Pages from history: Two tragic deaths

There are very contrasting gravestones in memory of two young people in Barnack churchyard. Close to the north east corner of the church is the locally well-known stone monument in the form of a semi-recumbent palm tree.

This astonishing piece of work is to the memory of George Ayscough Booth, Gentleman Cadet R.M.C. Sandhurst, who died in 1868, it is thought in Paris, aged 20. He was the son of the Rev. George Ayscough Booth who had been the curate in Barnack in the 1850s before moving to Clandown in Somerset. He must have decided to bring his son’s body back to Barnack for burial close to his infant daughter’s grave. She had died in 1858.

The choice of the palm tree as a memorial could be explained by the fact that the Victorians were impressed by the way that a palm tree would bend in a tropical storm so that the top could touch the ground, but as soon as the wind abated the tree would spring up again.

The semi-recumbent palm tree can be seen, therefore, as a symbol of resurrection. Rev. Booth also had a stained glass window installed in the chapel at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst in memory of his son. One of the panels in this window shows a palm tree and another depicts blue uniformed French officer cadets of the St.Cyr academy near Paris.

A very much more modest gravestone, less than a metre tall, stands between the church and the giant Wellingtonia tree. It has the following inscription:
In Affectionate remembrance of
JAMES SPIRES HESKETT
The dearly beloved child of
JAMES and MARY HESKETT
Of St.John’s Wood London
Who departed this life
October 23rd 1874
Aged 5 years 4 months

In contrast to the mystery surrounding the death of the Sandhurst cadet, the cause of the death of this little boy is known because it was reported in the Stamford Mercury for 30th October 1874 as follows:

On Friday the 23rd inst., as a large iron roller, belonging to Mr.E.Hunt of Barnack, was proceeding down the village a boy named Spires Heskett, 5 years of age (on a visit to Barnack) attempted to jump on the frame with the intention of having a ride. The poor child pitched forward over the frame and the heavy roller passed completely over him, causing instant death. The coroner of the district was made acquainted with the facts, which he thought so clear as to call for no inquest. No blame seems to attach to the man in charge of the roller.
Brian Palmer