Local Legends - The Basingstoke Burial
To be buried alive certainly figures near the top of most people's ‘Worst ways to go' list, and indeed is considered to be one of mankind's most primal fears. This is the story about one unfortunate resident of the town of Basingstoke in Hampshire, England, for whom ‘buried alive' not only became a reality once, but twice!
It happened in 1674, and the name of the very unfortunate victim was Mrs Blunden. She lived in Wote Street, Basingstoke, and was the wife of a successful local Malt merchant who was away on business in London at the time the terrible events began.
Mrs Blunden, who was described as a gross fat woman, apparently liked a drink, and her favourite tipple was said to be Brandy. However, on this night and no one knows exactly why, instead of having her favourite tipple, she drank a large quantity of Poppy water obtained from her local Apothecary. Why she drank it and why in such a large quantity is uncertain. Some say it was accidently given to her by one of her live-in maids after she requested that the maid pour her a glass of wine. Others claim she took it knowingly herself after feeling quite unwell in the summer heat. No matter what the reasons or how she came to drink it, no one disputes the outcome, for it seemed to everyone around her, that after her heavy consumption of the Poppy water, Mrs Blunden fell stone cold dead.
With no pulse, no heartbeat to be felt or heard, and no breath felt leaving her nose or mouth, everyone assumed she was dead. The apothecary confirmed it after inspecting the empty Poppy water bottle, and poor Mrs Blunden was laid out carefully on a table while a messenger was hurried by horse to London, to inform her husband Mr Blunden of the unfortunate demise of his wife.
On hearing the shocking news, Mr Blunden gave orders that his wife was not to be buried until after his return, which would be in a few days time. However, his wishes were ignored, for the family felt that with the heat of the hot summer combined with the size of the body, she would soon start to decompose and smell rather nasty, and therefore should be put in the ground as soon as possible, so the very next day she was put in a coffin which was nailed tightly shut, and she was carried off to the Chapel of the Holy Ghost, where her coffin was placed upon two stools and her funeral service began.
One of the bearers apparently told his workmate that he saw the coffin move as if the woman inside it had stirred back to life, but he was soon convinced by the other that it had either been the weakness of the stools under such a heavy weight as Mrs Blunden, or the congregation had knocked into it by accident, which was often the case, and so the incident was overlooked and the coffin was eventually lowered into the earth and Mrs Blunden was buried beneath a good weight of Hampshire soil.
Sometime afterwards, presumably the next day, some local boys were out playing in the cemetery and began to hear ghostly noises, which they soon resolved were coming from the area of the recent interment of the unfortunate Mrs Blunden. They placed their ears carefully to the ground and one of them claimed to have clearly heard the words "Take me out of my grave!" followed by groans and some horrific shrieking noises. The boys, terrified and shaken, ran off to raise the alarm, but they were disbelieved by everyone, including the headmaster of their school who heard of the gossip and promptly punished them for spreading such upsetting stories to the locals.
The boys however, feeling hard done by, went back to the grave and heard the noises again, and this time were listened to, if only for their persistence, and the coffin was eventually exhumed. However, by this time it was evidently too late for the poor Mrs Blunden, for although evidence showed that the boys had been truthful, as the body was badly beaten and bruised by self-inflicted wounds suggesting she had been buried alive, she seemed to have died in her attempts to get out.
Her coffin was eventually resealed and laid back into the ground to await the coroner's examination the very next day, however, due to what had happened, some people worried that the poor Mrs Blunden might possibly still be alive, so someone was placed on watch that night at her graveside just in case she should reawaken. Unfortunately, whoever it was on watch, must have decided that any hope of her revival was surely lost and left their post, for in the morning when the coffin was opened again, inside it, the poor Mrs Blunden's body had new scratches, and her clothes were all ripped and torn, and she'd bitten her own mouth into a bloody pulp in the unimaginable distress she must have endured at being buried alive yet again.
The coroner, after a lengthy examination, eventually declared that this time she was certainly dead, and the poor Mrs Blunden was laid to rest for a final time.
Several people were blamed for her death, but on evidence given by the local physician, who testified that he himself had examined her with a glass placed to her mouth and could not trace evidence of breath, those accused escaped a penalty of death, though the town itself was fined for neglect.
Today, the exact location of Mrs Blunden's tomb is unknown, but the story certainly seems to be true. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that many years ago in England, up to 1 in 25 corpses showed evidence that they had been mistakenly buried alive. This discovery is believed to have led to the attachment of bells to corpses, by means of tying a length of string around the departed's wrist or finger, which would then be attached to a bell above the ground. Then if the corpse should wake, someone above ground could be alerted by the unfortunate person's movements.
One just hopes that back in the day they knew how to tie a firm knot.
Photo of Chapel of the Holy Ghost by Edward Lever
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(This article was added on 28th February 2008)