William Jennings, sexton (d.1872)

Bicester Herald, 3 Jan 1873

To the Editor

  Sir,- One of our Winslow worthies has just passed to his long rest.  Every parishioner will think him deserving something more than a simple obituary notice.
  For 40 long years William Jennings, our late sexton, has held his office.  Young and old, rich and poor alike, have been laid by him in their narrow bed.  Those of us who have suffered the burthen of God’s chastening hand in the removal of our loved ones, cannot help feeling thankful for the orderly, reverent care, exercised by our late sexton in the performance of his sad office.  Respectable, and respected by all; a feeling of sorrow pervades all classes at the loss of the kindly old man.  One and all will join in the prayer:
“Grant him O Lord eternal rest,
And let perpetual light shine upon him.”
                                                                                 I am,
                                                                                       Your obedient servant,
                                                                                                                 M. D.
Winslow, 23rd December, 1872.

William Jennings, Sexton of Winslow for 40 years; died December 19, 1872.

Ring the great bell in the steeple,
For the sexton that lieth dead!
Deep in the midst of “God’s Acre”
Find him a lowly bed.

Since first he entered the grave-yard
To follow his ghostly trade,
Many a weary brother
To rest hath the sexton laid.

Man and boy from his childhood,
For thirty years and ten,
Hath he dug and delved and buried
The bones of his fellow men.

Each bell in the lofty chambers
He could ring with a measured swing,
He hath tolled for the death of a pauper,
And rung out the knell of a king.

Many a tale of sorrow
And human woe he hath known,
And the grief in the hearts of others
Ere now hath touched his own.

He hath felt the sharp sting of sorrow-
Had his own burden to bear;
By the graves of his best beloved
Hath stood the chief mourner there.

Toll the great bell for the sexton;
Mourners bury thy dead!
Our brother rests from his labours,
And another must come in his stead.

Earth unto earth commit him,
In humble hope and trust!
Ashes to kindred ashes;
Dust to its native dust.

Kindly, reverently lay him,
His face to the eastern sky;
Waiting the break of the morning
Let him in quiet lie.


William Jennings was aged 67 when he died so there was some poetic licence in the report. In the 1871 Census he was living in Horn Street with his wife Emma. The church accounts 1838-39 include payments to him for winding the church clock. In the 1841 Census he was recorded as a butcher, but he was sexton by 1851.

There is no obvious person in Winslow with the initials M.D. so the correspondent was probably Dr Newham, i.e. Thomas Newham M.D.

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