Here sleeps in peace a Hampshire Grenadier
Who caught his death by drinking cold small beer
Soldiers be wise from his untimely fall
And when ye're hot drink strong or not at all
'In front of Winchester Cathedral is a lawn with a sparse scattering of old gravestones across it. One in particular catches your attention - it stands up the straightest and gleams the whitest. The writing upon it is actually visible. You suspect that this is a more recent gravestone than the others, which lean at precarious angles and appear neglected and unreadable. You walk towards it, to discover the date on it, and this is how you learn that you've come across something special.
The date is 1764, so it's not a new grave at all. There is a story written upon the stone. It's a morality tale. The central character is Thomas Thetcher, an unfortunate 26 year old soldier who, it turns out, has died from a fever that came about when he drank 'small beer when hot'. And you wonder - what is small beer? What was hot? The beer or the day? The stone carries on to present a short poem about the follies of drinking anything other than strong alcohol on hot days (so that clears those questions up somewhat) and then details the various times the stone has been restored - a total of 3, with the most recent being in 1966. No wonder it looks better than it's neighbours, who lie anonymous and forgotten.
Google does not say much about Thomas Thetcher. When I come across something that seems interesting, the first thing I do is Google it. In this case, it turns out that the tombstone is pretty well known but the man was not. Bill W, author of Alcoholics Anonymous (1938) recounted his discovery of the stone in the book that motivated the modern AA movement. So, the story is inspiring, but who knows what actually happened? 'Small beer' is a name for weak beer, which was popular in medieval times. Could it be that he drank hot beer that had become contaminated by bacteria, which the alcohol content was not sufficient to kill? I can't help but wonder if Thomas Thetcher would have been okay had he opted for gin that day instead.
I checked out the hashtag #thomasthetcher on Instagram, to see if anyone else had noticed this most unusual gravestone. They had. My results list showed a handful of photos of people posing with the gravestone at different times of the day, during different seasons. One photo even utilised the hashtag #12steps, maybe to show that they had made a pilgrimage to the stone, in order to draw inspiration for their own personal journey. It seems that Thomas Thetcher is a bit of a legend, even if we know nothing else about him other than that he met his downfall by drinking a really inadequate beverage.
All photos Copyright Christina Owen 2016.
The correct word for a cemetery enthusiast is a 'taphophile' and I used to think I was the only one. Now I know that there are others out there who find cemeteries to be peaceful and fascinating places. This section of the blog is called 'The Cemetery Diaries' and it covers traditional cemeteries as well as dead spaces of all kinds, which are found everywhere, all the time. The past is never too far away, and these dead spaces are often more alive than you'd think. Check back here for a record of all things Cemetery and my adventures in finding life and blazing colour in the most unlikely of places.