When out walking the countryside and coming through a village, I like to visit both the pub and the church, if there are ones. Sadly, public houses are closing down and being converted into private houses leaving a village “dry”, but there’s always a church.
Outside of Sundays, I find the church is usually deserted. Inside, there is something serene and timeless about the experience of having a church to myself. I’m not a believer so whatever it is I feel must be beyond belief. Of course, I’m open to an idea that it may be the legacy of some cultural meme.
I remembered I had this photo, taken on my mobile on a walk last Summer to the village of Withington. As you can see, it’s the gravestone of Richard Gegg who lived for 79 years and died in 1908. It doesn’t say when he was born but as he died fairly early in the year, let’s assume it was before his birthday that year when he should have seen his 80th year. Therefore, he was likely born in 1828.
In the year master Richard came into view, King George IV was on the throne, the Duke of Wellington – of Waterloo and rubber gardening boot fame – became the UK’s Prime Minister, the World’s first science zoo opened in London, Catholics were finally permitted in law to hold public office, and two Williams, Burke and Hare, were doing steady business illicitly providing the physician, Robert Knox, with human bodies for his anatomy lectures. But, of course, towards the end of the year, they’d both be tried and hung for multiple murders.
However, what took my interest was the story within the stone’s inscription. Not only did our Richard survive two wives but they both were named Elizabeth and they both died on a 9th December, just eight years apart. I’d be curious to know what he thought about that, whether he believed there was something significant in the name and the date. They were also nearly the same age, within twelve months. They might have been acquainted for all I know. Maybe the second one had her eye on Richard whilst he was married. You can make your own story up if you wish.
Though the stone looks pristine, the grassy plot is indiscrete and I can only assume it’s a grave marker where the three remains are buried. The inscription doesn’t give any other clues to who these people were.
I did a little googling and I think I found our man. At age 22, a man with the same name, but born 1829 (okay, I was wrong), is recorded in Withington as a journeyman. This is a worker who plies his trade or skill from place to place. Ten years later, in a subsequent census, he is recorded as a grocer and ten years on, a grocer and baker, and again, ten years after this, a grocer and baker.
There is also a record for an Elizabeth Gegg, born 1828, recorded as a baker and grocer’s wife. As his second wife died between censuses, there’s no indication of a woman with an occupation matching the surname yet there is a certified death of an Elizabeth Gegg for both years 1886 and 1894.
I could try further and pay for the genealogy service and get full documents from the national census archive but I won’t: the reality might be mundane or unsatisfactory. I’m letting this go in favour of a little fictional imagining.
If you wish to write your own short story, please do. It would be fun to read.
click on either image to enlarge.