evinced was indicated by the crowding of the Court in the public gallery. There were several fashionably-attired ladies in a gallery set apart for them, notable amongst the number being Lady Ida Sitwell.
The magistrates on the bench were the Mayor (Councilor Morgan), Mr. A. J. Tugwell, Alderman Gawne, Alderman Sanderson, and Councilor Sinfield.

Mr. Sidney Jones (Deputy Town Clerk) prosecuted. 

Dr. Beverley said the deceased’s death was shock combined with depression, the latter being due to hemorrhage in the skull. There were no marks or bruises on the body apart from the head. The scalp wound, concussion and depression were likely to be caused by anything which knocked the old lady down on her back. The principal cause of death was shock. If a motor-cycle weighing 126 lbs and travelling at a rate of twelve miles an hour were to have struck deceased in the front of the body he would have expected to find bruises there.

After a hearing lasting all day, the Bench dismissed the case, the Chairman remarking that the Bench considered it was a pure accident.

The deceased came from an old Essex family which had been settled near Bishop Stortford where her sister still lives. The deceased was a niece of the late Mr. Woodham Death, of South Lodge, Bishop Stortford and she has four nieces three of whom are married. She came to Bassingbourn about 20 years ago and was well known and respected by all. Latterly she had been very feeble and not capable of taking so much interest in village affairs, but she had always been much interested in the Congregational Chapel. By all connected with that place of worship she will be much missed, and it is a great grief to all to lose her in such a sad and sudden manner. She was well known in Royston and frequently drove into the town, the last occasion being only a day or two before her departure to Scarborough.

Memorial to Woodham Death
Uncle of Sarah and Lydia
Old Cemetery, Bishops Stortford

Memorial to Sarah (Sally) Death
Sister of Lydia and fellow traveller on the day of the accident
Old Cemetery, Bishops Stortford


The body was conveyed from Scarborough to Bishop Stortford, on Tuesday, and the funeral took place there on Wednesday.

The Rev. John Wood, congregational Minister, conducted the service. The chief mourners were: Miss Sarah Death, of South Lodge (sister), Mr. and Mrs. A. W. W. Davies (London), Dr. and Mrs. Morris, Dr. and Mrs. Gervase, and Miss K. Death (each of the ladies being nieces of the deceased), and John Pettingell, the coachman. There was a number of choice wreaths, and in addition to those of the family, floral tributes were sent by the Misses Wilkerson (Barley), and Mr. Andrew Wright (Melbourn).

Sarah (Sally) Death outside South Lodge, Bishops Stortford
A woman possibly more Victorian than Victoria herself!
(Many thanks to Tim Howard-Smith for sharing this fabulous photograph).

The safest form of Social Distancing - Tombstone Tourism in Thorley.

I learnt a new word this week and that’s good for a 51 year old! ‘Taphophile: noun. One possessing a passion and enjoyment of cemeteries’. I also picked up another related term, ‘Tombstone Tourist’. I had never considered myself in these terms before…. but as they say if the cap fits. Having said that, of the two terms I must say that I prefer the somewhat more highbrow taphophile, it’s the Greek I suppose!
When I think about my childhood, it was not so unusual to find the family on summer holidays dispersed into the deepest recesses of the graveyard of an isolated country Church, locked in serious competition…. who could locate the oldest tomb?

Indeed, if I browse the photographs on my iPhone I would put good money on the fact that in all probability I have more grave pictures on mine than on yours (305 no less, if you are indulgent and include memorials into the total!). You get the idea.

And thus it was on yet another lockdown Bank Holiday weekend, painfully indistinguishable from any other weekend of the past three months, I ventured out of the house and made for the Church of St James The Great in Thorley (or at least the churchyard, the building being locked up). In my 25 years as a  Bishops Stortford resident, this was my first visit!

The lure of yet another cemetery was the olive green and white sign affixed to the wall that denotes that the Church grounds contain Commonwealth War grave Commission graves. These I duly found and photographed (of course!), but it was a trio of older headstones that grabbed my attention on this occasion. Located close by and against the exterior wall of the church are three memorials that concern the Flack family, residents of Thorley Hall.

‘Here lyeth the Body of
late tenant of Thorley Hall
who Departed this Life 
Aug 24th 1750, in ye 63rd
Year of his Age
In Testimony of his regard
to so good a Tenant,
his Landlord,
Hath Caused this Stone
to be Set up’

To the right of this headstone stands the memorial to Robert’s Father, John Flack.

‘Here lyeth the Body of
who departed this life 
on the 19th day of December
1717 in the 65th Year of his Age
In testimony of his ______’

The words are her obscured but it can be assumed with some confidence that they reference the fact that the stone was erected by then Lords of the Manor, Moses and Matthew Raper.

Please note that each of father and Son's headstones are topped with the image of the skull and crossbones. Rather than indicating that they were landlocked pirates, the depiction of such was a 'Momento Mori' (common in the 1770's) a reminder to the casual reader that death is coming for you irrespective of wealth or status. God, I love a skull and crossbones!

Curiously, there is a third stone that states the following:

‘In these two Graves
are deposited the Remains of
his Wife and also near the place
Mr  JOHN FLACK Father of the
This stone intended only to
indicate where the above 
mentioned Bodies are buried
refers the Reader for more 
particular information to two
stones erected against the
 Church Wall by MOSES and
to their memory there inscribed
render a further inscription here

This stone I find rather bizarre given that it is effectively an elaborate sign post directing the reader to two graves to which it is practically adjacent! The only new useful information that it imparts to the reader is that the remains of Mary Flack are buried with her husband Robert.

Of the said Lords of the Manor referred to, Moses Raper was a London silk Merchant, whilst Matthew Raper (1705–1778) was a distinguished Gentleman scientist, a Fellow of the Royal Society no less.
What I find extraordinary about this small collection of headstones is that their remarkable state of preservation renders them still legible to your average tombstone tourist some 300 years (in the case of John Flack’s memorial) after the engraver downed his chisel and headed to the inn for a cheeky after work ale. Granted, the situation of the headstones, hard up against the Church wall, would have provided some protection from the elements over the centuries. Nevertheless, to read the epitaph of a man who walked to and from this Church in the mid to late 1600’s thrills me. John Flack, a man who was born as the English Civil war ended and brought Oliver Cromwell to power, a man who was a contemporary of the Great Fire of London and, dare I say it, the Great Plague that so closely preceded it. 

I took the trouble to obtain Robert Flack’s Last Will and Testament from the National Archives and it is reproduced here. You may not care to read it all from start to finish since in its 18th century legalese it is rather repetitive and dry as wills are so often are (I still love the language though!). To read these words of Robert Flack is to gain a view of another world, 250 years distant, that speaks of a Husband and Father’s relationship with his large family and his concerns for their welfare when he is no longer able to provide for them. In this respect it almost feels like a voyeuristic act to read his will. Two things stand out clearly. One, Robert Flack was a farmer of means, aside from the farm, the materials to run it and the cattle there was hard cash in the family (£100 pounds in 1750 equates to about £20,000 in 2020!). The other fact of mid 18th century life that speaks out from the pages of copperplate handwriting is that there existed a very different relationship with death. In a world in which an understanding of disease and its causes was in its infancy, health and longevity was not something to be taken for granted. Within his Father’s memory travelers out of London brought the Great Plague to Bishops Stortford. As a consequence, and pandemics aside, there was no assumption that the Reaper took lives in age order and this is fully reflected in Robert’s will where the eventuality of premature death of his many children is addressed. 

So, to Robert Flack, gentleman farmer of Thorley Hall in the County of Hertford and said family, it was a pleasure to spend some time in your world and I will call by to pay my respects again….. in around 2045 at the current rate!

Last Will and Testament of Robert Flack.

‘In the name of God Amen.

I, Robert Flack the Elder of Thorley Hall in the parish of Thorley in the County of Hertford, farmer, being in good health of body and of sound mind, memory and understanding, praised be to God, do make publish and declare my last will and testament in manner following and first I commend my soul to my Heavenly Creator, believing that through his mercy and the merits of my savior Jesus Christ I shall enjoy eternal life and my body I commit to the Earth to deferently but privately buried at the discretion of my Executrix and Executor herein named and as to the worldly Estate with which it hath pleased God to bless me, I bequeath and dispose thereof (that is to say) I give and bequeath unto my loving wife, Mary Flack, and unto my son, Robert Flack of the town of Hertford in the County of Hertford _______ all my ready money, money at interest, stock in farming, household goods, cattle chattels and personal Estate of what kind or nature so ever that I shall be possessed of, interested in or intitled unto at the time of my decease for and during their joint lives, in case my wife, Mary, shall continue a widow until the time of her death and my will and meaning is that they shall and may (if they think proper so to do, hold and occupy the farm wherein and make use of (?) if the landlord thereof will permit them and use my said stock effects and personal Estate in carrying on the farming business then or otherwise to sell, use or dispose of the same during their said joint lives in such manner as they shall think proper. But in case my wife, Mary, shall not continue a widow, but marry again, then and in that case I give and bequeath all my said ready money, money at interest, household goods, chattels and personal Estate unto whatever shape the same shall then happen to be turned or converted unto my said son, Robert Flack, his Executors and Administrators, he or they, thereout, paying unto my said wife, Mary, the sum of fifteen pounds a year of lawful money of Great Britain for and during the term of her natural life by four equal quarterly payments, the first quarterly payment thereof to begin and be made on the first quarter day that shall happen next after my said wife, Mary, shall marry again and also paying thereout unto my son, John Flack of Ware Park farm in the said County of Hertford, farme, my son William Flack of aforesaid Thorley, farmer, my daughter, Mary Eve, widow, my daughter Ann, the wife of Thomas Mead of Billericay in the County of Essex, my daughter Martha Flack, spinster, my daughter Elizabeth Flack, spinster and my daughter Sarah Flack, spinster, the several legacys or sums of money herein after by me given unto them respectively at the times herein aftermentioned for the payment of the same and my mind is that on my said wife’s marrying again, she shall upon such marrying have nothing to do with the said farm or stock belonging to the same or with any other part of my said personal Estate or effects and with any interest, advantage or profit that shall be or may be made or arise thereby, but shall only be intitled to have and receive thereout the said annual sum of fifteen pounds a year and in case my said wife shall continue a widow until the time of her death and shall happen to survive my said son, Robert Flack, then after the decease of my said son, Robert, I give and bequeath into my said wife, Mary Flack, her Executors and Administrators all my said ready money, money at interest, stock in farming, household goods, cattle chattels and personal Estate, she or they thereout paying unto the Executors and Administrators of my said son, Robert Flack, within one year after the death of my son, Robert Flack, the sum of one hundred pounds of lawful money of Great Britain which some of one hundred pounds I do hereby give and bequeath unto the Executors and Administrators of my said son, Robert Flack, if he shall happen to die in the lifetime of my said wife, Mary Flack, and also paying the said several legacys or sums of money herein after given or bequeathed by me unto my said children, John Flack, William Flack, Mary Eve, Ann the wife of Thomas Mead, Martha Flack, Elizabeth Flack and Sarah Flack at the times herein after mentioned for payment of the same. But if my said wife, Mary Flack shall continue as widow to the time of her death and shall depart this life in the lifetime of my said son, Robert Flack, then after the death of my said wife, Mary Flack, I give and bequeath unto my said son, Robert Flack, his Executors and Administrators all my ready money, money at interest, stock in farming, household goods, cattle chattels and personal Estate (unto whatever shape matters or thing the same may then be converted or turned), he or they paying thereout the said several legacys or sums of money herein after given and bequeathed by me to my said children, John Flack, William Flack, Mary Eve, Ann the wife of Thomas Mead, Martha Flack, Elizabeth Flack and Sarah Flack at the times herein after mentioned for payment of the same and so I do give and bequeath unto my said son, John Flack, the sum of one hundred pounds of lawful money of Great Britain, unto my said son, William Flack, the sum of one hundred pounds of lawful money of Great Britain, unto my said daughter, Mary Eve, the sum of fifty pounds of lawful money and unto my daughter, Ann the wife of Thomas Mead, the sum of fifty pounds of lawful money, over and above what I have already given them, my said last four children, for their respective advancements in the world. Also, I give and bequeath unto my said daughter, Martha Flack, the sum of one hundred and fifty pounds of lawful money of Great Britain, unto my said daughter, Elizabeth Flack, the sum of one hundred and fifty pounds of like lawful money and unto my said daughter, Sarah Flack, the sum of one hundred and fifty pounds of like lawful money and I do hereby order and direct the person or persons who shall, by virtue of this will, be intitled to my said ready money, money at interest, household goods, cattle chattels and personal Estate at the time of my said wife marrying again, or in case of not marrying again, at the time of her death to pay onto my said four children, John Flack, William Flack, Mary Eve and Ann the wife of Thomas Mead, the several sums of money or legacys hereby given them respectively within one year next of the decease of my said wife, Mary Flack, and to pay unto my said other three children, Martha Flack, Elizabeth Flack and Sarah Flack the said several legacys or sums of money herein  by me given unto them respectively within three months  next after the death of my said wife, Mary Flack, and my will and meaning is that if all or any of my said daughters, Martha, Elizabeth or Sarah Flack shall happen to depart this life before her or their legacys of her or them so dying, shall go unto and be equally divided between the survivors or survivor of all of my said daughters, Mary Eve, Ann Mead, Martha Flack, Elizabeth Flack or Sarah Flack, share and share alike and be paid unto them at the time their several legacys are hereby directed to be paid and my mind, will and meaning further is that, if it shall happen that my said personal Estate shall not be at the death of my said wife be sufficient to pay and satisfy unto them, my said seven children, the said several legacys and sums of money herein before by me given them to the full that then they shall make and allow a rateable abatement in their said respective legacys in proportion to the deficiency that their shall be in my said personal Estate at the time of my said wife, Mary Flack, and I do hereby nominate, constitute and appoint my said wife, Mary Flack and my said son, Robert Flack, joint Executrix and Executor of this my will and I do hereby revoke, make null and void all former and other wills and testaments by me hereforetomade and do declare this to be my last will and testament contained in three sheets of paper. In witness whereof, I, the said Robert Flack, the Testator have set my bond and seal to the top and bottom of this my will and to the bottom of the second and third sheets of this will, the twenty eighth day of October in the three and twentieth year of the reign of our sovereign Lord George the Second by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King Defender of the Faith and in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and forty nine.

Robert Flack, signed, sealed, delivered, published and declared to be the last will and testament of the testator, Robert Flack, in the presence of us who have subscribed and set our names as witnesses hereinto in the presence of said testator, _____ Eaton, _____Toller, _____Thorogood.

This will was proved at London on the twentieth day of December in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and fifty, before the Worshipful Robert Chapman, Doctor of Laws, Master Keeper or Commissary of the prerogative Court of Canterbury lawfully constituted by the Oaths of Mary Flack, widow, and Robert Flack the son of the deceased and the Executors named in the said will to whom administration was granted of all and singular the Goods, Chattels and credits of the deceased being first sworn only to administrator ______.

Monday 15 June 2020

A Tragic Family Life - The Memorial to Robert Heath's Family, Old Cemetery, Bishops Stortford

The Family Grave of Robert Heath

In this time of great uncertainty, face masks and social distancing, each of us are having to adapt and find a variety of activities under restricted conditions in order to occupy the hours, days and weeks that under any other circumstances we would not have.
On the occasions that I have ventured beyond my front door to embark on my Government sanctioned exercise hour I have always elected to turn right rather than left. A left turn would take me towards the town and its snakes of queues outside every shop that remains open. A right turn, up Apton Road is much better. To the right, lies the Old Cemetery, a space of about eight acres (according to the Town Council’s 2018-2019 cemeteries brochure revision 2) of lichen and ivy encrusted stonework that also just happens to be my favourite open space in the town. For the first 18 years of my life my bedroom window overlooked a graveyard of comparable age, as a result graveyards have only ever been areas of fascination, never fear. The history, the art and the drama of a cemetery are equal in my mind to what can be found in museums and galleries….. but I digress! I have been a regular visitor to the Old Cemetery for twenty years or more, but now thanks to COVID-19 I feel that I am on first name terms with at least half of the residents who lie within, the great and the good of Victorian Stortford….. think of it as a means of social distancing in three dimensions, both horizontal and vertical.

Spend an hour within the cemetery walls, take the trouble to spend some time to decipher the weather worn epitaphs and a host of snap-shots are revealed that offer a glimpse into the lives of our Victorian forebears.

Venture into the cemetery from the Apton Road end to about a third of its length, taking the path towards the eastern side of the site and you will soon have a distinctive obelisk of coppery/pink marble in sight. Like a pocket sized ‘Cleopatra’s Needle’, this, the work of Millward & Co of Stamford Hill, marks the family grave of Joseph Robert Heath and Caroline Heath.

Taking in the inscriptions on the various facets of the monument, still clearly legible almost 150 years since they were first carved into the stone one can see the names of four children commemorated in such a way that it is abundantly clear that tragedy, heartbreak and suffering blighted the lives of their parents, Robert and Caroline.

With time on my hands and in possession of a respectful curiosity, I have tried to learn a little more of the story of the Heath family. And, here I would just say that there may be inaccuracies in this information so, if more is known of the family from previous research or still existing local family knowledge, please feel free to put this amateur record straight.

Joseph Robert Heath was born in Bishops Stortford in around 1836 with a first indication as to his whereabouts in the town being gleaned from the 1841 census. Here it was stated that young Joseph at the age of five was living in Potter Street with his Mother and Father, Elizabeth and Joseph along with younger brothers, Frederick and Albert and sister Elizabeth. However, frustratingly, as far as my searches have gone, Joseph Junior falls of the radar for quite a few years until he reappears , relocated to Bristol, where at the age of 24 he married Caroline Amos, aged 23, of Winterbourne, Gloucestershire. At the time of their marriage on 24th March 1861 at the famed St Mary Redcliff Church, the young soon to be couple were both living in central Bristol. Joseph’s profession on their marriage certificate is stated to be ‘Accountant’.

Mr and Mrs Heath did not settle in Bristol for long it appears as the 1871 census tells us that they were living in the building of 68 Wellington Street in the Canton district of Cardiff with not so much as the pitter-patter of tiny feet but a veritable stampede. Of children there were five; Elizabeth (9), Alice (8), Joseph (6), Mary (2) and Charles (6 months)… and eye-watering rate of reproduction, but not so unusual for the time. As if the conditions were not cramped enough, what little space that was not filled with Heath’s large and small was occupied by a lodger, James Biggs, a shoemaker by trade. I can well imagine that Mr Biggs’ rent would have been a most welcome supplement to Joseph’s accountant’s wage.

Fast forward another decade to 1881 and once again the family has moved, this time back to the town of Joseph’s birth, Bishops Stortford. Now resident at 209 Dunmow Road, changes have occurred in the Heath family situation. Robert by this time had switched occupation, casting aside the accountant’s ledger in favour of beer (and who can argue that that is not a positive career move). His given trade is ‘Brewer and Retail Dealer of Beer’. Furthermore, entries in the Kelly’s business directory of 1886 and 1890 confirm that he is working at the Fox Brewery in Dunmow Road. At that time such was the prominence of the malting industry in the town that local brewing concerns could be supported in addition to supplying the big London breweries of the day. But, far more importantly and central to this story new names appear on the census, Annie (7), Minnie (6), Frederick (5) and Edward (2). It is in the roll call of names in this census that the first family tragedy to befall the Heath family reveals itself. If one compares the census entries of 1871 to 1881 it becomes immediately apparent that no fewer than three names are missing, those of the three eldest siblings, Elizabeth, Alice and Joseph!

Detail of the Grave providing information on the fate of Elizabeth, Alice and Joseph Heath.

To understand, it is necessary to swap computer chair once again for the open space of the Old Cemetery and the Heath monument. The dominant dedication on one of the four largest facets reads:


The above is a quotation from the King James Bible (2 Samuel, Chapter 1, Verse 23). The relevance of these words becomes shockingly apparent as the reader continues down the column.


So there you have it, the facts coldly carved into cold stone.

The reportage that I have been able to find of the accident has been fairly sparse compared to the column inches that such an event would receive in today’s press. This may be a reflection of the regularity with which people in the Victorian era, young and old, fell victim to such tragedies, or acts of misadventure.

Such stories were routinely reported in local papers throughout the UK in what I would imagine to be syndicated pieces entitled ‘Epitome of News’. The most detailed account was reported in ‘The Northern Whig’ of Belfast, dated Friday 11th December 1875.


On Tuesday a sad accident occurred at Edmonton. Between the Silver Street and Edmonton Stations on the great Eastern (Metropolitan Extension) is an excavation of considerable extent, gravel having been taken out to form the ballast for the permanent way of the line. The surface draining of the adjoining land and one or two springs have continued to flow into the hollow until an immense quantity of water has accumulated. The depth, except in a few spots, averages, however, about five feet. The pond belongs to the railway company. There are notices warning the public not to trespass upon the company’s property, but no active steps are adopted to prevent people from doing so. Since the frost set in a good number of persons ventured on the ice, and on Tuesday three children- two girls and a boy- named Heath, whose parents keep the Cock Tavern, at Hounsfield, just outside Lower Edmonton, and a girl named Alice Bird, daughter of a dairyman of Church Lane, Edmonton, were among the skaters and sliders. Suddenly the ice gave way and they disappeared under the water. A young labouring man named Nichols dived into the hole, but all were drowned. The girls Heath were fifteen and fourteen and the boy and Alice Bird were thirteen.’

The Cock Tavern in the Houndsfield area, Lower Edmonton.

As mentioned in the heart-wrenching report above the Heath’s had moved the relatively short distance from Bishops Stortford to Edmonton where they took responsibility for the Cock Tavern, a large Victorian pub (sadly reportedly closed in 2015 due to structural weaknesses in the building). Minnie Heath and Frederick Heath were both born in Edmonton in 1875 and 1876 respectively. In the aftermath of the accident the family returned to Bishops Stortford where, as mentioned earlier Joseph took up work at the Fox Brewery in Dunmow Road. Edward Heath was born in the town in 1879.

Foxes Brewery, Dunmow Road Bishops Stortford (early 1900's).

On the monument facet 90 degrees to the panel that commemorates Elizabeth, Alice and Joseph. There is another dedication that reads:

‘Also of

Young Susan's fate recorded on another facet of the memorial.

Tragedy heaped upon tragedy….

The 1881 census tells us of a girl, Annie Heath aged 7 at the time of the count. Interrogation of local baptismal records show that Annie Heath and Susan Heath, the twins mentioned in the grave inscription, were born on either 10th or 18th April 1873, one of the dates is obviously being a mistake, but the records are in agreement that the girls were baptized at St Michael's Church on 19th June 1873.
That Joseph and Caroline had to suffer the additional loss of their daughter not a month after losing their three eldest children is almost beyond endurance.

But for this family, life did go on. The 1891 census tells us that Joseph is once again in the pub game proper, now recorded as Brewer and Inn-keeper of the Rising Sun, a pub that until recently was located at 19, Northgate End (the pub closed in 2001 and was demolished in 2003). However, available records show that by 1895 the Riser (as it was known to some I used to drink with in the Half Moon) had changed hands, Joseph had gone and the name above the door was that of Richard William Hickmott.
Another check with the records confirmed the worst as far as Joseph is concerned where his demise is recorded in the death register for the first quarter of 1896. He was 59 years of age.

Caroline soldiered on for a while longer, appearing as the widowed head of the household that was now located close by the Rising Sun at 150 Barrells Down Road. In this 1901 census Caroline is 63 years old. The residency of the property was by this point much reduced with only Charles and Edward still living under the same roof as their mother. Charles had followed his father into the brewing business.
The final piece of the jigsaw, noted from the 1911 census was that Charles was at that time living as a single man in at 137, Fore Street in Upper Edmonton, and now earning a living as a ‘Millwright’. Presumably, this is an indication that Caroline had passed away at some time in the intervening decade.
Sorry that it is not an uplifting story, but I hope it may be of some local interest.

Major Pearson's Modified Webley Revolver

For our reunion visit, the staff of the Staffordshire Regiment Museum made available for our examination the modified Webley revolver that was carried (and used) by Major Pearson in the fighting in and around Caen in the summer of 1944. The weapon had been bequeathed by the Officer to the museum.

The routine cleaning of the gun and its holster would have been one of the duties undertaken by Percy Clews as Major Pearson's batman.

With the original holster

'You've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do you, punk?'

'Emotional meeting for the families of WWII comrades' - The Lichfield Mercury 26th December 2019

The Lichfield Mercury ran the story on the reunion in their edition of 26th December 2019. Still just within the poignant 75th anniversary year of the D-Day landings and the Battle for Normandy in which Private Percy Clews was killed.

'Hold the Front Page!' - The Lichfield Mercury Picks Up the Story

As a result of the initial post on the Staffordshire Regiment Museum Facebook page, John Clews contacted the local newspaper, The Lichfield Mercury and I was asked by one of their reporters to provide the story.

L-R: Adrian, Eunice, Nick, John P, Jan, John C
The Staffordshire Regiment Museum 
19th October 2019. 

10th August 1944 – River Orne, Normandy
The Battle for Normandy is nearing its bloody conclusion as German forces are forced into an easterly retreat. Men of the 59th (Staffordshire) Division are engaged in bitter fighting on both banks of the River Orne. 176 Brigade have forced a crossing and are in a desperate struggle to hold a fragile bridgehead, repelling determined enemy counter-attacks launched from the Fôret de Grimbosq. To the south, 177 Brigade are fighting to control the successive ridges of high ground that are a feature of the terrain that leads to the section of the river that overlooks the Norman town of Thury Harcourt.

It is 10th August and a soldier of ‘C’ Company of the 5th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment lies injured in front of the Company position close to the river bank in the area of the small settlement of Fresnay. Company Commander, Major Bernard Pearson, accompanied by his Batman, Private Percy Clews and a stretcher bearer approach the stricken soldier in an effort to bring him in. They get close to the casualty when the stretcher bearer steps on a shrapnel mine, one of several that the retreating enemy have callously placed around the wounded man. The blast injures the stretcher bearer and the Major and kills Private Clews instantly.

29th August 1944 – Abergavenny, Wales
‘My Dear Mrs Clews’ wrote Major Pearson from the Monmouthshire hospital in which he was recovering from the wounds that he had received on 10th August, ‘You have no doubt been wondering why I have taken so long to write, and offer not only my sympathy, but those of the whole Company at the loss of your Husband, my Batman.

I was hit by the same mine, and I have only just heard officially that Percy was killed, as I had feared.

It isn’t an easy story to tell, Mrs Clews, and I am sure you don’t want to know all the full details.

I found it necessary to lead a patrol with stretcher bearers to recover one of my boys who had been wounded sometime before, and who was in need of treatment. Percy would not think of leaving me behind. We found the man but the Germans had surrounded him with shrapnel mines, I presume they realised that we would try to recover him. A stretcher bearer, after giving aid, trod on a mine which exploded, causing the death of your husband and wounding two of us.

I had the lives of the others to consider so I ordered them back whilst I tried to give Percy some help, but poor lad, he had gone – without pain and without knowing what had happened. He looked very peaceful, his job well done. I had him recovered the same day and he was given a Military funeral, although I regret that I was not present, being on my way to hospital’.

Major Pearson went on to describe his own relationship with his diligent orderly ‘Between an Officer and his Batman there develops a spirit of comradeship far above expression by words – we thought such a lot of each other, and I have grieved for him very much indeed. He was killed giving help to his comrades and myself, and all of the Company have missed him so much. His determination to make sure that I was not left unprotected at any time caused him to be killed’.

The Officer drew the heart-rending letter to a close with the words ‘With best wishes for the future, and rest assured that your Husband will not be forgotten by

Yours sincerely,

B. Pearson. Major.'

Thus it was that Annie Clews joined an ever increasing number of young war widows facing an uncertain future for herself and her son, John, just two-years old at the time of his Father’s death.

1st July 2019 – Bayeux Military Cemetery, Normandy

A small group of people gather around plot XXIII. D. 6. For here lies 4923121 Private Percy Clews of the South Staffordshire Regiment. In the unrelenting high temperatures of a record breaking heatwave over the Continent we, as Anglo-French representatives of the 59th (Staffordshire) Division Association, paused for reflection around the weathered Portland headstone. John Clews, accompanied by his wife Jan, took up position behind the grave and he related the circumstances of his Father’s death as gleaned from Major Pearson’s letter to his Mother sent 75 years ago.

19th October 2019 – The Staffordshire Regiment Museum, Whittington Barracks, Staffordshire

The relatives of three late veterans of the 5th South Staffordshire Regiment sit in the ‘Colonel Butler’ room within the Museum, each somewhat bewildered as to the circumstances that brought them there….

Upon returning from Normandy in July I posted a picture of John’s tribute to his Father, along with a photograph of Private Clews himself on the Museum’s Facebook page. The photographs were accompanied with the outline story and the text of the letter of condolence sent to Percy Clews’ widow. 24 hours later I looked back at the post and amongst the anticipated ‘crying’ and ‘heart’ emojis that are part and parcel of the social media world was a rather excited message from one Nick Parry, which informed me that he was the Grandson of Major Bernard Pearson, author of the quoted letter and the man with Private Clews at the moment he was killed! A rapid correspondence followed from which a plan was hatched to bring the two families together in a meeting at the Museum.

A date was set and arrangements made to meet.

Participating in this most poignant of reunions was Major Pearson’s son, also named John, daughter Eunice, along with Percy’s son and daughter-in-law, John and Jan. Nick and myself as instigators looked on, both very pleased indeed with the outcome so far. Over tea and coffee, memories were shared and photographs compared. It came as some surprise to John and Eunice that their Father and the Clews family had met previously, Major Pearson having maintained a correspondence with Percy’s widow and then later with John himself.

John Pearson had a couple of surprises in store for John Clews. Out of a bag beside the table he produced his Father’s canvas bedroll which John duly opened up to reveal the owners details ‘Major B. Pearson, S. Stafford R.’. In re-rolling the canvas and looping the now musty leather straps through rusted buckles, John was performing the often repeated task of his Father, as maintaining Major Pearson’s personal kit would have been one of his responsibilities as Batman. The relevance of John’s task was not lost among those seated around the table and I believe that some tears were shed.

John Clews opens up Major Pearson’s wartime bedroll. 

In addition, Major Pearson’s modified 38” Webley revolver (now an exhibit in the Museum) was handed around the table. This weapon also links the two soldiers. In a letter to the Museum in which he passed the gun over for ‘safe custody’ he recounted a moment in time during the fighting to take the fortified village of Noyers Bocage, a bloody snapshot of the Normandy experience. On 18th July 1944, the Major was passing through some damaged buildings when, alerted by a noise in the rubble, he turned so see a German soldier bearing down on him with fixed bayonet. The blade passed through the Major’s leg. As the German exerted his effort to withdraw the bayonet, in a ‘kill or be killed’ instant, he fired the Webley hitting the enemy soldier fatally in the chest. On seeing their comrade lying dead, three further soldiers emerged from the interior to surrender and were escorted back to Battalion HQ under the watchful eye of Percy. Major Pearson noted further in the letter that whilst the killing of the soldier was in no way a matter in which to take pride, the subsequent recovery of a machine gun and ammunition from the position made it clear that this action in all probability saved the lives of many men in ‘C’ Company. Once again, at a time of great danger, Percy was at Major Pearson’s side.

The family were at great pains to assure John and Jan that the name and character of Percy Clews was well known to all in the Pearson household. He was described as ‘the best Batman I ever had’ having been personally selected rather than allocated to the post. So the story goes, Percy was chosen in an attempt to keep him out of trouble, which tended to follow him around….. nothing too serious you understand, just uniform violations and such like. In the new role Percy proved himself to be highly adept, capable of conjuring up a brew within moments of Major Pearson calling a halt.

After the war, Bernard Pearson remained in the Army in the capacity of Recruitment Officer and Chaplin. In 1987 he returned to Normandy for the first time in 43 years, where within Bayeux Military Cemetery he conducted a service at the graveside of his fallen Batman. This act evidenced the sincerity of his words to Annie Clews written in August 1944, ‘rest assured that your Husband will not be forgotten’. His expressed feelings for his killed Batman and friend were in no respect platitudes intended for the comfort of a grieving widow.

With stories now shared, thoughts turned to food, but the day had yet one more surprise to serve up to John and Jan. At some point in the late ‘80’s Major Pearson and the Clews family lost contact and as such they had no information concerning Bernard’s passing in 1998 at the age of 86. It then came as a bolt out of the blue to learn that he lies in the Churchyard of St Giles in Whittington, the very village in which John grew up and where he still lives with Jan. Lunch could wait another half hour as we paid an unplanned visit to St. Giles. Whilst there I took a photo graph of John at the grave in a deliberate attempt to mirror the 1987 photograph of Major Pearson at the grave of Percy Clews.

Top: Major Bernard Pearson at the grave of Private Percy Clews in 1987, Bayeux Military Cemetery 
Bottom: John Clews at the grave of Major Bernard Pearson on 19th October 2019, Whittington. 

At the end of an excellent meal, all were in agreement that this had been a very special day indeed and something that should be repeated in the not too distant future. For my part I am just content to have been the catalyst that kick-started the efforts that culminated in this poignant yet happy gathering. 

Right: Private Percy Clews (18th September 1912 – 10th August 1944) 
Left: Major Bernard Pearson (10th February 1912 – 25th March 1998). 

It only remains for me to thank Nick, John, Eunice, John and Jan for their part in such a meaningful event. Thanks are also due to the staff of the Museum for their hospitality as well as their interest in this small detail within the long and illustrious history of the South Staffordshire Regiment. 

Major Bernard Pearson post war

Adrian Andrews
(Grandson of L/Cpl James Kitchener Heath ‘A’ Coy, 5th South Staffordshire Regiment (1914-1995))
October 2019.

A Tribute to a Soldier of the 5th South Staffordshire Regiment 75 Years On

John and Jan Clews at his Father's grave in the Bayeux Military Cemetery
29th June 2019.

Last month it was my privilege to participate with members of the 59th (Staffordshire) Division Association in their annual pilgrimage to the town of Thury Harcourt and its environs. The 59th Division landed on Normandy in late June 1944 as a follow up Division. Highly trained in the UK, their time as an active fighting unit in France was short. Such was the intensity of the fighting in which they were engaged in Operation Charnwood (a frontal assault on the Northern perimeter of Caen) and Operation Pomegranate (engagements to the south west of the city intended to force a crossing over the River Orne) that the Division was formally disbanded on towards the end of August 1944 and its soldiers were transferred to other reinforcement hungry English, Scottish and Welsh Regiments.

The relationship between the 59th (Staffordshire) Division and the townsfolk is very strong by virtue of the fact that on 13th August 1944 the actions of the 59th finally resulted in the liberation of Thury Harcourt.

My Grandfather served with ‘A’ Company of the 5th South Staffordshire Regiment, a unit within 177 Brigade of the 59th Division. My Grandfather came home from the war, injured but otherwise intact, the same cannot be said for many of his Divisional comrades. One such fellow soldier of ‘C’ Company of the 5th Staffs was 4923121 Private Percy Clews who was killed in action on 10th August 1944, 75 years ago yesterday. One of our travelling party that visited the grave within the Bayeux Military Cemetery was John Clews, son of Percy, who was just two years of age when his father fell. With John was his wife Jan. The couple reside in Lichfield which then as now is the home of the Staffordshire Regiment.

At the time of his death, the 5th South Staffs were engaged with the enemy on a series of ridges that approached the River Orne and overlooked the town of Thury Harcourt. In that second week of August the 5th from their high ground vantage point were able to direct vital artillery fire into the dense forest of Grimbosq, that faced the fragile bridgehead that had formed across the Orne, in which Panzer Battle Groups were forming up for counter attacks intended to smash the bridgehead.

At his Father’s plot, John delivered a speech about the fate of his Dad that was largely based upon a letter sent to his mother by ‘C’ Company Commander, Major Pearson which is reproduced below.

‘Copy of a letter sent to Mrs Percy Clews from Major B. Pearson, The South Staffordshire Regiment

Major B. Pearson
The South Staffordshire Regt
Maindiff Court
Mon. Wales.
August 29th. 1944

My Dear Mrs Clews,

You have no doubt been wondering why I have taken so long to write, and offer not only my sympathy, but those of the whole Company at the loss of your Husband, my Batman.

I was hit by the same mine, and I have only just heard officially that Percy was killed, as I had feared.

It isn’t an easy story to tell , Mrs Clews, and I am sure you don’t want to know all the full details.

I found it necessary to lead a patrol with stretcher bearers to recover one of my boys who had been wounded sometime before, and who was in need of treatment. Percy would not think of leaving me behind. We found the man but the Germans had surrounded him with shrapnel mines, I presume they realised that they would try to recover him. A stretcher bearer, after giving aid, trod on a mine which exploded, causing the death of your husband and wounding two of us.

I had the lives of the others to consider so I ordered them back whilst I tried to give Percy some help, but poor lad, he had gone – without pain and without knowing what had happened. He looked very peaceful, his job well done. I had him recovered the same day and he was given a Military funeral, although I regret that I was not present, being on my way to hospital.

Between and Officer and his Batman there develops a spirit of comradeship far above expression by words – we thought such a lot of each other, and I have grieved for him very much indeed. He was killed giving help to his comrades and myself, and all of the Company have missed him so much.

His determination to make sure that I was not left unprotected at any time caused him to be killed.

He volunteered to join me that morning and was somewhat grieved, his words were “You are not going anywhere without me, are you Sir?” He always said, that to remain behind and wonder what was happening to me, was worse than accompanying me on the various excursions.

Above all my personal feelings, he was so very popular with his comrades. I am told that the whole Company were unbelievably depressed after the news had spread around, and each letter that I have had so far mentions how much they all miss Percy. They cannot miss him anymore than I do. His courage, devotion to duty, his cheerfulness, and his great personality endeared him to all our hearts, a sad loss.

Please forgive me for not writing before – I did hope that in the excitement of the battle that my diagnosis of his death might have been false and in fact he might be alive, I hoped so hard but to no avail.

I do hope that your loss has not proved to be unbearable. My wounds are confined to my left leg and I am managing to get around on crutches.

When I come to Lichfield I will endeavour to call and see you, if I may.

With best wishes for the future, and rest assured that your Husband will not be forgotten by

Yours sincerely,

B. Pearson. Major.'

To read these touching words from a man that I had previously written about in a book about my Grandfather’s service was something else and it was an absolute honour to be with John and Jan Clews as he paid tribute to the Father he never had the opportunity to know.

After the speech John laid the Association wreath at the Cross of sacrifice.

Wreath laying at the Bayeux Military Cemetery Cross of Sacrifice.

59th (Staffordshire) Division Association memorial wreath.

Later we paid a visit to the small but highly poignant Museum to the men of the 59th (Staffordshire) Division in Thury. Here there can be found a photograph of Percy Clews.

Private Percy Clews (Killed in action 10th August 1944)
'C' Company 5th South Staffordshire Regiment.

The inscription on his headstone reads:


Memorial to Percy Clews in the 59th (Staffordshire) Division Museum
Thury Harcourt.