John, 1738/9

1738/9 (Stow) – 1775 (Norton Canon, Herefordshire)

Norton Canon church

Norton Canon church

John Pitman was baptised in Stow on 23 March 1738/9*, with his father’s name given as John. His mother’s name was not given, but we believe her name was Margaret. He became a chorister at Magdalen College Oxford in March 1748/9*, and in May 1757, aged 18, he became a clerk there and gained his BA in 1761, followed by an MA in 1765. On the award of his BA he became a Vicar Choral at Hereford Cathedral, being ordained deacon there in May 1761, and priest two years later. In 1767 he became vicar of Mansell Gamage, and in 1769 Norton Canon, where he was buried in June 1775.

His death is rather mysterious. A handwritten account (dating from the nineteenth century) of John’s association with Hereford Cathedral puts it thus: “At the early age of 36, his mortal career terminated, unhappily by an act of suicide, while on a visit to Calverhill, in his parish of Norton Canon,  where he was buried on the 10th of June 1775.”   We have searched the Hereford Journal for the time and found no mention of John’s death  which seems somewhat strange as a vicar would have been a well-known local figure and surely deserving of an obituary.  The burial register made no comment as to the cause of death nor did it state where the body was to be buried although our understanding is that at that time a victim of suicide had to be buried in unconsecrated ground, unless the suicide could be attributed to a “disturbed mind”. Perhaps that was the case with John: in any event, there is a memorial to John in the church, set in the floor immediately in front of the altar. The complete wording is as follows, [ ] indicating  missing letters:

John's memorial in front of the altar

John’s memorial in front of the altar

[Me]mory of the Reverend Mr
[Joh]n Pitman A M Vicar of this
[Chu]rch and one of the Vicars of
[  ] Church of Hereford Departed
[thi]s life June the 8th 1775 and was
[he]re buryed June the 10 Aged 36

*Old Style Dates