How 'wet but honest' Shropshire huntsman's funeral was stuff of legend

In a Shropshire churchyard lie the well-pickled remains of a famous 18th century huntsman whose final send-off is the stuff of local folklore.

The funeral was reported in a contemporary Shrewsbury Chronicle.
The funeral was reported in a contemporary Shrewsbury Chronicle.

Tom Moody "lived and died an honest fellow – but, alas, a very wet one," said the funeral report in the contemporary Shrewsbury Chronicle, alluding without great subtlety to his fondness for drink.

The story goes that Tom was terrified of being buried alive, so arranged to have three hunting calls sounded over him as he was laid to rest, and if he didn't raise his head they could be sure he was dead.

His grave is just to the right of the entrance of Barrow Church, near Broseley, and although overgrown his name can still be read.

The grave of Tom Moody, right foreground, at Barrow church.

When the parish council decided in 1972 to tidy up the churchyard, a scheme which would involve moving some stones which were so badly eroded as to be unreadable, there was some concern that his grave would be disturbed.

Happily the parish council was fully aware of the significance of his grave and a number of family vaults, and they were left untouched.

Tom was the whipper-in – the person who keeps the hounds in a hunt organised – for the local squire, George Forester of Willey.

His fame spread far and wide and there was even a song about him. But it is the manner of his being laid to rest which cemented him as a legend, meriting a write-up in the Shrewsbury Chronicle of December 2, 1796 – quite an accolade in those days. The funeral had taken place a few days beforehand, on November 29.

The funeral was depicted in an 1831 print.

Its account read: "Sportsmen attend. – On Tuesday last was buried, at Barrow, near Wenlock, Thomas Moody, the well known whipper-in to G. Forester Esqr's fox-hounds for thirty years.

"He had every sporting honour paid to his memory. He was carried to his grave by a number of old earth-stoppers, and attended by many other sporting friends, who heartily mourned for him; directly after the corpse followed his old favourite horse (which he used always to call his Old Soul) thus accoutred, carrying his last fox's brush in front of his bridle, with his cap, his whip, his boots, spurs and girdle, across his saddle.

"The ceremony being over, he (by his own desire) had three clear, rattling view halloos, given him over the grave; and thus ended the career of poor Tom, who lived and died an honest fellow – but, alas, a very wet one."

The funeral was reported in a contemporary Shrewsbury Chronicle.

Earthstoppers are the people on a hunt who block up foxholes, and a halloo is a cry to encourage the dogs while hunting, although it is interesting that the paper's report mentions nothing to lend credence to the story that Tom asked for them to make sure he was dead.

A much later print, dating from 1831, was created to depict the funeral.

The famous whipper in's name can still be read on the tombstone.

Today Tom lies in the shadow of one of the oldest churches in Shropshire, as St Giles' at Barrow is a Grade One listed building which dates back to Saxon times.

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