How Tom Arnold’s cof­fin came through the wall

An ar­ti­cle by Ne­wall Duke orig­i­nally pub­lished in the West Sus­sex Gazette on Jan­uary 19, 1961

West Sussex Gazette - - GARDENING - Con­trib­uted by Arun­del His­to­rian Mark Phillips

Cokes Cot­tage is a very old and un­usu­ally in­ter­est­ing house in the ham­let of West­bur­ton be­tween Bury and Pul­bor­ough, and un­til 40 add years ago it had al­ways been two cot­tages. One in the past had been used by an ox driver and the other by a shep­herd. The cot­tages were made into one house, and in 1931 were bought by Mr. Harold Cooper who now lives there.

Be­fore mak­ing any al­ter­ations, he em­ployed an ex­pert in old build­ings to come and see the house. He was amazed at the huge tim­bers and said that the trees pro­vid­ing them must have been grow­ing be­fore Wil­liam the Con­queror reached these shores. He thought the house was 15th cen­tury and pointed out Ro­man bricks which no doubt had been brought from the Villa nearby.

Dur­ing the car­ry­ing out of a few al­ter­ations sug­gested by the ex­pert, relics of olden days were found. Num­bers of oxen cues or shoes were found on a ledge un­der the thatch, and at the other end pieces of yew wood roughly hewn to fix sheep bells on to favourite ewes, and a bro­ken crook.

There was one thing that puz­zled the ex­pert. At the north end of the house two large slabs of wood had been nailed high up on the wall. These were to be re­moved among other things. While the work was pro­ceed­ing, an old man came by, a grand­son of the old shep­herd who had lived in one cot­tage.

He told a re mark­able story, and when Mr. Cooper heard it, he de­cided to leave the slabs of wood there, and there they are for all to see to-day.

He also told of his grand­fa­ther mak­ing a con­sid­er­able in­come catch­ing wheatears on the Down where he tended the flock, as it was an as­sem­bly hill be­fore mi­gra­tion for these small birds. Gourmets would have them at price, and old Tom Arnold caught large num­bers with his horse hair nooses.

So it came as no sur­prise to the neigh­bours to hear that old Arnold had bought the cot­tages for £100 and re­tired, and his sec­ond son had taken his place. He had reared a fam­ily of five daugh­ters and two sons, and the two un­mar­ried daugh­ters did not have an easy task look­ing af­ter the old man when re­tired, as his tem­per was very un­cer­tain and be­came worse when he was bedrid­den.

One day he asked to see his old school-mate Ge­orge Goodyer, the vil­lage wheel­wright and un­der­taker. Both were nearly 90. His daugh­ters thought it might cheer him up, so a day was fixed for the visit.

When old Ge­orge came. he had dif­fi­culty in climb­ing the stairs and sat for some time with­out speak­ing.‘Old Shep,’ as he was known to all said, “You ain’t got much news now you have come.”

“I was a-thinkin’, Shep, it’ll be a tidy job get­tin’ a cof­fin down they twisty stairs. They be as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.”

“I know all about that. I couldn’t get a 6ft board up here afore I knocked up, let alone a cof­fin. That’s what I got you here for now,” said Shep. “Now next time your boys are rip­pun’ out some boards at the saw- pit, I want them to cut a cou­ple of slabs 3’ long and two inches thick and knock a hole in the wall at floor level and nail the boards over it.”

A few days later the work was car­ried out, watched with great in­ter­est by the old shep­herd in bed. He shouted, “Don’t ram they boards on too tight, they’ll have to come off again be­fore long.”

About a year later the old man died. All his chil­dren and their fam­i­lies came to the fu­neral.

The boards had been re­moved and the cof­fin made by his old school­mate and his sons was pushed through the hole into the bed­room.

The el­dest son had brought a lock of wool to put into his fa­ther’s hand. That an­cient cus­tom was to show the man’s call­ing and to ex­cuse him to his Maker for ab­sence from divine ser­vice while he was tend­ing to his sheep.

The cof­fin was slid down a plank on to the shoul­ders of the bear­ers who had a two-mile walk to the church where he was to be buried. Twice the bear­ers had to be rested by putting the cof­fin on a gate, a cus­tom from a time when coffins were car­ried long dis­tances. And so, the old shep­herd made his last jour­ney. The slabs of wood were nailed on again that night, and are still to be seen. n Ne­wall Duke was the pen name of Lawrence Ne­wall Graburn, who was born at Wepham in 1881. His fa­ther was Ne­wall

Graburn who was a ten­ant of the Duke of Nor­folk at Wepham Farm. He in turn had in­her­ited the farm from his fa­ther, Thomas Graburn, who moved to this area in 1861. Ne­wall Graburn mar­ried one of the Duke fam­ily of long­stand­ing lo­cal farm­ers.

Lawrence Graburn turned to writ­ing af­ter he was forced to give up his ten­ancy on the farm in the late 1930s dur­ing the agri­cul­ture de­pres­sion at the time.

Lawrence loved the coun­try life and the lo­cal char­ac­ters and spent many hours over the years chat­ting to them in their homes or the lo­cal pub over a pint or two.

Many of his ar­ti­cles have a moral or a hu­mor­ous twist to them that read­er­sen­joyed.

Lawrence Graburn, aka Ne­wall Duke

Lawrence Graburn (aka Ne­wall Duke) out­side Wepham House - c1905

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