My town has a museum; it’s a small museum that is housed in a beautiful old Georgian building. It records and celebrates the history of the town. In one of the rooms on the first floor there is an exhibition that is mainly devoted to the achievements of the great political commentator and social reformer, William Cobbett – who was born just a few hundred yards away from the site of the museum.
One of the exhibits in that room has the perfect title: ‘The imagined grave of Henry Cook’.
It is a work of art – in wool, silk, stone, shell and plastic – that has been made by a felt maker. The work is accompanied by the following text:
‘In the widespread agricultural riots of 1830 and 1831, Henry Cook, a local Micheldever labouring lad took part in a skirmish and knocked Justice Bingham Baring’s hat off.
Cook was tried for attempted Murder at Winchester and subsequently hanged as an example to others.
His body was brought back to Micheldever (a small nearby town) by the sorrowing villagers and was buried in the Churchyard. It is said that snow never settles on his grave – but the site of his grave has now been lost.‘
Based on old maps, ‘The imagined grave of Henry Cook’ is a representation of the original churchyard at Micheldever. It is a beautiful design in colours that are sombre and sad.
During his libel trial in 1831, William Cobbett made reference to the tragedy of Henry Cook: through Cobbett’s words, we learn a little more about the events leading up to Henry Cook’s burial:
‘When Cook was taken home in a coffin, the people went to the confines of the parish to meet his corpse; indeed, may I say, the whole parish went to meet it … six young women dressed in white, went to hold the pall which a tradesman had gratuitously lent. Twelve young men went out to the bearers and the corpse was conveyed two miles, to a place where it was interred in solemn silence.’
I think it’s worth going to my local museum just to see this one exhibit.
1. The feltmaker who made ‘The imagined grave of Henry Cook’ is Chris Lines
2. The Agricultural (or ‘Swing’) Riots were a widespread uprising by agricultural workers; the uprising began with the destruction of threshing machines in the Elham Valley area of East Kent in the summer of 1830. By early December the protests had spread throughout the whole of southern England and East Anglia. The Riots had many immediate causes, but were overwhelmingly the result of the progressive impoverishment and dispossession of the English agricultural workforce over the previous fifty years, leading up to 1830. (Source: J. Harrison: ‘The Common People’)
3. The quote taken from the records of William Cobbett’s trial is found in R. Ingrams ‘The life and adventures of William Cobbett’.