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    THE STORY OF SHOREHAM         RIZPAH  
                         
The tragic and perhaps somewhat gruesome story of a mother's devotion is told in connection with the churchyard.     clothes and flesh to decay and the bones to fall to the ground. she nightly sought the ghastly gibbet and gathered these relics, bringing them away with her and conveying them to her cottage at Old Shoreham. When at length the elements had done their work and the gibbet was stripped of its burden, the devoted mother deposited the bones which she had collected, in a chest, and buried them in the churchyard.
John Stephenson, a lad who carried the mails between Brighton and Shoreham, set out as usual on the night of November 1st, 1792. He rode horse-back, and on this occasion carried one letter only, containing half a sovereign. At Goldstone Bottom, Hove, he was waylaid and robbed by James Rook and Edward Howell, of Old Shoreham-the former, a young man of twentyfour, is said to have been the dupe of his companion, a man of forty.   No violence was used, and after sharing the trifling booty, the two robbers returned to Old Shoreham-Howell went to the mill, and Rook to join some companions at the "Red Lion," at that time kept by a man named Penton.    
    Lord Tennyson's poem "Rizpah " is founded on this tragedy. In those lines the poor old dying woman tells how, " in the loud black nights " she was " led by the creak of the chains to grovel and grope " for the objects of her search and how she had buried them all "in holy ground."
               
                It is perhaps worthy of remark that a Primitive Methodist was recently sexton at Old Shoreham. It is presumed to be somewhat unusual for a Nonconformist to hold this office in the Church of England, and so we note it.
A frequent visitor to the Inn in those days was an old woman named Phoebe Hessel-a well-known character in her day. As was often her custom she called for some refreshment while Rook and his companions were making merry, and overheard their conversation. Satisfied that Rook was concerned in the crime she informed the constable, Bartholomew Roberts, and the arrest quickly followed. Howell was taken at the mill, where at the time, he was reading a pamphlet to the miller. Both robbers were subsequently identified by the mail-boy, and were committed from the "Fountain Inn," at New Shoreham, for trial at the Spring Assizes at Horsham. Thither they were conveyed on horseback, handcuffed and pinioned with strong cords, and each had his legs roped together under the horse's belly. In addition to the constable who accompanied them, there was a military escort of four cavalry.    
    Many years ago, the host of the " Red Lion " was also parish clerk, and did all the church singing. He would read out the psalm or hymn, verse by verse, and then gravely sing it. But at length he grew old and infirm, and one Sunday astonished the parson and congregation, by giving out, instead of the first verse of the psalm, the following, spoken of course in the broadest " Sussex " : " This is to give notice that I shan't sing any more alone in this 'ere church."
               
                William IV. and Queen Adelaide chanced to be passing through from Chichester to Lewes one Sunday morning. Perhaps it was the same parish clerk, who caught sight through the church window of the approaching cavalcade, and, leaping to his feet, stopped the service by announcing: "it is my solemn duty to inform you that their Majesties the King and Queen are just now crossing the bridge." Thereupon, the whole congregation jumped up and ran out to show their loyalty.
  Sentenced to be executed at the spot where the robbery had been committed, we are told that "an immense concourse of people " witnessed the hanging of these two unfortunate men on the 26th April, 1793. The bodies, in accordance with the barbarous custom of those days, were afterwards each enclosed in a skeleton dress and hung upon the gibbet, where they remained some time decaying, a terror to the timid. " Gibbet Barn" long indicated the spot where this ghastly sight-a fairly common  
    The Sailor King was already well acquainted with Shoreham and the loyalty of its people. Many years before his accession to the throne, he is known to have visited the town He was then Duke of Clarence, and to celebrate his 28th birthday (21st August, 1789) Shoreham gave a firework display which included
               
  one in days gone by-had been. It was near where the Dylto Railway crosses the Old Shoreham Road.  
    a representation of the Siege of Gibraltar. From a newspaper of the day we learn that " the red-hot balls from the garrison had a most striking effect, and the whole display was under the direction of Captain Roberts, of Shoreham." So pleased
  But the pathetic part of the story has yet to be told. Rook's mother lost her reason, but the love she bore her dead son never left her. As time went by, and wind and rain had caused the  
                         
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Copyright © Martin Snow 2002 All rights reserved
Revised 27 February 2002