St Woolos Cemetery - The Haunted Holy Ground

From the book "The Haunted Holy Ground" by Mike Buckingham and Richard Frame published in 1988.

About the Authors




Unmarked grave.


The Price Of Eternal Peace

By Mike Buckingham and Richard Frame
First published 1988

© Mike Buckingham and Richard Frame 2012

We shall never know the last thoughts to pass through the mind of John Dicks. What we do know is that despite the horrific circumstances of his suicide a certain dignity attended his death.

Dicks, a sober and serious man, had a horror of “the parish” and vowed he would never be sent to a paupers’ grave. In fact sevenpence-halfpenny saved him from an indignity which he quite literally considered to be a fate worse than death.

The sad story of Dicks is reported by the Monmouthshire Merlin thus:

“A suicide of a most determined and shocking character took place on Saturday night (June 14) between nine and ten o’clock on the Great Western Railway close to the Maindee (Newport) turnpike gate.

“The suicide was a big powerful navvy of singularly sober habits named John Dicks. He was a single man and supposed to belong to Yeovil in Somerset.

“He appears to have been of an unhappy and depressed turn of mind and to have lived in dread of the parish. He was seen close to the railway bridge in the Caerleon Road between nine and ten o’clock and as a luggage train was approaching he rushed up the embankment and threw himself in front of the engine.

“One leg was completely severed and the other frightfully mangled and an arm was cut off. The mutilated remains were afterwards removed to the Isca Inn (where Clarence House is now) and an inquest was held.”

Someone who had seen poor Dick’s growing mental turmoil said he had appeared to be obsessed with death, and had considered drowning himself, later dismissing the idea because of his belief that there was not enough water in the River Usk to drown a man. He appeared to have something the matter with his mind, according to the witness, since five or six weeks before when he had been involved in an accident at Crindau quarry where he worked (just behind where Malpas fire station now stands).

Accidents at work were not recorded in such detail then as they are now but it seems that Dicks was hewing at the rock face when large chunk of rock split away and struck him a blow on the head.

It was a cruel accident to happen to this trustworthy man. The terrible blow made him unfit for work. The accident may well have caused mental disturbance but the loss of income from a job certainly exagerated his morbid fear of the workhouse.

These days we are used to the idea of an inquest opening in the sombre surroundings of a coroners’ court but even as recently as 1872 when poor, confused Dicks ended his tormented life, things were rather different.

Dicks’ body was laid on the bar of the Isca Inn and the inquest was opened and a verdict of suicide recorded where only minutes later revellers had been laughing and drinking.

Dicks’s phobia about going penniless to the grave had worked its way even into his grisly plan, those at the inquest were to discover.

In the body’s pockets was found ten shillings and sevenpence halfpenny - just sevenpence halfpenny more than the ten shillings needed to bury it with dignity.

Ten shillings and sevenpence halfpenny - eternal peace for John Dicks.
Ten shillings and sevenpence halfpenny - eternal peace for John Dicks.

The man who hatched this desperate plan was known to his workmates as Quiet John.

The quiet corner of St Woolos he now inhabits is an unmarked grave just yards from the Roman Catholic Church.

The handful of coppers means that he can rest assured.