“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Upsetting God in Devizes

The Market Cross in Devizes was erected in 1814 and bears a metal plaque that tells the unfortunate story of Ruth Pierce from nearby Potterne. Ruth Pierce met her unfortunate demise at Devizes market on the 25th January 1753. The plaque reads:

“On Thursday the 25th of January 1753, Ruth Pierce of Potterne in this County, agreed with three other women to buy a sack of wheat in the market, each paying her due proportion towards the same. One of these women, in collecting the several quotas of money, discovered a deficiency, and demanded of Ruth Pierce the sum which was wanting to make good the amount. Ruth Pierce protested that she had paid her share, and said, ‘She wished she might drop down dead if she had not.’ She rashly repeated this awful wish; when to the consternation and terror of the surrounding multitude, she instantly fell down and expired, having the money concealed in her hand.”

It is said that the day following Ruth Pierce’s death that an inquest was held and that the judge and jury found that there were no marks of violence on her body nor any clear reason why she had died. The verdict that the inquest arrived at was that Ruth Pierce had been struck dead by “the Visitation of the Great and Almighty God”.

In an attempt to warn people and to deter such behaviour from occurring again, Ruth’s story was captured on a stone tablet in the market place. Following the construction of the Market Cross in 1814 this stone tablet was replaced by the current metal plaque. The original stone tablet is said to be in the care of the Devizes Heritage Museum and may be on display in the foyer of the Devizes Corn Exchange - but I have not been there to confirm this for myself.

Some sources also suggest that the part of the story that says Ruth died “having the money concealed in her hand” was a latter fabrication of the story to give it a stronger moral message. It is entirely possible that Ruth Pierce was innocent of any wrong doing, and simply suffered a heart attack or stroke as a result of the accusations being levelled at her. Or perhaps she was indeed an embezzler, who was justly struck down by the Lord Almighty as punishment for her crimes? 

Devizes Market Cross.

Ruth's tale.
The story of Ruth Pierce is not the only morality story that is on display in Devizes. St John’s Churchyard is home to an obelisk that warns of the dangers of breaking the Fourth Commandment - remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. The story is that one Sunday evening in June 1751 a newlywed couple and three of their friends went to Drew’s Pond in Devizes to enjoy the water. Sadly during this trip all five of the friends drowned, a tragedy that would have been avoided if they had all been in church like they were supposed to have been! The worn inscription on the 15ft high monument reads:

In memory of the sudden and awful end of Robert Merrit and Susannah, his wife, Eliz. Tilley, her sister, Martha Carter and Josiah Derham, who were all Drowned in the Flower of their Youth in a pond near this town called Drews. On Sunday evening the 30th June 1751 and are together underneath entombed.

The inscription on the other side of the monument reads:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. This monument, as an awful monitor to young people to remember their Creator in the days of their Youth. Was erected by subscription.”

For five people to drown is Drew’s pond is somewhat surprising, given that it is not a huge body of water. So perhaps the Lord Almighty did have a hand in the event? 

So be warned! If you ever visit Devizes in Wiltshire be sure not to upset the Lord Almighty else you may come to an untimely end!

St John's Church.

The Obelisk.

The worn inscription.
Pictures: Wiltshire (August 2014).

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