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29 October 2014

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The upside (down) of death!

The subject of death is not usually taken quite so lightly, but across Surrey and Sussex, folk have been approaching it in some rather unusual ways. Meet the people who didn't take death lying down, as it were!

In times gone by, unless you were a witch, the chances are that cremation wasn't an option.

Most people opted for trotting off this mortal coil, horizontally, in a wooden box. But a few had different ideas.

Richard Hull, Major Labelliere, John Oliver and Samuel Drinkwater, all decided that the best way out of this world, and into the next, was the way they had come in....head first!

All four are allegedly buried upside down and here's why:


The mill is long gone

1) John Oliver - Highdown Hill, near Ferring, Sussex

John Oliver was one of Ferring's most unusual and possibly, less law abiding residents. He was an eccentric local miller, who, some say, had a nice little sideline in smuggling.

He died, aged 83, in 1793, but had made sure his tomb, and coffin (the latter which he kept under the bed!) were completed before he popped his clogs.

In fact bizarrely, his tomb, which was built on top of Highdown Hill, near his mill, has an inscription which indicates he wasn't even remotely dead when it was built, reading "For the reception of the body of John Oliver, when deceased to the Will of God: granted by William Westbrooke Richardson esq., 1766!"   

Over 2000 people turned up at his funeral to witness his passing, and rumour has it, he was buried face down. Apparently, the world would be turned upside down when the last judgment came, and his position underground would ensure he was the right way up!

last updated: 21/02/2008 at 16:17
created: 21/02/2008

Have Your Say

Can you add more details to this feature? Do you know more about Major Peter Labelliere, Richard Hull, Samuel Drinkwater or John Oliver? Let us know.

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Judith Warren
The spelling should be Olliver. My mother, who's maiden name was Olliver, always claimed he was a relative. I have never come across anything published about him before and assumed it was just a story. Unfortunately, my mother is not here to enlighten me any further.

Geoff Ayres
John Drinkald & Sons were successful merchants, trading with the East Indies, from their premises at 19 Beer Lane, Tower Street, London. The sons were John, Samuel & Joshua. John & Joshua had land in Wisborough Green & Rudgwick. Samuel died in July 1822, and the story about his being thrown from his horse, may well be true. His brother John Drinkald kept racehorses at his Wisborough Green farm. His land extended into the parish Pulborough. Joshua was married to a daughter of the Napper family. John Senior died on Dec 30th 1823, aged 84. So it seems likely that his son John then built the Toat tower, on the most obvious open hilltop on his land, to commemorate the deaths of both his father John, and his brother Samuel, within 18 months. Samuel was baptised on the 8th January 1779, so when he died, he was about 43.In April 1833 there was a bitter legal battle in the Court of Exchequer, when the Rector of Pulborough, John Austin Clerk, claimed tithes from five farmers, including John & Joshua Drinkald. When John Drinkald was voted Chairman of the Pulborough Poor Law Vestry Meeting on 4th Oct 1832, the Rev. Clerk just rose and left the meeting.

when i die, i wish to be buried upside down too. not for religious reasons but because i think it would be funny.

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