Samuel (Maggotty) Johnson
Samuel Johnson was born in 1691, his place of birth is not known, what is known though is that he earned a living in his younger years as a dancing master to local middle class families. He was quite a gifted person, known as a wit a poet and a musician, he went on to write many plays, one called the Supernatural played in London to rave reviews in 1729, in which he played the part of Lord of the Flame.
The photograph on the right shows Samuels last resting place in Maggotty wood close to Gawsworth hall.
Samuel’s other plays were never as successful as the Supernatural and in the 1740s he moved to New Hall at Gawsworth, owned by the Harrington family, and to whom he used to be a dance master for. His brief fame had gone to his head because he liked the locals to refer to him as “Lord” as in Lord of the Flame, this the locals would do, but behind his back they would refer to him as “Maggotty”, this is an old term meaning one has maggots in ones brain, and is regarded as being eccentric.
His wit brought about his demand locally and it is thought that in later life he was one of the last proffesional jesters in the country. Before he died he asked to be buried in a wood that he used to enjoy walking in during his later years, however I have heard a story that he stood on the nearby roof of Gawsworth hall and shot an arrow proclaiming that where it landed would be the spot where he would be buried!
Gawsworth hall, did Samuel Johnson fire an arrow from its roof?
What is certain though is that he was buried in 1773 in unconsecrated ground in what is now known as “Maggotty’s Wood”, and perhaps this is why his ghost has been seen on occasions.
On the two grave stones which cover the burial spot can be found the following inscriptions which were composed by Samuel at his bequest.
Rest the remains of Samuel Johnson
afterwards enobled with the grand title of Lord Flame
who after having been in this life different from other men
by the eccentricities of his genius, chose to retain the fame
Character after his death. And was at his own desire buried here
May 5th A.D MDCCLXXIII aged 82.
Stay thou whom chance directs or case persuades
To seek the quieter of these sylvan shades
Here undisturbed and hid from vulgar eyes
A wit, musician, poet, player lies
A dancing master to in grace the home
And all the arts of opera were his own
In comedy well skilled he drew Lord Flame
Acted the part and gained himself the name
A verse to strife, how oft he’d gravely say
these peaceful graves should shade his breathless clay
That when he rose again laid bare alone
No friend and he should quarrel for a bone
Thinking that were same old gossip nigh
She possibly might take his leg or thigh
The following inscription can be found on Samuel’s second gravestone.
If chance has brought thee here or curious eyes
To see the spot where this poor Jester lies
A thoughtless Jester even in his death
Uttering his jibes beyond his latest breath
O stranger pause a moment, pause and say,
Tomorrow should thou quit thy house of clay
Where wilt thou be my soul, in paradise
Or where the rich man lifted up his eyes
Immortal spirit wouldst thou then be blest
Waiting thy perfect bliss on Abrahams breast
Boast not of silly art or wit or fame
Be thou ambitious of a christians name
Seek not thy bodys rest in peaceful grave
Pray that thy soul may rest in Jesus love
O speak not lightly of that dreadful day
When all must rise in joy or dismay
When spirits pure in body glorified
With Christ in heavenly mansions shall abide
While wicked souls shall hear the judges doom
Go thee accursed into endless gloom
Look at that stone and this, and ponder well
Then choose twixt life and death, twixt heaven and hell.
Samuel Johnson’s brand of humour was well received up until the time of his death in 1773, but this was not the case in Victorian times, so much so that in 1851 Lady Harrington had the local Curate, a Reverend Edward Massie compose some verses and inscribe them on a second slab which was placed next to the original. This was supposedly to offset the brand of humour which was to be found on the first gravestone.
Over the years there has been reports of Samuel’s ghost being seen, one such occasion happened one winter when there was snow on the ground. The witness was walking past the wood where Samuel’s grave can be found when he spotted a dancing form, thinking that it was probably someone who was drunk the witness approached the spot, he found no one there and also found that whoever had been dancing at this spot had left no footprints in the freshly fallen snow.
Another story concerns a Sam Bailey who used to live in the area, he was driving home late one night along Maggotty Lane which runs alonside Maggotty Wood, when upon reaching the junction at the end of the lane a dark figure appeared in front of his car. He was unable to stop in time and ploughed into the figure where upon the windscreen turned black as if a sheet were placed over it. He got out of the car expecting to find the person he had just hit but there was no sign of anybody or anything!