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John Baskerville

Dennis Williams

Proud Brummie
This thread has combined other pieces about John Baskerville

A gruesome true story, stolen mostly from Vivian Bird’s book, Portrait of Birmingham (1970), Bill Dargue’s Site, and elsewhere on this Forum (see link).

The man:
John Baskerville, born Wolverley, near Kidderminster in 1706. Printer and type-face inventor. Came to Birmingham in 1725 and set up various businesses in Moor Street as a writing-master; stone-cutter; and latterly as a japanner. In 1747 moved from Moor Street to new workshops and house at Easy Hill (later Easy Row), where Hall of Memory and Baskerville House now stand. He also did lots of other memorable things in his life in Birmingham, was somewhat of an eccentric; but it is in death that my interest, and this story are focused.

PART 1. In the beginning.
The Date: 1829
The Place: New Street, between Christ Church Passage and The Royal Society of Arts Building.
A respectable gentleman, a master plumber and glazier named Job Marston, briskly walked past the Church, under the impressive Porticos of the RSA, then stopped and knocked on the door of his friend George Barker, a leading Solicitor and churchwarden at Christ Church. A servant appears. “Is Mr Barker at home?” enquired Mr Marston.

Then things took a strange turn. Answering a brief “No, sir”, the servant walked away, leaving the door open. Marston entered the hallway, saw a key on the table, slipped it into his pocket, and promptly returned to his shop in Monmouth Street, as the Snow Hill end of Colmore Row was then called.

Shortly afterwards he was to be seen accompanying one of his workmen pushing a barrow, on which a heavy object lay, covered with a green baize cloth. They stopped at Christ Church, where, with the key he had nicked earlier, Marston opened the door of the Catacombs. There in Vault 521, he helped his workman manhandle the burden, which when the baize was removed revealed – a leaden coffin. The body of John Baskerville had come to the second of its three resting places, and George Barker, churchwarden and solicitor, could square his conscience in that while HE would not open up the catacombs for Marston himself, he had mentioned to him that the key would be on the hall table at a specific time…crafty beggar…

https://forum.birminghamhistory.co.uk/showthread.php?t=9765&highlight=Baskerville
 
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Dennis Williams

Proud Brummie
PART 2. Flashback.
On 8 January 1775. John Baskerville shuffles off his mortal coils. In Baskerville’s garden at Easy Hill stood the conical base of an old Windmill, which he had already adapted as his own Mausoleum, even going so far as to write the epitaph which adorned it after his death.

“Stranger, Beneath this Cone in Unconsecrated Ground,
a Friend of Liberties of Mankind Directed his Body to be In’Humed.
May his Example Contribute to Emancipate the Mind from the
Idle Fears of Superstition and the Wicked Acts of Priesthood”.


Yes, you’ve guessed it, he was a monster raving Atheist. And this unusual and personal interment should have been the end of it, BUT when his wife died in 1788, the House and grounds at Easy Hill were sold to a John Ryland. There are no pictures of the building that I can find, but the Estate Agents blurb makes it sound quite commodious…

The Out Offices consist of a large kitchen, with Servant's Rooms over it, a Butler's and a Common pantry, - two Pumps, one hard and the other soft water, a four-stalled Stable, and a Coach House, a good Garden, with Green-House, and Garden House, spacious Warehouses and Workshops, suitable for the Mercantile Business or any extensive Manufactory, together with about seven acres of rich Pasture Land in high condition, part of which is laid out in Shady Walks, adorned with Shrubberies, Fish Ponds, and a Grotto; the whole in a Ring-Fence, the great part of it enclosed by a Brick-Wall, and is, on Account of its elevated situation and near affinity to the Canal, a very desirable spot to Build upon.

Now this sounds very impressive, but unfortunately, John Ryland must have mixed with some rather dodgy radical friends and as a result of this, the Easy Hill House was burned to a crisp during the Priestley Riots in 1791. To make matters worse for the slumbering Baskerville, later, the old Windmill base was eventually demolished when Thomas Gibson, a Cambridge Street iron merchant who had acquired the land, built canal wharves on that particular spot. Not until 1820 however, when these wharves were extended, was Baskerville’s coffin exposed. And not until a further five months elapsed, whilst the coffin was stored in his warehouse, was someone curious enough to lift the lid and take a peek inside.
Aris’s Gazette of 28 May 1821 described the body as being “in a singular state of preservation…wrapped in linen shroud very perfect and white…the skin on the face was dry and perfect…eyes gone…but eyebrows eyelashes, lips and teeth remained” (I left this gory bit in for Aidan). It goes on “because the body gave out an exceedingly offensive and oppressive effluvia strongly resembling decayed cheese” the coffin was quickly sealed, but it lay in Gibson’s warehouse for another eight years until August 1829, when it was removed to Job Marston’ shop in Monmouth Street.
 
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Dennis Williams

Proud Brummie
PART 3. The Journey continues.
So, up to September 1829 the saga of Baskerville’s bones, though strange, had been relatively straightforward. Now the real mystery crept in. The Birmingham Journal of 5 September 1829 included this short note:
“Baskerville. The remains of this singular but celebrated man (after an exhumation of seven years) have been buried once more, in a piece of ground adjoining Cradley Chapel, the property of a branch of the Baskerville family.” How this story originated is not known, but two others were also bandied about – that the Baskerville coffin was in a vault beneath St Philips Church, or that it had been secretly interred in Mrs Baskerville’s grave.

The coffin had certainly become an embarrassment to Job Marston, though another fifty years was to elapse before, on 22 November 1879, a letter from W.J. Scofield of Hamstead in the Birmingham Weekly Post gave a true account of what did happen in 1829, as told to him by Marston’s widow.
It was that, when the Rector refused Marston Permission to bury the coffin at St Philips because of Baskerville’s atheism, a bookseller named Knott offered the hospitality of his vault - no 521- in Christ Church catacombs. Thus it was that churchwarden Barker connived with Marston, and the clandestine interment took place.

Corroboration of this came on 12 April 1893, when interest having been aroused once more by a lecture on Baskerville given by the author Talbot Baines Read to the Birmingham Archaelogical Society. Evidently, when churchwarden Albert Taylor, inspected the register of burials in the catacombs, he discovered that one fewer burial was recorded than there was vaults, and that furthermore, vault 521 was without a name of the occupant. So the Vicar, Canon Wilcox, opened the mystery vault on 12 April 1893 before an invited audience, which included the Mayor, pressmen, and other local worthies. And there, revealed again to the human gaze, was the by now battered leaden coffin. It bore the name John Baskerville in separate letters of printed type, soldered to the coffin. In chalk beneath had been written “Removed 1829”, whilst in faint ‘pinpricks’ was the legend “Died 1775”. Pretty convincing stuff.

However, in the quest for final confirmation, once again the coffin lid was prised off. Understandably perhaps, by now Baskerville’s remains had deteriorated considerably since 1829, and presented to the chilled onlookers “no more than the osseus framework, covered only with brownish integument, upon which patches of white mould were growing”.

Now after this gruesome act, the coffin was resealed and put back in the Vault. Now funny enough, in opening the coffin Canon Wilcox had committed an offence by disturbing a grave without Home Office permission. There were even questions in the House of Commons from and to the Home Secretary Lord Asquith, but after due deliberation he let him off with a caution… No money is alleged to have changed hands...
 
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Dennis Williams

Proud Brummie
PART 4. And they all lived happily ever after…didn’t they?

Following all this hoohah, as a result of the exhumation, Baskerville was accorded belated recognition. Outside the North wall of Christ Church a tablet was placed by public subscription “In these catacombs rest the remains of John Baskerville, the famous Printer” and signed by the mayor and others present at the exhumation.

So Baskerville was left in peace at last – but only for five years. Already the movement of people from the centre of Birmingham was rendering Christ Church redundant, and an act of 1897 authorised its demolition. The catacombs had first to be emptied however, and as no one claimed Baskerville’s battered coffin, it was re-interred in a vault beneath the chapel with most of the others at Warstone Lane Cemetery. The tablet from Christ Church was placed there in 20 February 1898. Baskerville’s last ride. However, he must have literary turned in his grave when the chapel was demolished in 1953, but the catacombs beneath were undisturbed.

So the Atheist of Easy Hill continues to lie in repose, but now in ground consecrated by the Church of England. Still no comfort.
One wonders, if given half a chance, one day in the future, he may yet make one more journey to less hallowed ground. Villa Park maybe?

THE END?
 
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pollypops

master brummie
Now this sounds very impressive, but unfortunately, John Ryland must have mixed with some rather dodgy radical friends and as a result of this, the Easy Hill House was burned to a crisp during the Priestley Riots in 1791.
John Ryland was my 5 x Gt grandfather

Polly :D
 

Aidan

master brummie
Thank ye Dennis <tugs beret affectionately>

Upton has a slightly different detail in that on finding the body in such a remarkable state of preservation that the great printer was put on display in (Gibson's) warehouse. Here he greeted his admirers with a smell of blue cheese as decay was setting in, hastened by the fresh air that Baskerville thought he had seen the last of...

Thanks for bringing all these details together - I had seen/heard some, some are new, but all benefits from their inclusion together.
 
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Aidan

master brummie
Here is a contemporary report, syndicated from the Birmingham Chronicle by several papers:
* Freeman's Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser (Dublin, Ireland), Tuesday, May 29, 1821
* The Times, Saturday, May 26, 1821; pg. 3; Issue 11256; col E

Freemans Journal 29.5.1821.jpg
 
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pollypops

master brummie
Ooops. Sorry Pollypops, did he survive?
Yes, I am happy to report that John Ryland, Esq. was not at home on the night of the riots - I believe it is because he was having the house renovated. John Ryland had, according to reports made the house more spacious and more elegant and it was recieving its last improvements when it was attacked, on Friday, 15th July, 1791.
I may also be related to John Baskerville as I have read that John Ryland was married to John Baskervilles Niece (my 5 x Gt Grandmother) but further research is needed on this.
Polly :)
 
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Wendy

Guest
I copied this some years ago from some microfiche on Christ Church. As we know John's remains are now in Warstone Lane Cemetery

John Baskerville.



Christ church catacombs

In these catacombs rest the remains of John Baskerville the famous printer. He died in 1775 but the place of his burial was unknown until April 12th 1893, when the opening of the unregistered catacomb no 521 disclosed a coffin which on further examination was found to contain his body. The remains were left intact and the coffin was replaced in the catacomb and the proper entry made in the burial register by the vicar.

There were present:

Alderman Lawley Parker Mayor

Oliver Pemberton M.D. coroner F.R.C.S.

A. Hill M.D. medical officer

W.S.Till Esq city surveyer

Sam Timmins Esq

T.H.Ryland Esq

Represetatives of the local press and others

Charles Byron Wilcox vicar

Albert Taylor

William Gay – Churchwardens
 

Dennis Williams

Proud Brummie
"It is thought that Conan Doyle took inspiration for the name of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" from John Baskerville.

He stayed at 69 Aston Road North (see Blue Plaque on the wall) https://maps.google.co.uk/maps?q=52.4...2,86.13,,2,-10 for several months each year, from about Spring 1879 to early 1882. He was 19 at the beginning of that period, taking up a temporary medical assistantship, as a dispensing assistant (what we might call an assistant chemist or pharmacist) while studying at Edinburgh University. His employer and landlord in Birmingham was Dr Hoare, and Doyle developed a close friendship with his family, whom he visited more than once subsequently. Family members (but not Dr Hoare, who had died in 1898) joined such noted guests as J.M. Barrie, Jerome K. Jerome and Bram Stoker at Doyle's wedding at St Margaret's in Westminster in 1907".

Well as I just answered on Aidan's thread, if 69 Aston Rd in 1881 is the same as 69 Aston Rd North, please God, then my Gt Uncle Ben may have been his pal or landlord, as this snippet from my Family History on the 1881 Census shows...he did put up a Percival Roberts, so maybe he also put up Conan Doyle? I would SO love this to be true, needless to say, not much to boast about just now...but I guess Mike or Phil will put me out of my misery? Boys - do me down or make my day..
 
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Thylacine

master brummie
Showell's Dictionary of Birmingham (1885) on Baskerville:
Baskerville. ... He was somewhat eccentric in personal matters of dress and taste, his carriage (drawn by cream-coloured horses) being a wonderful specimen of the art of japanning in the way of pictured panels, etc, while he delighted to adorn his person in the richest style of dress. ...

Hotels. ... The Woolpack, in Moor Street, ... was the house of resort for many Birmingham worthies, especially those connected with the law, even before the erection of the Public Offices, and it is said that John Baskerville used to come here for his tankard of ale and a gossip with his neighbours. ...

Local Epitaphs. — Baskerville, when young, was a stone cutter, and it was known that there was a gravestone in Handsworth churchyard and another in Edgbaston churchyard which were cut by him. The latter was accidentally broken many years back, but was moved and kept as a curiosity until it mysteriously vanished while some repairs were being done at the church. It is believed that Baskerville wrote as well as carved the inscription which commemorated the death of Edward Richards who was an idiot, and died 21 September 1728, and that it ran thus: —
If innocents are the fav'rites of heaven,
And God but little asks where little's given,
My great Creator has for me in store
Eternal joys — What wise man can ask for more?​
Visitors of Distinction. ... Benjamin Franklin was in Birmingham in 1758, and for long afterwards corresponded with Baskerville and Boulton. ...​
John Baskerville was renowned for his typography , and in 1758 he was appointed printer to Cambridge University. His types were rediscovered in 1953 and presented to Cambridge University Press.
 
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Dennis Williams

Proud Brummie
Well Phil Upton isn't the only one who thinks that Baskerville's decaying corpse was used as a peepshow Aidan. Bird also alludes to this gory practice and claims visitors were charged at a shilling a time for the view and smell, and one Thomas Underwood even sketched the badly decomposed remains, and also offered these as a sort of memento Programme for the main event! He further records that "A Surgeon of Newhall Street tore a piece from the shroud, which he incautiously put into his coat pocket...and promptly died a few days later." He further postulates that pieces of the shroud were extant in 1970 at least, and that he had actually seen one attacjhed to a copy of Wiilliam West's History of Warwickshire. Talk about the Hammer House of Horrors...
 
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Wendy

Guest
Very interesting Dennis I wonder is Bird the father of our custard man? Also does it state who the surgeon was we have a few in Key Hill Cemetery:).
 

Dennis Williams

Proud Brummie
Vivian Bird was an old boy of my School (Camp Hill), and wrote many books about our City, but I doubt he was minted and one of the Custard family, I'm sure he would have cashed in on this when selling his books if so! I would. And sadly no, it doesn't give the Doctors name, but I'll wager one of our resident sleuths might come up with something before the week's out. It is part of the fascination of this magnificently diverse Forum.
 

Aidan

master brummie
A shilling was not bad value for the time. It cost that to view the Panorama in New St a few years before that and just think how much more you would be getting by viewing the rapidly decomposing body.

I think it was more than just the surgeon who died after the viewing, in a sort of "Curse of the Mummy" tale, several people were taken seriously ill, there were some deaths and a legend sprang up that the body was cursed! I don't think we want to find an example of the shroud!

But that makes two things we do need to find - (bring me the [cast]) head of John Baskerville and the Underwood sketch of his remains!!!! Oh and the name of the Doctor who should have known better.

I also can't find any contemporary report of the removal of the hundreds of bodies overnight from Christ Church (surely the lonesome sound of many many carriages stocked to overflowing with rotten coffins travelling the streets of Brum at Midnight must have elicited some comment in the press?)

A further snippet of interest - his will called for him to be buried vertically in his cone/mill/pyramid thing (rather the horizontally, which is the norm)
 
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Thylacine

master brummie
Here is an interesting account of the life and work of John Baskerville, taken from John Nichols's Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century (London: the Author, 1812). Nichols was himself a printer, so his remarks on Baskerville's work are very useful. But the author laments: "It is painful to observe that, in the last solemn act of his life, he unblushingly avowed his total disbelief in Christianity". Baskerville's testamentary Memorandum of 6 January 1773 is given in a footnote, but Nichols cannot forbear to print it intact, and the "worst" of the freethinking parts are replaced with a sequence of asterisks, preceded with the explanation: "What follows is far too indecent for repetition".

And (thanks to my National Library of Australia reader's card) attached below is Baskerville's advertisement (Public Advertiser 24 February 1755) seeking subscriptions for his proposed edition of the Latin poet Virgil. This book was published in 1757, and was the first printed in Baskerville type.
 

Aidan

master brummie
Accursed asterisks! Part of it must be about the sign on the cone and perhaps part about the wish to remain vertical. Hope someone can find an unexpurgated version of the will. But a great literary source thanks Thylacine, and interesting bits in the will where people are cut out of it - truly revenge from beyond the grave!
 
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