This week, our columnist David Saint delves into the archives of an old Northampton newspaper to dig out some of its unusual tales...
I am proud that The Northampton Mercury was one of the oldest newspapers in the country.
First published on Monday, May 2, 1720, it carried news from London and around Europe, but very little from Northamptonshire.
Indeed, there were only two articles in that first edition and they were at the bottom of the back page!
One advertised the Northampton Flying Wagon that left the Fleece Inn at 5am taking two days to arrive at the Rose and Crown in St John’s Street in London on Wednesday with a fare of six shillings per person.
The other was appealing for information about a man “with his own hair” and wearing a grey riding coat, who stole “a chestnut horse with a star on his forehead and blind in the off eye and a cut tail” from the Red Lion in Northampton on April 20. A reward and “reasonable charges” will be paid.
In 1782, the paper told of a woman called Millesent (sic) Smith of Hinton-in-the-Hedges near Brackley.
She had the distinct honour of being a mother, grand-mother, great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother to “near one hundred persons, besides a number that are dead, and to all appearance is likely to live to see the sixth generation”.
Early in March 1768 the Mercury featured a farmer called Mr Watts, aged 60, who married Miss Ann Linnell, aged just 16, in St Luke’s Church, Kislingbury. Oo-er, if it were in the paper, imagine how them tongues must ‘ave wagged!
William Davis of Little Billing died in Shutlanger in 1751 aged 114 years!
Evidently he had retained all his faculties to the last. And Mrs Ann Cockbolt died in nearby Stoke Bruerne in 1775 aged 104. She, too, had all her senses and could see to read and was making lace until a few days before she died.
Daniel Westley of Piddington died aged 90 in 1887 having served as parish sexton for 44 years. The paper records he had interred more than 1,000 people. He was also parish clerk as were generations of his family stretching back 116 years.
Soon after he died this touching, poetic tribute appeared in the Mercury: “Years four-and-forty seems strange to tell, that he bore the bier and tolled the bell, and faithfully discharged his trust, in ‘Earth to Earth’ and ‘Dust to Dust’.
“Cease to lament the life he spent, the grave is still his element; his old friend Death knew ‘twas his sphere, and so hath laid the sexton here.”
However, the Mercury enjoyed the occasional sensational story, as on Saturday, December 2, 1809.
“On the night of Tuesday sen-night, Thomas Henson of Easton-on-the-Hill, many years brewer to the late Marquis of Exeter, was returning home when he slipped into a pond, only up to his knees, but he could not extricate himself. His family thinking him late searched and found him six hours later.
“He was conveyed home in a state of insensibility and languished until Saturday last, when he died.”