Tuesday, 21 November 2017

‘Disgraceful Doggerel’ at Knarsdale (NY678542)

Though now obliterated from sight, a curious epitaph to one Robert Baxter was once to be found near the porch of St.Jude’s Church, Knarsdale, in the valley of the South Tyne. The famous historian, John Hodgson, in his early 19th century History of Northumberland, took great offence at the tone of the inscription, terming it ‘disgraceful doggerel’…

In memory of Robert Baxter, of Far-house, who died Oct 4 1796, aged 50*.
All you who please these lines to read, 
It will cause a tender heart to bleed;
I murdered was upon the fell, 
And by the man I knew full well; 
By bread and butter which he’d laid, 
I, being harmless, was betrayed. 
I hope he will remembered** be 
That laid that poison there for me.

[*or ‘56’, depending on your sources; **some sources give this as ‘rewarded’]

The story goes that Mr Baxter, during the course of his shepherding duties on the fell, came across some bread and butter neatly folded up in paper. Being peckish, he ate it, but was soon seized with violent convulsions, and eventually expired – but not before pointing the finger at a malicious neighbour with whom he had recently quarrelled. The bait, he said, had been laid deliberately to kill him. It seems that the accusation was widely believed, but no inquest was held on the man’s body, so the suspect (whoever he was) was never charged.

Quite how this monumental inscription got past the eye of the incumbent vicar we shall never know. Eventually, though, someone saw fit to chip off the offending verse – and I believe the stone itself is now broken (can anyone confirm this?).