Hats, Hats, Hats!

During this Coronavirus pandemic, as my once daily local exercise, I have visited early in the morning, our local churchyard at Logie. It is where my Grandfather and Granny are buried.

I realise that not all my fascinations may be shared, but to me, tombstones represent stories as gateways in disguise. Such that I wander around looking at inscriptions, angels, and symbols. It was in this spirit of mind that I came across the following cracked tombstone in the oldest part of the churchyard:

I found myself wondering why a ‘Hat Manufacturer’ from London was buried in Logie? I was also curious why the business addresses had been inscribed on the memorial. This is quite unusual.

So once home I looked up the death certificate for Joseph Ashton. The online copy is hard to read, but it seems he died in King Street, Stirling (probably in the Golden Lion Hotel) at  2 am on the 7th October 1856. The surgeon attending him was Dr Moodie, who gives Joseph’s cause of death as “general spasmodic attacks with nervous and general debility”.

I began to wonder if Joseph Ashton had developed Erethism mercurialis [‘mad hatter disease’], a neurological disorder which affects the central nervous system, derived from mercury poisoning. Historically, this was common among felt-hatmakers who had exposure to vapours from the mercury that they used to stabilize the wool in a process called felting.

I then looked for newspaper adverts for ‘Joseph Ashton & Sons’ and came across these (the salesman patter will make you chuckle!):

54 Cornwall Street, London, is not far from Waterloo Bridge, close to the South Bank and the current Gallery of “Brutalist Art Space”. When I looked up this address for 1856, to my surprise, I came across this entry:

Which was preceded by this:

So, there we have it. Did Joseph Ashton flea to Scotland from cholera-wracked London? Did Dr Moodie know of this reason? We will never know. However I am of the view that Joseph Ashton did die of cholera and that this is why he was buried (in a single grave) in Logie and so far from home.

This,  such a surprise conclusion, naturally made me consider certain parallels with the current Coronavirus pandemic. I was also reminded of this remark in ‘Spill, Simmer, Falter’ by Sara Baume:

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