In my limited experience as a taphophile, it is unusual to find someone remembered on a headstone who isn’t family. Perhaps there are thousands of such people “out there”, but how many have had their story told by a great writer?
Robert SNARR died this day in 1849 and at the end of the following year, Charles Dickens published an article, The Sea-side Churchyards, in Household Words. You can read it in full at Dickens Journals Online but here is Robert’s Story:-
What was the great man doing in Filey? I met someone at the grave by chance a year or so ago and the stranger told me that Dickens had a brother who lived not far away, in Malton. I don’t know if this is true.
The tragedy would have been fresh in the minds of local people and I suspect Dickens would have had no difficulty finding sources for the story. The reported exchange between Robert and “mother “ is such that Dickens must surely have spoken with Mary Cammish (née SUGGIT). Other details should perhaps be challenged because they are at variance with contemporary local newspaper accounts. Robert may not have been an engineer and he may not have been journeying to Northumberland to start a new life.
What is certainly untrue is the assertion that Robert’s bloody corpse was brought back half an hour after his last words to Mary. It takes little more than five minutes to walk from the churchyard to Filey Railway Station so he could have thrown himself under the first train passing through, thus giving the Dickens version some veracity. However, Robert’s life ended near Seamer, a rail journey via Scarborough of about twelve miles.
Why did Robert act foolishly?
I imagine he left his beloved’s grave in great distress.When he caught the train to Scarborough his intention may have been to return home to York and the bosom of his birth family, and to continue his career in the architect’s office. With the balance of his mind disturbed, maybe an idea came to him as he watched the telegraph poles zip past the carriage window. He was the seventh of ten children born to William and Elizabeth (née BLADES), aged 69 and 65 at the time of his death. I think he made his extinction look like an accident, hoping to lessen his family’s grief. The inquest jury and coroner did not, it seems, consider suicide.
We’ll never know his final thoughts, but the fact that he is with Elizabeth for eternity is wonderfully romantic.
Also ROBERT SNARR of York, who departed this life March 12th, 1849 aged 31 years.