Recently I went to find a grave in green leafy Cheshire. I ensured I drove back through Gawsworth Hall in Cheshire to look for another – within a stone’s throw of the hall itself. I wasn’t looking for a soldier or booze-damaged guitarist but a court jester.
The Gawsworth gentry may have been rolling in money and privilege but they lived over three hundred years ago and there was no internet, they’d never heard The Beatles or known what a television was (and peanut butter had not been invented – I’ve had lots of entertainment from peanut butter but only Huge Sweaty Hetty knows about that.) The Lord of Gawsworth employed a jest called Samuel Johnson - nicknamed “Maggoty Johnson”.
I found Maggoty’s grave and it’s in an odd place in Maggoty Wood on Maggoty Lane, about 200 metres from Gawsworth Hall. There’re no other graves; it’s a wood of beech trees, not a cemetery, not consecrated land. I thought it was more of a spinney than a wood as I could imagine the gentry keeping game here centuries ago. You push through a gate and go up into a wood of beech trees. At dusk you could walk passed this grade II listed brick tomb but if you’re nosey like me you’d see it.
Maggoty was a talented poet and musician and was probably one of England's last professional jesters. He was of sharp wit, sprouted endearing repartee and a rainbow of colour. Aged 38 he appeared at the Haymarket Theatre as an author in the leading role of his play which ran for fifty consecutive nights. He had numerous other works published.
The lord of the manor at Gawsworth Hall thought so favourably of Maggoty that he allowed him to retire to property in the hall’s grounds. He lived here with his faithful female servant for many years. The grave I’m stood on houses a tomb designed by Maggoty for his servant however when she died she was buried in a Christian grave at her brother’s insistence. Eventually Maggoty died aged 82 and was given a Christian burial in the local churchyard. It was only discovered many years later that his wish was to be buried in the vault. His body was dug up and re-buried here.
Samuel’s violin is on display in the dining room at the hall.
Off to find Maggoty the court jester…
He was originally buried in the local cemetery before it was found he wanted to be buried in the wood…
At Gawsworth Hall where he was the court jester..
Not many folk get a lane named after them…