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Still Standing Upright?

By CMS in Heritage

Another for our collection of Stories People Tell About Tomb Carvings, from our Twitter feed. The wonderful @Salcathguide tweeted this picture of a plaque reading ‘Amens Plenty’ in the wall at All Saints, East Meon in Hampshire. Then @leefer3 sent us this link to the Hampshire Church Treasures site, saying that the plaque was originally in the church floor and that when it was moved, the remains of four men were found underneath, all buried upright: http://www.hampshire-history.com/hampshire-church-treasures-3-all-saints-east-meon/ . The website recorded the local legend that they were parliamentary soldiers, who were part of General Waller’s army, billeted in the village before marching to the Battle of Cheriton in 1644, and that they were killed in a local skirmish.

@Salcathguide went back to the church guide book which gives a bit more detail.:

‘When this stone was taken up from the nearby (South Transept area) floor in 1869 it was found to be covering the remains of four men all  buried vertically.  A local legend suggests that these were four Parliamentary soldiers of General Waller killed in a skirmish in the village a few days before the Battle of Cheriton on 29 March 1644.
There is no evidence to support this, but the burial is curious nonetheless.’

@Salcathguide found the East Meons History Society’s web site at https://www.eastmeonhistory.net/wars/the-civil-war-in-east-meon/  which has a bit more detail about Civil War troop manoeuvres in the area and suggests that the stone might have been ‘a parody by royalists or parliamentarians of their dead foes, or a sincere puritan burial of fallen comrades. Enthusiastic radical preachers accompanying Waller’s army (and their congregations) would have peppered their sermons with “Amens Plenty” ‘. The site also records three Parliamentary deserters from General Waller’s army (some 12,000 strong) being executed in East Meon in March 1644

Looking at older histories of the area,  H. D. Gordon’s History of Harting (https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=fG41AQAAIAAJ&dq=%22amens%22+plenty&source=gbs_navlinks_s) records the finding of the upright burials and the local tradition but describes it as ‘imaginative’. F. G. Standfield’s History of East Meon (https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=hQchAAAAMAAJ&q=%22amens%22+plenty&dq=%22amens%22+plenty&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjzrYOKnZPgAhXhuXEKHeoKBowQ6AEILjAB) also describes the burial and calls the legend the ‘supposed story’. An article in vol. 1 of the Hampshire Antiquary mentioned the suggestion that the ‘s’ in ‘Amens’ was a later addition but dismissed it as unlikely.

@salcathguide looked through the online Parish Burials Register for March 1644, but there’s no record of four male burials on the same day.  He also tracked down some other accounts of the burial. The 1987 NADFAS church recording report says:  ‘originally set above a vault containing the skulls of four men buried upright’.  This may have been gleaned from a 1915 church guide that said that the ‘vault contained the skulls of four men placed back to back, who had – as the remains evidently showed – been buried upright.’  Then he found an article on the East Meon website that says that only two skeletons were found upright. Curiouser and curiouser.

Burial upright occurs in prehistoric contexts but is rare in Christian burial. Part of the reason is that it is actually quite difficult to do. Unless the bodies are still stiffened by rigor mortis, it takes quite a lot of strapping and either a coffin or some other sort of support to keep them upright. The hole can be smaller but is more difficult to dig and should really be deeper. There are however some documented examples. Perhaps the best-known in the British tradition is that of Ben Johnson, who according to the Westminster Abbey web site at https://www.westminster-abbey.org/abbey-commemorations/commemorations/ben-jonson  could only afford a small square of the abbey floor and so was buried standing up.

So were four men actually buried under the East Meon stone? Possibly. Were they Civil War soldiers? Less likely.  It’s a context which would explain four bodies buried at the same time, and possibly soon enough after death that they were kept upright by rigor mortis – but it’s unlikely that they would have been buried inside the church.

Unless it was deliberate desecration …


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