Sam Sam …

Sam Sam was a dirty old man
Washed his face in a frying pan
Cleaned his teeth with an engine wheel
Died from a toothache in his heel

This is the poem/song (I never heard it sung) that my grandfather taught me.  If I concentrate hard, I can hear his voice reciting through a cloud of Three Nuns pipe tobacco which he would rub in his stained scarred hands. Even when gone, they talk to us.

A walk to Old Haydon Church earlier in the month gave voice to strangers.  Muriel Sobo’s article in the April/May edition of The Northumbrian reveals that this hidden church was the original place of worship for the parish of Haydon and dates from around 1190.  Used until the 1790s, ‘a new church was then built nearer the bridge crossing the Tyne, as the population had concentrated there and a market was established.  Parts of the old church were demolished and some stones used in the new building’.  I guess this explains its stunted appearance.

The broken headstone leaning against the end wall speaks of the Reed family tragedies:

Ann his daughter Died Sep. 28th 1772 in infancy.
William his son Died Jan. 20th 1775 in infancy.
Mary and Ann his twin daughters Died June 5th 1781 in infancy.
Ralph his son Died Feb. 8th 1790 aged 11 years.
John his son Died Oct 28th 1790 aged 10 years.
Elizabeth his daughter Died July 26th 1794 aged 16 years.

The hard times of old England.

(the same edition of The Northumbrian also contains the review of a certain book 😉 ).


  1. Tish Farrell · May 15, 2015

    Such a resonant piece, Robin. And I did used to chant that rhyme at school. I’d forgotten it completely until now. Perhaps we used to skip to it. Hm. Need to delve into those little grey cells.

    • northumbrianlight · May 16, 2015

      Many thanks Tish – I had never heard it anywhere else other than from my grandfather but my eldest has now even found it on Wiki under ‘Old Dan Tucker’.

  2. patrick · May 15, 2015

    Because the internet can dispel all mysteries in the time it takes to check wikipedia: (although Sam appears to have started out life as Dan…)

    • northumbrianlight · May 16, 2015

      Well done Paddy, I had never even thought to look, thinking it was an original work by your great grandfather. The Dan morphing into Sam could be Chinese whispers.

  3. Livonne · May 15, 2015

    Some of the old gravestones are so sad to read. Life was so full of hardships for our ancestors.

    • northumbrianlight · May 16, 2015

      Astonishing isn’t it Livonne. Poor Mrs Reed who gave birth to all these children is not visible on the broken headstone.

  4. elisa ruland · May 16, 2015

    They do talk to us after they’re gone. I wonder what our grandchildren will hear from us? Beautiful post, wonderful photographs.

    • northumbrianlight · May 16, 2015

      Many thanks Elisa – I can’t quite decide if they will be overwhelmed with vast amounts of electronic archive data or if there will be no trace because it all becomes inaccessible. You see the beginnings of a technology drift now – there are race cars from the early 90s which no longer run because of unsupported software problems.

  5. LaVagabonde · May 16, 2015

    Haunting words and photos, Robin. “Even when gone, they talk to us”. So true – the voices of the departed, the old stones still standing. So much to say and so much for us to learn, if only we’d listen.

    • northumbrianlight · May 16, 2015

      Many thanks Julie – old churchyards are fascinating places. This one is especially haunting for having been abandoned so long ago. Somebody still visits and talks – there were fresh flowers on a very old grave.

  6. easyweimaraner · May 16, 2015

    It was great to enter your time machine and to ponder about the life of this people. We have an area just for children on our cemetery, but I’m not brave enough to enter, it probably would breaki my heart… there are too much small stones…

    • northumbrianlight · May 16, 2015

      Many thanks – it is a very quiet haunting place situated high above the Tyne Valley among yew trees. According to Softpedia, “the yew is the symbol of the immortality of the soul which comes from pre-Christian beliefs and customs of the Celt druids.”

  7. Beauty Along the Road · May 18, 2015

    What heartbreak – losing seven children!

  8. restlessjo · May 18, 2015

    It’s all been said 🙂 Nobody needs to have 7 or more children these days. Well, maybe in Africa… I can’t seem to say what I feel, Robin. Too sad.

    • northumbrianlight · May 19, 2015

      It is Jo – even worse, this was from a fragment of the original headstone so it only tells part of the story.

  9. litadoolan · May 19, 2015

    The small church looks like such a peaceful and tranquil place to visit. Thank you for capturing the history and beautiful details of this beauty from the past. I love the sharp contrast in the gates and the composition of the graveyard. So atmospheric.

    • northumbrianlight · May 19, 2015

      Thanks Lita, definitely worth a visit if you are up this way again. The door to the Church is locked but I guess there is a means of gaining access. I must investigate.

      • litadoolan · May 22, 2015

        It’s on my list! What a find.

  10. Pingback: 5 Photos 5 Stories: Hidden Wenlock #2 | Tish Farrell

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