A Salutary Tale
I owe this story to Dominic from the indomitable Subterranean Greenwich; a slightly scary story he spotted from 1841 which, despite the years, is probably something to bear in mind now, given the Swiss-cheese nature of Greenwich and Blackheath’s geography…
It’s a newspaper report on the inquest of unfortunate 46 year-old John Revell, whose body had been brought to the Sun in the Sands (I assume the public house; I guess it could have been the general area but that feels a bit weird…) where, despite the attentions of the surgeon, a Mr Kirkup, from St Jermain’s Terrace (St German’s, today?) he failed to survive.
The ‘melacholy circumstances’ leading to the demise of Mr Revell are thus. He’d been digging gravel at Frost’s Pits on the heath (I’m not sure I could even guess where they are/were…) and ‘had, with a pickaxe, undermined a shelving to a considerable extent.’
Recognising the tell-tale symptoms of a landslip, the other workers scarpered quickly, but Revell himself suffered the terrible fate of being buried alive beneath 20 tons of gravel.
Everyone rushed to try to dig him out, and thanks to the sheer number of helping hands, he was dragged out in 20 minutes, immediately taken to the Sun in the Sands. Sadly, Mr Kirkup could do nothing - the pressure of all that gravel had ‘driven the ribs into the heart and lungs of the unfortunate man.’ Revell’s unnamed compatriot, also caught in the landslide, was buried merely up to the waist and escaped with a few bruises.
The jury’s verdict was Accidental Death.
This has a point for all of us though. Dominic says “Health and safety nonsense normally causes me to swear like a sailor at its silliness, but one thing is important – to prop up the sides of your trench if you’re digging a hole.”
It’s entirely possible that someone reading this will, at some point, find a hole in their Greenwich garden. It could be part of an old conduit, a ’secret passage,’ the odd grotto or even a minor landslide caused from the efforts of previous miners, such as William Steers, who was fined repeatedly in the 17th Century for undermining the King’s highway. I dream of such a find, but don’t hold out much hope for Phantom Towers. If you do find such a hole, Dominic and his partner in caving, Per, would love to hear from you and help you to explore it safely. Contact them at subgreenwichATgmail.com