Henry White Parsons's grave

Babcary

Standing some 10 metres tall on Stuart Hill between West Camel and Babcary is a stone built monument, the tomb of one Henry White Parsons, who died in September 1794.

Various theories about Parsons prevail, but as all relate to different periods in his life, it is possible that all bear some element of truth. Initially, we are told, he and his brother were pirates. Hearing that lands had been jointly bequeathed to them by an elderly relative, Henry promptly celebrated by casting his brother overboard. Returning home, he claimed, as the sole survivor, the whole estate, successfully managing it for many years.

Believed to be of impeccable character, locals frequently sought his advice. Unfortunately, motivated by greed, this was often tendered to such effect that he himself benefitted. One tale tells of him advising a landowner to settle a dispute at law, having previously bargained with the lawyer to lose the case, the resultant spoils then being jointly divided by the two of cospirators.

Another of his contemporaries is reputed to have run pigs in the local churchyard, allowing them to feed off the fallen acorns. Having come to words about this, Henry feared revenge would be exacted posthumously and his adversaries' pigs permitted to satisfy their gastronomic cravings on his recumbent remains.

Determined to prevent this, he himself is said to have ordered the construction of the steeple, complete with space for his eventual inscription. After his death, according to instructions in his will, his body was drawn to the site by twelve white oxen, and there buried at midnight by candlelight. Many gallons of beer were drunk and much tobacco smoked by those given to attend.

In 1969, two men, one a William Orel, undoubtedly primed by the rumour that Henry had been buried along with much of his wealth, entered the vaults. There they discovered only the coffin laid out on a bench with the lid collapsed in. On approaching they were surprised to sue that Henry's remains were well preserved, but on contact they crumbled into dust. Orel removed a tooth which he kept until his own death.

The inscription, now long lost, read.....

His death was noticed by no passing bell
No solemn dirge was chanted o'er his cell
No train was hired in funeral pomp to show
The mimic silence of artificial woe
Oh, may the zealots gloomy censure spare
The stoney grave, unhallowed with a prayer
And learn that virtue, wheresoever found
In woods, in churches, consecrates the ground.

Location

The monument lies in a garden on Stuart Hill, one kilometre north of where the road from West Camel to Babcary crosses the A303.