Rarely one comes upon a monument that gives details of an incident in the life of someone. Just such a rare monument can be found on the western face of the tower at Keysoe in Bedfordshire. This relates the curious tale of William Dickins, a stone mason, who fell from the tower and not only survived but went on to live another 41 years. The inscription is as follows:
In Memory of the Mighty hand of the Great God and Our Savour Jesus Christ, Who Presurved the Life of Wilm. Dickins Aprl 17th 1718 when he was Pointing the Steepol and Fell From the Rige of the Middel Window in the Spiar Over the South West Pinackel he Dropt Upon the Batelment and their Broack his Leg and foot and Drove Down 2 Long Copein Stone and so fell to the Ground with his Neck Upon one Standard of his Chear When the Other End took the Ground Which was the Nearest of Killing him Yet when he See he was Faling Crid Out to his Brother Lord Daniel Wots the Matter Lord Have Mercy Upon me Christ Have Mercy Upon me Lord Jesus Christ Help me But Now Almoust to the Ground Died Nov. 29th, 1759. Aged 73 Years.
It appears there was more to this story than the tablet records. Notes and Queries 1884 6th S. x. 244, pp174-5, prints a letter from W. J. Webber Jones who provides additional information. Apparently the incident was recorded in a book (c.1820) which, unfortunately, Webber Jones could not remember the title of although he had copied the entry down. In his letter he writes the following:
“… The height from which this person fell was 132ft. His leg and foot were exceedingly fractured, but his damage in other aspects was so trifling that he not only lived forty years afterwards, but within seven months from the time of his fall he was capable of ascending the steeple a second time, and he then finished pointing the spire. The chair in which he sat was suspended by a strong rope of four strands, yet it parted evidently through the rocking of the spire occasioned by the striking of the church clock at 8am. Upon examining the rope it appeared that three of the strands out of the four which composed it had been purposely cut through with a knife, supposedly by one who was annoyed at Dickins being ordered to do what he wished to do; this man after finishing building a stack of chimneys climbed to the top of them to give an exulting cheer to the persons assembled there, when the work, being wet, gave way, and falling with him he was dashed to pieces.”
I have been unable (with an admittedly cursory search) to find where this information originated – whether the book it came from exists or whether Webber Jones made it up. One indication that Webber Jones did copy it from a book is that he says “…the copyist says the inscription now (1820) is very nearly obliterated”. The tablet is original and, as the photo shows, while the inscription has been eroded at the bottom it is still legible. This is 127 years after Webber Jones wrote and he wrote 125 years after the tablet’s installation, so one would expect it to have been in better condition in 1884 and as such would have been easily verifyable because the inscription is outside the church. This does throw doubt upon the story that he copied down, but without knowing the source no more can be said.