George Brooker Stone

(1783 - 1834)
and his son George Stone, junior,
(1813 - 1889),
Vestry Clerks of Ewell

A fear of body-snatching in the 19th century

On 6 June 1782, in St Luke's church, Old Street, Finsbury, Philadelphia Brooker [Bap. Brighton 18 November 1763] married George Stone [Christened Epsom 28 February 1759]. The baptism of George Brooker Stone, son of George Stone and his wife, Philadelphia, followed at Epsom on 26 February 1783.

The father, George Stone senior, is reported to have embarked upon a venture in 1814 which involved converting a prize-ship into a packet designed to take passengers from Newhaven to Dieppe. He had became established as a coal merchant in Newhaven, Sussex, and died there 29 July 1824 followed by his widow Philadelphia on 2 December 1827.

Cloudesley S Willis, in A Short History of Ewell and Nonsuch, indicates that by 1807 Mary Wallis had been received as a domestic servant "into the family of Mr G B Stone, a corn merchant living in the High Street", Ewell. During 1812, George Brooker Stone married Sarah Muggeridge, daughter of John Muggeridge of Ewell, at St George's Hanover Square. The latter appears to have been an occupier of part of copyhold plot 316 in 1802, the premises later identified as 24 High Street, Ewell, but he died on 8 August 1819 and the corn chandler's business then passed into the hands of George Brooker Stone.

G B Stone's eldest child, a son George, junior, was baptised on 16 February 1813 at Newhaven, Sussex. In addition to George Brooker's parents in Newhaven, his brother, Thomas Stone was a brewer there who owned a small brewery near the Blacksmith's Arms and later took over the Tipper Ale Brewery.

Back in Ewell,George, senior, became parish overseer and vestry clerk during 1814 and retained the position for the rest of his life, eventually to be succeeded by his son and namesake: he died aged 51 on 4 July 1834 and was buried in St Mary's churchyard [Exwood plot 6]. Bourne Hall Museum hold a Windsor chair (ESBH_10608), dated to circa 1810 and identified as used in the Vestry room of the old St Mary's church, which was presented to Mr George Stone [the younger], appointed clerk in 1833, as a memento when the new church was built 1847/8.

George Brooker Stone, Snr., and Sarah (nee Muggeridge)'s headstone
George Brooker Stone, Snr., and Sarah (nee Muggeridge)'s headstone
Image courtesy of Brian Bouchard © 2011

Cloudesley Willis reported, in 1931, that
"when body-snatchers were busy , a hundred years ago, there were some men in Ewell who were believed to practise it, and to sell bodies to the surgeons for dissection. The house where they were said to hide their subjects in the cellar used to be pointed out; and it was told that they once brought some irons, like great cork-screws, to Richard Bliss for repair, but he suspected that the use of them was to raise the coffins, and he refused to have anything to do with them. George Stone used to say that, after his father was buried in 1834, he watched the grave for three nights, for fear of body-snatchers, lying wrapped in his yeomanry [The Surrey gentlemen and yeomanry cavalry had been set up in 1794] cloak on Parson Maggs' tombstone."
Parson Maggs' Gravestone
Parson Maggs' Gravestone
Image courtesy of Brian Bouchard © 2011

Extract From Exwood Plan To Show Relative Positions
Extract from St Mary's Graveyard Plan
Key to Colours: Red = George Booker Stone (Snr.),
Green = George Stone (Jnr.),
Yellow = Parson Maggs Graves

The methods employed in body snatching have been discussed in The Diary of a Resurrectionist 1811 - 1812, published in 1896.
"In a memoir of Thomas Wakley,the founder of The Lancet the following account of the modus operandi of the resurrection-men is given: In the case of a neat, or not quite new grave, the ingenuity of the Resurrectionist came into play. Several feet - fifteen or twenty - away from the head or foot of the grave, he would remove a square of turf, about eighteen or twenty inches in diameter. This he would carefully put by, and then commence to mine. Most pauper graves were of the same depth, and, if the sepulchre was that of a person of importance, the depth of the grave could be pretty well estimated by the nature of the soil thrown up. Taking a five-foot grave, the coffin lid would be about four feet from the surface. A rough slanting tunnel, some five yards long, would, therefore, have to be constructed, so as to impinge exactly on the coffin head. This being at last struck (no very simple task), the coffin was lugged up by hooks to the surface, or, preferably, the end of the coffin was wrenched off with hooks while still in the shelter of the tunnel, and the scalp or feet of the corpse secured through the open end, and the body pulled out, leaving the coffin almost intact and unmoved. The body once obtained, the narrow shaft was easily filled up and the sod of turf accurately replaced. The friends of the deceased, seeing that the earth over his grave was not disturbed, would flatter themselves that the body had escaped the Resurrectionist; but they seldom noticed the neatly-placed square of turf, some feet away.

A somewhat similar account is given in the Memorials of John Flint South [by C. T. Feltoe, 1884]. This method is also referred to by Bransby Cooper [Life of Sir Astley Cooper, Vol.i. p.354.] who states that it was told him by one who fancied he had found out their secret, but had, no doubt, been deceived by some of them purposely. Bransby Cooper also says that he asked one of the principal resurrection-men as to the feasibility of this method, and the man showed him several objections to it, and stated that 'it would never do'. This statement was made after the resurrection-days were over, when there could be no advantage in keeping the true plan secret. It must be remembered that there were some amateur body-snatchers, and that it was not at all unlikely that the regular men would tell to them a plan as full of difficulties as that quoted above. To make the tunnel as described, would be impossible, and it is somewhat difficult to see how grappling-irons were fastened to the coffin; a man could hardly get down a tunnel 18 in. in diameter and 15 feet in length to do this; if he did succeed, his difficulties in returning must have been still greater. To pull a body out of the head or foot of a coffin, as described, is an impossibility. No allowance is made, either, in digging the tunnel for obstacles, in the shape of intervening graves or grave-stones. As regards the evidence on the surface of a grave having been disturbed, it would be greater in one opened in this manner than if the recently-disturbed earth had been again dug out. It would be impossible to get back into the tunnel all the earth dug out in the course of its construction, and this loose earth would at once attract attention. Generally, bodies were removed before the graves were finally tidied up, so that it was difficult to notice a fresh disturbance."
The Anatomy Act had been passed in 1832 and it would appear that neither George was disturbed during the vigil.

In his 1931 book, Cloudesley Willis described the premises next to number 26 High Street, Ewell, - 'Picknell Baker' - thus: -
"The yard has all the appearance of a farm yard, and the barn of four bays with tie beams still exists. This was the house of George Stone, corn and coal merchant and farmer; well with all the world and himself; who parted his hair down to his poll, was Vestry Clerk, had his gun and his dogs; and kept his account at the Bank of England"
The Granary Barn which stood in front of 'Stones' Corn Merchant
The Granary Barn in front of 'Stones' Corn Merchant
This photo was taken in 1969, The Granary has since been rebuilt.
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection

The younger George Stone, described above, had married Mary Charman in Ewell on 11 October 1836 but she died on 10 August 1852 [reg. Epsom 9/1852].

George Stone
George Stone
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Private George Stone of the Epsom Troop was presented with a pair of flintlock pistols by the Field Officers of Surrey Yeomanry Cavalry on 16 September 1837. [Bourne Hall Museum ref. ESBH_7690]

George Stone's pistol
George Stone's pistol
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

A trade advertisement appeared in C J Swete's Handbook of Epsom, published in 1860
A trade advertisement appeared in
C J Swete's Handbook of Epsom, published in 1860

The widowed Sarah Stone, nee Muggeridge, may be found in the 1861 census living with her daughter Sarah on Church Street, Ewell. She died during 1865, aged 77, and was buried with her late husband [Exwood plot 6]. Sarah Stone from 'London Road, St George's Southwark', joined her parents on 24 February 1881.

Stone family carte de visite - Sarah, nee Muggeridge, son George and grandson Frank
Stone family carte de visite - Sarah, nee Muggeridge, son George and grandson Frank
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

On Sunday 10 November 1889, in his 77th year, George Stone, 'Hon Major S. R. V.*', died at Ewell and was interred in the family grave. The Executors of his Will, proved in 1890, were his sons Frank and Thomas Stone. The former took over the business in the High Street as corn and coal merchant, maltster and farmer. Thomas, who also became a corn merchant, had married Lucy Louisa Nettlingham on 4 February 1875 and moved away to St. Pancras, London.

George Stone, Mary (nee Charman), his wife, and family's headstone
George Stone, Mary (nee Charman), his wife, and family's headstone
Image courtesy of Brian Bouchard © 2011

Captain Frank Stone
Captain Frank Stone
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Mr Willis repeated his description accompanied by a photograph of 24 High Street, Ewell, in an article Old Houses in Epsom, Ewell and Cuddington published in Surrey Archaeological Collections Vol.51, 1950. At that date the barn of four bays had recently been demolished. He went on to remark: - "At the end of the 18th century the house was extended to the street, leaving the original front door at the back of the shop, and an angular shop front with heavy sash-bars and a front door were put in." The farmyard site has now been re-developed almost completely: abutting the street, only the brick front wall of an early Victorian 'granary' building was 'retained', but in fact re-constructed to a higher roof-line.

Demolition of the Granary
Demolition of the Granary
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

24 High Street And Rebuilt Granary
24 High Street And Rebuilt Granary in 2011
Image courtesy of Brian Bouchard © 2011

*The reference to 'S. R. V.' in George Stone's death notice related to 3rd Surrey Rifle Volunteers.

Punch, 3 December 1859, had encouraged recruitment to the great Rifle Volunteer movement in Scotland and England: -
"Riflemen both sides of the Border.
Drill, drill, London and Manchester,
Shoulder your Enfields and shoot in good order;
Drill, drill, Glasgow and Edinburgh ;
Don't be behind us, on your side the border.
Foreigners oft have said BRITAIN'S old fire is dead.
Let your array tell a different story:
Arm and make ready then. Squires, Shop, and Warehousemen,
Scotchman and Englishman, Liberal and Tory.
Come from the shops, where your goods you are praising.
Come from your moors, from the red deer and roe :
Come to the ground where the targets they're raising,
Come from your ledgers, per contra and Co.
Bugles are sounding, drill sergeants grounding.
Practice your wind in loose skirmishing order,
Foes will think twice, I lay, 'ere they provoke a fray
Once Britain stands in arms, both sides the Border."
Silver Gilt Epergne Presented To George Stone Silver Gilt Epergne Presented To George Stone
Silver Gilt Epergne Presented To George Stone
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

The 8th Corps formed at Epsom on 15 December 1859 (Commissioned by Lord Lieutenant, 21 December 1859, Captain James Hastie to be Captain. John Holman Hay, Esq., to be Lieutenant. Edward James Rickards, Esq., to be Ensign) but was transferred to Carshalton in 1862.

Assumed to be of the newly formed 8th Corps, Surrey Rifle Volunteers
Epsom volunteers in the High Street c.1860
Assumed to be of the newly formed 8th Corps, Surrey Rifle Volunteers

A new detachment, 25th (Epsom Rifles), replaced the original unit and, on 10 April 1866, the promotion of George Stone, Gent. to Lieutenant was gazetted. Both corps became parts of the 1st Administrative Battalion of Surrey Rifle Volunteers (See also Dr George Robinson Barnes). The 25th detachment was consolidated with others into a single corps, renumbered 4th Surrey Rifle Volunteer Corps during 1880. Later in the same year the Corps was again renamed, this time as 3rd Surrey Rifle Volunteers and, on 18 August 1880, George Stone advanced to Captain. He did not gain the honorary rank of Major until 22 January 1887. A silver gilt epergne, in Bourne Hall Museum had been given to George Stone on his retirement from the Surrey Rifle Volunteers. The stand is decorated with realistic fern leaves and supports a central glass dish. Three arms, also decorated with ferns, slot into the framework of the stand, and each supports a smaller dish. A shield at the base of the stand carries the inscription: 'Presented by the Past & Present Members of the Epsom Detachment 3rd Surrey RV to Major George Stone on his retirement from the Command of above detachment after 26 Years Service as a mark of their Respect and Esteem, Feby. 26th 1887'. The epergne stands on a separate round base with a mirror facing upwards.

George Stone (Jnr.)'s Surrey Rifle Volunteer Corps Cap Badge
George Stone (Jnr.)'s Surrey Rifle Volunteer Corps Cap Badge
Image courtesy of Brian Bouchard © 2011

Frank Stone's lanyard and whistle (as depicted in image of him in uniform above - with 1887 Jubilee Medal and Volunteer Officer's Decoration)
Frank Stone's lanyard and whistle
(as depicted in image of him in uniform above - with 1887 Jubilee Medal and Volunteer Officer's Decoration)
Image courtesy of Brian Bouchard © 2011

Brian Bouchard © October 2011



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