Stories in stones

Coronation Street’s Peter Adamson has an unusual hobby

TVTimes masthead
From the TVTimes for week commencing 14 April 1964

THE graveyard was sodden. And perched high on a bleak, windswept Yorkshire hillside.

Hardly the place anyone would expect to find Peter Adamson, better known as Len Fairclough, the jovial odd job man of Coronation Street.

“Aye, there’s the rub,” said Peter, playing around a little irreverently with Hamlet’s famous words as he took what he considers one of his most interesting gravestone rubbings with tracing paper and charcoal stump.

He had tracked down the curious half-ton stone slab in the corner of the churchyard at Uppermill on the rising slopes of the Pennines.

The Shakespearian soliloquy was very much in keeping with the drama chiselled into the black, weathered stone.

Peter rubbed and the legend emerged … “Lie interred the dreadfully bruised and lacerated bodies of William Bradbury and Thomas his son, both of Greenfield, who were together savagely murdered in an unusual horrid manner on Monday night Ap 21 1832. Wm being 84 and Thos 46 years old.”

The biting wind howled across the gaunt headstones as though nature was in sympathy with the dead. Peter rubbed on …

“Throughout the land where ever news is read
intelligence of their sad death has spread
Those now who talk of far fam’d Greenfield Hills,
will think of Bill O’Jacks and Tom O’Bills

Such interest did their tragic end excite
that ‘ere they were remov’d from sight
thousands on thousands daily came to see
the bloody scene of the catastrophe

One house one business and one bed
and one most shocking death they had
one funeral came one inquest passed
and now one grave they have at last.”

Peter called on the local historian, Miss Vera Winterbottom, who unfolded the gruesome story and his day was complete.

Said Peter: “Apparently, a sword stick, a horse pistol and a spade were used. The house was covered in blood, but the mystery was never solved.

“A couple of travelling Irishmen were suspected because William’s last words were ‘Pat, Pat.’ Some even believed it was a quarrel between father and son.”

Peter Adamson
Peter Adamson gazes triumphantly as history unfolds before his eyes

Peter’s off-beat hobby is a legacy from the days when he was an apprentice engraver in a cellar in Knight Street, Liverpool, There, he engraved office name plates and coffin plates by hand.

At his home, 50 rubbings he has made from Scotland to Cornwall in the past 10 years are filed away.

Wherever he happens to be, he always drops in at the local churchyard and goes date hunting.

“You’ll be amazed at what you find,” he says. “Some of it is deadly serious, some humorous and some sociological.”

In the boot of his car there is always paper, charcoal and a wooden batten to hold down the paper on windy days.

His oldest find is in Latin — which he can’t understand — dated 1410 from a church at Finedon, in Northants. His oddest is from Bircle Dean, near Bury, in Lancashire, where two wives and the mistress of the same man are buried in the same grave.

And then there’s the one sent by his brother in America — concerning an Alabama negro who “died in chains.” He’s even got a rubbing of a stone with the tongue-twisting Welsh town of Llanfair PG. carved out in full!

Peter reckons he learns a lot about history and social conditions from his rubbings. “It’s not uncommon to see the names of four children from the same family who died within six months in the early part of the last century.”

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