A Good Samaritan found in Rochester Cathedral

The relief of The good Samaritan with pointing finger on the tomb of Frederick Hill, Lady Chapel, Rochester Cathedral.
©Carole Tyrrell


I was exploring Rochester Cathedral recently after visiting The Museum of the Moon temporary exhibition. It featured the Luke Jerram artwork which had travelled there from the Natural History Museum.   This was my first opportunity to have a good look around the Cathedral since moving here in 2019. There was much to see; 14th century Green Men and a zodiac depicted in tiles in front of the altar amongst others.


But it was a guidebook to the Cathedral’s monuments that pointed me in the direction of the Lady Chapel and a grander version of the Good Samaritan symbol.  It’s usually covered by a rubber mat so passing visitors may not even know it’s there.  A helpful Cathedral guide lifted it for me and as it was so busy I only had time to take a few snaps. I have to apologise for the quality of the photos. exhibition.


Someone really wanted visitors to notice the relief as there is a carved pointing finger indicating it.  These are known as ‘manicules’ from the Latin root, ‘manicula’, meaning ‘little hand’  and you can just see it in one of the photos.


This is a wonderful depiction of the Good Samaritan in 3D.   I have read that the figure of the Good Samaritan is based on the incumbent, Frederick Hill, himself.    I can see the reason why it is protected by the mat as generations of visitors feet would soon start to wear it down.  However Mr Hill may not be buried directly underneath the ledger stone that bears his epitaph. But they are usually placed over an actual burial vault.


According to the booklet, the ledger is:


‘an incised stone slab set flush into a stone floor.


This one is considered to be:

‘one of the Cathedral’s finest’


The fulsome epitaph reveals a probable reason for the choice of symbol.   I have corrected the 18th century spelling in which an ‘s’  looks like an ‘f’.  This is called the medial S which was also known as the long ‘s’. This was a second form of the uppercase ‘S’.



To the Memory of



Anno Domini 1720 Married the Widow of

His Bosom Friend


To whose children

Two sons and Three Daughters



Affectionate and Bountiful

In the most tender

Parental Sense

In his PUBLICK Trust

Providing for his Majesty’s Sick and Wounded Seamen

At this Port,

So Fair,

So Just

Such His Love and Care for them

As One

(Solely Observant of

The Seal of His Office)

That Thought for,

Or Justice to


Was his last, as Least Concern;

He Departed this Life, the 20th  of May 1759.

Much Regretted as Greatly belov’d by all who knew him,

Being a Kind Neighbour, Sincere friend; in Disposition;

Above Guile, and in Practice; an Exemplary Christian.



As you can see, Mr Hill married his best friend’s widow and became stepfather to his children.  He was obviously an important figure in the town and he lived in the St Margaret’s area close to the Cathedral.


I have obtained a copy of his Will via The National Archives.  It’s dated 6 June 1750 and written in flowing calligraphy.  However, I could find no mention of his wife in it so maybe she pre-deceased him.  Mr Hill appears to have been quite well off as he owned land, or estates, in both Southfleet and in the Brompton area of Chatham both of which are in Kent. He appointed his son, Captain Thomas Snarkston, his daughter in law, and Mary Snarkston, spinster, as his joint executors.  The estates were to be sold and the resulting money to be divided between his daughters; Susanna Borthwick, wife of Edward Borthwick, Frances Powney, wife of Mr Powney and Frances Flight, wife of  Major Thomas Flight.  Mary Snarkston was to have the use of all of Mr Hill’s household goods included his plate, china etc for the rest of her natural life. After she died it would pass to Captain Thomas Snarkston, then to Frances Flight and then be sold by the executors and the money divided amongst the aforementioned children.

Susanna Borthwick was to have one of his diamond rings and Mary Snarkston would have the other one.  Two god-daughters, Henrietta Soames and Elizabeth Page were  to have £50 and £20 respectively. With the latter it would be paid on either her 21st birthday or her wedding day. Mr Hill’s gold repeater watch was bequeathed to Captain Thomas Snarkston and 5 guineas each went to Frances Powney and Frances Flight.  Finally after payment of any debts and funeral expenses Mr Hill bequeathed the rest and residue of monies to be divided equaly between Susanna Borthwick, Mary Snarkston, Captain Thomas Snarkston, Frances Powney and Frances Flight.


Mr Hill was a man who appeared to have been as generous in death as he was in life to his adopted children.

A Good Samaritan indeed.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated


References and Further Reading:

 A Trail of Rochester Cathedral’s Monuments, David Carder, The Association of the Friends of Rochester Cathedral, 2019

 Will of Frederick Hill, Gentleman of Saint Margaret Rochester , Kent, The National Archives





Symbol of the Month – The Urn

Another draped urn on the Richard Mosley monument, West Norwood.
©Carole Tyrrell

This month’s symbol is one that you frequently see in cemeteries. In fact, in most Victorian cemeteries you’re never more than a few steps from an urn… or two… or three……

These elegant sculptures are usually placed on top of a monument or can appear in 2D relief on a tombstone.

In marble, stone or plaster, they may also be draped with a sculpted piece of cloth or a flower garland. Urns may also have two handles, no handles or what looks like a lid to emphasise its use as a container. In Nunhead Cemetery there is a particularly elegant example with a lovely tassel on the sculpted drapery.

The Victorians loved urns which is why their cemeteries are clustered with them.  They are examples of the Classical movement which was very much in vogue at the time when these large municipal cemeteries were created.  This was an echo of the Greek and Roman eras but the urn as a funerary symbol was known long before them.  However, according to theartofmourning website:

‘…the word ‘urn’ comes from the Latin word ‘uro’ which  translates as ‘to burn’  so no matter what shape the vessel was, its title was always ‘urn’.

Urn was, therefore, the umbrella name for containers of ashes.  It may have been a small box or an elegant vase but as the above quotation says, it was always known as an urn.  Cremation was an early form of preparing the dead for burial as ancient civilisations cremated their dead and put the ashes into containers. In fact, some urns found in China have been dated to 7000BC.  In Central Europe there was what has been described as an Urnfield culture from 1300BC – 750BC which is due to the large cemeteries of urn burials that have been excavated.

The Greeks adopted the use of urns in around 1000BC and the scattering ashes blog has suggested that this may have been:

‘because of soldiers dying abroad in wars or campaigns abroad and this was the only way to return their bodies home to their loved ones.’

After the Greeks, the Romans used cremation as a method to bury the dead until it was superseded by interment within a sarcophagus. But, even then, the urn maintained its status as a symbol of death and the body’s decay into dust. A reminder that, ultimately, we will return to the dust from which we were originally created. So the urn is also a link to the ancient world and its burial practices However, there is an alternative theory put forward on the Lakewood cemetery website in which it’s suggested:

‘The urn is also a symbol of a house or dwelling.  When it’s draped this indicates a house of mourning.’

But, ironically, the Victorians weren’t all that enthusiastic about cremation, despite their love of urns,  until at least the late 1880’s. This is when it was introduced into large London cemeteries such as Kensal Green and West Norwood.

But why are some urns draped?  I often feel it’s almost as though the folds of the drapery are protecting the deceased from the world until Judgement Day although there’s nothing in the urns.   The artofmourning website considers it to be an indication of the death of an older person but I’m not sure that I’d agree with that due to its prevalence in Victorian cemeteries.

The draped cloth has also been seen as the division, the impenetrable curtain if you like, between life and death.  Some drapes can almost resemble shrouds and this can indicate that the soul has departed from the shrouded body.

The urn also appears as a popular motif in mourning jewellery and George Hepplewhite also used it as a symbol on neo classical influenced furniture. It was an indication of taste and of a classical education.

So the next time you’re in a Victorian cemetery why not try and count how many urns you can see or how many times a draped urn appears? It’s a simple symbol to sculpt with and calls down the millennia to our Prehistoric forefathers as they buried their dead in the same way that we do. The ones that I featured in this blog post nearly all came from West Norwood cemetery and were within a short distance of each other. I was spoilt for choice as to which ones I decided to feature.

And you’ll be pleased to know that I’ve managed to refrain by working in the classic Morecambe and Wise joke on a Greek urn….

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.