Picture: Paul Walker
Some were larger than life, while others found fame through their own death – and are now lying at rest in the most unexpected places.
Here, we take a look at 10 memorials marking burial places for you to discover in hidden corners of the country. Some mark the lives of individuals who became the stuff of English myths and legends, while in other cases the gravestones themselves have become legendary.
1. Kitty Jay, Dartmoor, Devon
Picture: Fiona Avis
Young Kitty Jay died more than two centuries ago, but curious visitors still lay flowers on her humble moorland grave. Born and orphaned around 1790, the baby girl was brought up in a Newton Abbot poor house, until her early teens when she was sent to work on a farm near Manaton, on the moor.
Then Kitty fell pregnant by the farmer’s son and his furious parents threw the poor girl out. Penniless, pregnant and unable to bear the idea of returning to the poor house, she took her own life. It’s said that she was buried at a crossroads with a stake through her heart and only later reinterred under a mound on a lonely track between Heatree Cross and Hound Tor, where – if you can find it – you can pay your own respects today.
2. Meg Shelton, Woodplumpton, Lancashire
Picture: Brian Young
This large boulder in the graveyard of St Anne’s Church is said to mark the resting place of Meg, or Margery Hilton, known as the Fylde or Woodplumpton Witch. Locals alleged Meg was responsible for all kinds of mischief and that she had magical shape-shifting powers. It was said she could turn into a rabbit and was also accused of transforming herself into a sheaf of corn in order to steal from a farmer’s barn.
Poor Meg is said to have been crushed to death in her lonely cottage, by a barrel that rolled against a wall. It’s said she was buried face-downwards and that the villagers placed a big rock placed on her grave to prevent her causing mischief from beyond. Today, well-wishers often leave flowers at her burial place in remembrance.
3. Dick Turpin, Fishergate, York
Picture: Matt Brown
Swashbuckling highwayman Dick Turpin came to be celebrated as a dashing rogue in the ballads and novels in the century after his death. The real man, Essex-born John Palmer, was actually executed for horse-stealing, not highway robbery.
A member of a notorious gang of violent house-breakers, he fled Essex to York to evade capture when his crony, Matthew King, was shot. His alias was uncovered, however and he was executed on April 7, 1739. He was buried in St George’s Churchyard in York.
4. Hannah Twynnoy, Malmesbury, Wiltshire
Barmaid Hannah Twynnoy got bored and paid the ultimate price – although her death was a first for the nation. Her claim to fame is that she was the first person in Britain to be mauled to a death by a tiger. The story goes that when a circus pitched up in the yard of the pub where she worked, she amused herself by teasing the menagerie’s big cat.
Unfortunately it escaped and was only recaptured after it had finished off poor Hannah. Mystery still surrounds who actually paid for the (swanky, for the times) gravestone at Malmesbury Abbey churchyard which marks her burial place, as her own family was unlikely to have been able to afford it.
5. The Giant, St Andrew’s Church, Penrith, Cumbria
Picture: Paul Farmer
These towering pillars of stone set 15 feet apart are said to mark the grave of the legendary warrior and king of Cumbria Owen Cæsarius. Some accounts hold that he stood 17 feet high, with amazing prowess for killing wild boar.
While there’s some speculation the intricately-carved stones were repurposed from a former Roman settlement, the Giant’s Grave’s true origin is lost in the mists of time, but has held a special place in the hearts and minds of visitors for centuries.
6. Little John, Hathersage, Derbyshire
Picture: Paul Walker
Partly covered by a yew tree in the graveyard of St Michael and All Angels church in Hathersage, lies the famous outlaw Little John. According to legend, he returned to the idyllic Peak District village when he grew long in the tooth and spent his final years there.
The story goes that Little John not only chose the spot in the Hathersage churchyard for his burial site, but dug the grave himself. He fired an arrow from a landmark known as Robin Hood’s Stoop on the moorland nearby and marked the spot where it landed. The grave is almost 14 feet long, while 18th century excavations uncovered remains that suggested they could have belonged to a man of “between seven and eight feet tall.”
7. Ebenezer Scrooge, St Chad’s Church, Shrewsbury
While Little John may have been the stuff of legend, Ebenezer Scrooge’s lichen-covered and cracked gravestone definitely isn’t the real deal – although that hasn’t stopped it from becoming quite a tourist attraction.
Scrooge was of course, an entirely fictitious character, created by Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol. In the story, the miser is prompted to mend his ways when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come gives Scrooge a glimpse of his own future and his neglected grave. The gravestone in the churchyard at St Chad's was made for a 1984 film version of the tale, starring George C. Scott as Ebenezer and it was left where it was when filming was completed.
8. Richard III, Leicester Cathedral, Leicester
Picture: Will Johnston/Leicester Cathedral
Although Richard III died in 1485, his imposing tomb in Leicester Cathedral looks virtually new – and that’s because it is. The last Plantagenet ruler, who was defeated and killed by Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth was only buried with the pomp and circumstance fitting a king in March 2015. His remains were discovered by archaeologists beneath a car park built on the site of the former Greyfriars Church.
Tests run by the University of Leicester based on the DNA of his closest descendants confirmed speculation it was the king. Before he was reinterred, Richard’s bones were sealed in a lead ossuary, placed inside an oak coffin. This was laid in a brick-lined vault under the cathedral floor, with the tombstone marking the spot.
9. Joey the Clown, Islington, London
Coulrophoboia – fear of clowns – has become a national epidemic in the wake of clown-scare incidents making headlines. But in the early 19th century, the public couldn’t get enough of dancer Joseph Grimaldi – aka Joey the Clown – and his slapstick capers.
Joseph transformed the role of the traditional Harlequin into a the familiar red-nosed comic character played for laughs and ‘Joey’ became a common name for clowns who followed in his footsteps. Sadly, his acrobatics took their toll on Joseph’s health and he retired aged just 45. He died aged 59 and was buried in the grounds of Pentonville Chapel, now a public space called Joseph Grimaldi Park. Visitors can literally dance on Joey’s ‘grave’ – a memorial near his tomb. Made of bronze tiles in the shape of two caskets, the art installation plays a tune when you cut a caper on them.
10. King Arthur, Glastonbury Abbey, Glastonbury
Picture: Prince Valliant
Inspiring legend and fable for centuries, King Arthur and Queen Guinevere’s tomb helped Glastonbury Abbey become a hotspot for pilgrimages, the tourism industry equivalent of its day.
Their supposed grave was ‘discovered’ in the late 1100s after two skeletons and a lead cross were found, inscribed in Latin with words translated as ‘Here lies interred the famous King Arthur, on the isle of Avalon.’ They were reinterred within a magnificent marble tomb. Glastonbury Abbey was stripped of its wealth during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries and had become a ruin by the 18th century. The site is open to paying visitors and a sign marks the spot where ‘Arthur’s’ tomb once lay.
Check out Funeral Guide’s Famous Graves Finder to discover more fascinatng final resting places across the UK. Browse the interactive map to see which iconic figure, military hero or legendary royal is laid to rest near you.