In the churchyard of Marton St.Cuthbert’s, near Middlesbrough, sits a headstone of which has carved upon it the words “Remember Death” and three coffins each with the initials of the three robbers* who lie there.
The headstone was erected in memory of Robert Armstrong (28), John Ingledew (39) and Joseph Fenison (28) who lost their lives on
11th October 1812. The three men, it is said,
had stolen some meat from the butcher’s shop but, as they were taking it away,
they were disturbed, so threw it down the well in the yard at the rear of the
shop. They later returned to reclaim
their quarry, and one of the men went down the well. When he did not return the second went down
to see what had happened to him. When he
did not return the third man went down – all three were suffocated by the ‘carbonic
acid gas’ at the bottom of the well.
The inscription on the headstone finishes with the warning that anyone contemplating entering wells should first see whether a candle burns and, if it does all the way to the bottom, they can go down – but if the candle goes out they should stay out.
The burial entry dated
October 1812 records that Robert Armstrong,
Joiner; Jo.Ingledew, blacksmith; and Joseph Fenison, labourer, were suffocated
in a dry well behind the Rudds Arms
by foul air. It is recorded as an
* It has since been pointed out to me by Christine McQueen, a descendant of Ingledew (first name JAMES, not John), that according to her research the three men were not robbers but merely three honest men trying to recover goods which had been lost down the well in question. One source (a newspaper report of 1st December 1812) makes no mention of them being criminals. Like the bad historian I am, I have carelessly mislaid my own source for the story!