THE monk from the Benedictine Priory at Little Malvern fell in love with a local girl and unfortunately broke his vows of chastity.
His implacable prior was not one to shrink from the duties of his post and prescribed the ordained punishment: every day the miscreant had to crawl up to the top of Raggedstone Hill on his hands and knees and say a prayer of penance. Eventually he got to the end of his tether; after dragging himself up to the 750 feet summit, he looked down at his gaping sores and placed a curse on the hill, “May all upon whom the shadow of this stone falls untimely die”, he proclaimed. Whereupon, the monk dropped dead.
Not quite in the shadow of Raggedstone near Eastnor, but only two miles away to the east is Birtsmorton Court.
The medieval manor is the birthplace of prominent statesman William Huskisson. The old Malvern Chase area where it stands was established for hunting as a Royal Forest by William the Conqueror. Since about the time of the Civil War, it had gradually lost most of its trees and the area which the young but sickly Huskisson roamed would have begun to resemble the common beneath the Malverns which is more familiar to us now.
William Huskisson, Secretary of State for the Board of Trade
In public life, Huskisson caught the eye of William Pitt the Younger, the Prime Minister, and became Under Secretary at War; but when he was 29 and on his honeymoon, he had a nasty fright when he contrived to fall under the hooves of a horse. Worryingly, Huskisson was also flattened by the pole of a carriage at the entrance to Horse Guards and tried to leap a moat in Scotland but landed in the middle; he savagely sprained his ankle, lacerated the tendons of his foot and ended up with a permanent rolling gait.
Huskisson continued to have bad luck
After his seriously delayed return to England, the MP managed to fall from a horse and break his arm; and it wasn’t long before he snapped the same arm again, this time by falling out of a carriage. In 1827 he received what he called a 'decided attack of inflammation of the trachea', a condition that gave his voice a permanently rasping sound. Unfortunately his recovery period in France did not have the best of starts: at Calais he tripped on a cable and cut his foot open.
After rising to the offices of President of the Board of Trade and Secretary of State for War, Huskisson was invited in September 1830 to the opening ceremony of the first double-track railway line, from Manchester to Liverpool. Huskisson was actually advised not to attend the grand opening. A few weeks earlier, he had been diagnosed with a condition called strangury, a tender inflammation of the kidneys and bladder which left him with a constant but unfulfilled desire to pass water. He had first experienced these symptoms at the funeral of George IV at Windsor in July, when he was forced to seek shade and attention in St George's Chapel.
More injuries were to follow
“Bloodied but unbowed”, here he now was in the leading coach as eight trains set off in light rain on a 33-mile journey to Manchester, with hundreds of thousands of excited onlookers on the banks and bridges. Now MP for Liverpool, he had fallen out with the Duke of Wellington a couple of years earlier and resigned from the cabinet. Hoping for some kind of reconciliation, he went up to the Duke's railway carriage when water was being taken on board and proffered a hand to him. Unfortunately, in his eagerness, he failed to see Stephenson’s Rocket coming up the other track.
William Huskisson falls in front of Stephenson's Rocket
The fragile MP struggled manfully to get out of the way, panicked and tried to clamber into the Duke's carriage; but the door of the carriage swung open leaving him hanging right in the path of the oncoming steam engine. He fell onto the tracks and his leg was horrifically mangled under the wheels. The hapless William Huskisson died about nine hours later and he became the first fatal railway casualty to be widely reported.
Raggedstone Hill is a great place to walk
Birtsmorton and Hollybed Commons are in the shadow of Raggedstone Hill, along with Mill Pond. They are a great place for a stroll, if you want to explore the unluckiest politician’s old homeland. That is, unless, of course, you have a “prior” engagement…