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The Navigator’s Funeral

Staffordshire Advertiser, 25 December 1830 … “One day last week (Wednesday) [navigator] James Wheeler was at work in Cowley Quarry in the neighbourhood of Gnosall, where a tunnel is in course of formation, and whilst wheeling a barrow along a road at the top of the quarry, he fell, and was precipitated to the bottom of it. None of his bones were fractured but he suffered dreadful internal injury. He was immediately brought by several of his companions to the Infirmary at Stafford where he lingered until Friday night in great agony and then expired. In conformity with the custom of their “order”, the fellow labourers of the deceased, to the number of 100, subscribed one shilling each, for the purpose of decently interring their companion; and on Sunday last the funeral took place. At an early hour in the afternoon, many of these men entered the town and made their way to the Infirmary. They found the coffin of their former companion already nailed up, but such was their suspicion of the “doctors” that notwithstanding the assurances given them that all was right, they demanded to have the lid removed that they might have ocular demonstration of the fact. At length their wish was complied with, the coffin was opened and the corpse was exhibited to them. At half past three o’clock, the funeral procession was formed: six of the men were appointed under bearers, and six women (navigators’ wives) dressed, not in mourning, but in their usual coloured clothes, supported the pall; six persons whom we understood to be overseers of the works followed as chief mourners; and after them walked nearly one hundred navigators, two abreast: the men, although not arrayed in the habiliments of mourning, were decently attired and appeared clean and respectable. Many of them wore smock frocks. They conducted themselves with decorum during the performance of the burial service. On its conclusion, they manifested great anxiety about the security of the corpse, and several of them assisted the sexton in filling up the grave. The whole body afterwards repaired to the Roe Buck to partake of refreshment. We were sorry to hear that many of them remained in the town till a late hour, and finished up the solemnities of the day with a fight! We understand that it is the praiseworthy practice of these men not only to subscribe towards the funeral expenses of their companions, but also to club something every week out of their wages to support the sick amongst them. Felicity Potter
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