William Stutes (c1778‒1848)

Although William was from the parish of St Peters and should have been buried there. The inquest report below explains why he came to be buried in Mill Road cemetery, in the parish area of St Andrew the Less on January 1st 1849.

According to the newspaper reports William was a happy waterman, who was a famous skater known as ‘The Pride of Cambridge’.  He died on the night of Boxing Day in 1848, a Tuesday.  The inquest took place on Thursday, 28 December at the Pickerel and the evidence suggested that:

‘…The deceased was drinking in the tap-room of the Pickerel, on the evening of the day previous to that on which he was found, and in the course of the evening, being rather intoxicated, the deceased became obstreperous, and about ½ past 10 was turned out of the house; it is supposed that instead of going out at the front gate, he wandered down the yard and fell into the ditch between the Pickerel yard and St. John’s college. He was not found until the following morning…’

The jury returned a verdict of ‘found drowned‘.  A few days after the inquest William’s son, John Stutes (c.1823-1895), went to speak to the Rev’d Mr Dodd, the incumbent of St Peter’s parish on Saturday, 30 December.  John asked the Rev’d Mr Dodd to bury his father at 2.00pm on the next day.  William had lived in the parish of St Peter’s for 40 years:

‘…Mr Dodd informed him that from the manner in which deceased died, he could not conscientiously read over him the funeral service of the Church. He, therefore, declined to do so, but had no objection to pay for his interment, in the Dissenter’s Cemetery, if they could get him buried there, offering ten shillings to the son for the purpose of paying the fees; adding, they (the Dissenters) “were less scrupulous, and did not mind digging the grave on the Sunday; and if it came to more to bring the bill to him and he would pay for it.” John Stutes replied, that the friends were anxious to bury him by the side of his relatives, in the parish church-yard. This Mr. Dodd peremptorily refused; declining either to read or allow the Church service to be read, at the time fixed or any other. As several relatives had come from St. Ives and Chatteris who could stay away from home only for the day, it was intimated to the clergyman, at one o’clock, that the corpse would be taken to the church at two o’clock, and the relatives would expect that the service would be performed as customary. It was accordingly conveyed there at that time; but the sound of no bell was heard – no beadle to keep the way clear – no clerk to assist in the solemn responses; but the half gate only open – the church door fast – and the friends weeping; while indignation was expressed in mutterings by a large concourse who had assembled. The hour was occupied in looking after the Vicar, who had left his lodgings, and had gone to hear service at St. Mary’s. The curate, Mr. Witts, of King’s, who was about performing duty at St. Giles’s, was asked while the corpse was in the churchyard, but could not help us.” All this time a cold drizzly atmosphere rendered the mourners and friends truly miserable; and at three the body was borne home again, amid the execrations of many an old inhabitant. One old lady said “she had seen many took there, but never one took back when the grave was prepared.” As the deceased was a man who had a peculiar tact in making friends, so his lamentable end caused many to go who could recollect him when he was the “Pride of Cambridge,” as a skater – even as far back as the long winter, when he won several matches. After a consultation of his friends, it was agreed to apply to the new Cemetery, Mill-road, where another grave was prepared by ten o’clock on Monday last, and another delay of more than two hours took place, because the curate refused to bury before he had seen Mr. Dodd. Then Prof. Scholefield had to be called upon, and then the friends were ordered into the chapel to hear how the financial department stood effected, which was done with closed doors, the company having previously been ordered to quit. Double fees having been duly asked and paid, the corpse was allowed to be brought in and the service performed, just quitting the ground at one o’clock.’

The story didn’t stop there and a case was brought to the Arches Court against the Rev’d Mr Dodd, who had originally refused to bury the body in St Peter’s.  The Rev’d Mr Dodd did lodge an appeal when he lost the case but withdrew it and so he was suspended for three months.

Cambridge Chronicle and Journal, Saturday, 30 December 1848
Cambridge Independent Press, Saturday, 6 January 1849
Cambridge Independent Press, Saturday, 20 January 1849
Cambridge Independent Press, Saturday, 27 April 1850
Cambridge Independent Press, Saturday, 3 February 1849
Census returns for England

By Emma Easterbrook

William Stutes