Thursday, 10 February 2011

Monument to Charles Cook, Walberton

In the churchyard of St Mary's, Walberton - a small village in the coastal plain of Sussex between Arundel and Chichester -, stands quite a remarkable headstone commemorating the death of Charles Cook and his wife Sarah. Charles met an untimely death at the age of 30 on the 20th of March 1767, when he was crushed under a falling tree.
This tragic event is recorded in the lower part of the splendid baroque carving that crowns the headstone: the body of Charles, with his tricorn hat nearby, lies under the branches of an uprooted tree. Judging by the clothes of the deceased - and the fact that his family was able to afford such a monument - one can assume Charles's family was wealthier than the majority of people in this rural parish. Standing behind the tree, a man raises his right hand while holding an axe in his left hand. His other tools, a pick and a spade, are by the roots of the tree. Was he the one who discovered the body and is in shock? Or was he responsible for Charles's death and, by raising his hand, acknoledges his role in this horrible accident? On either sides of this scene, a skeleton pointing an arrow at the dead and a rather young Father Time with a scythe and an hourglass remind the living that their time on earth is counted and death will come. The scene of the accident is dominated by the figure of God in a semi-circle of clouds. Here He is represented not as a bearded old man but with a cherub-like face holding a book and what looks like a sword. The scales on which Charles's deeds on earth will be weighed hang underneath the clouds. On both sides inverted cornucopia and cherubs blowing their trumpets complete this carving.

The lettering of the inscription below is equally fine, especially the first line. The part on the left narrates how and when Charles died, while the text on the right tells that Sarah, "relict of Charles Cook" died on November 6, 1788, aged 58. Barely visible at the bottom of Charles's part is a short poem:
"How many ways there are to take away your breath
One most uncommon fell to me and lodg'g me in pale death
My wife most dear did mourn and fear and loth to part with me
I said don't grieve for I believe that I shall Glory see."

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