COWES, ISLE OF WIGHT
James CRIBB was the first person to be buried in Northwood Cemetery
James, a 32 year old Cowes Shoemaker died of Typhoid Fever on the 5th November 1856 and holds the honour of being the first person to be interred in Northwood Cemetery. The ceremony was officiated by Thomas Mann.
On that cold November day James was laid to rest and the funeral party returned to the Cribb house, for the wake. His Widow, somewhat upset by the loss of her beloved Shoemaker, suddenly gasped out a distraught cry “Oh no, I do believe that we have buried poor James, the wrong way round; he faces to the West”!
The family made a plan to return to the Cemetery under cover of darkness, to correct this terrible mistake. However, it needed to be a very cunning plan, as they did not want to be accused of grave robbing. Exhuming a body was highly illegal, even in 1856. So after dark, some friends and family members armed with shovels, made their way to the cemetery to secretly re-position James.
How could they turn him through 180 degrees without exhuming his body? Quite easily, by digging a large ‘circular’ hole around the grave, to a depth level with the bottom of the coffin. Once the hole had been dug, a couple of the men rotated James’s coffin through 180 degrees until he faced the East. That done, the grave was filled in again. After a short prayer, the friends and family slipped back to their homes, the rest of the town none the wiser.
How do we know about this remarkable event? A nonagenarian (2008) Cowes lady, who was related to James, was told the story many times by her Grandfather. Jon Matthews, Chairman of the FoNC, has been very fortunate to have met the lady and learned of the tale. Apparently her Grandfather, a 12-year-old boy at the time, had been the person who had to climb a nearby tree and hold a lantern high to illuminate the operation.