I’ve posted before about the apparent longevity of some Cotswold residents in the 19th century, and how this was the subject of local media attention. My previous post referred to the residents of Moreton-in-Marsh being singled out for attention, but another town, Winchcombe, was also, apparently, home to at least one centenarian.
On 10 April 1830, the Oxford Journal published an article about Thomas Townley, a former weaver in Winchcombe, who had apparently reached his 103rd year.
The newspaper was glowing about Thomas’s attributes, not only the fact that he was still “in the exercise of all his faculties”, but also his apparent physical health.
The Journal breathlessly noted that:
“In the spring of 1828, at the annual sale of wood belonging to CH Tracey Esq, at Hailes, he purchased a drift, weighing above three tons, the whole of which he carried home on his back in the course of the summer, going sometimes twice a day; at other times intervals of a week elapsed between his journeys. Hailes Wood is nearly three miles distant from his habituation.”
It could be said that carrying a three-ton load on your back to walk, sometimes, 12 miles a day, was a feat regardless of your age, but given Townley’s apparent years, it is no wonder that the Journal was so fascinated.
A word of warning, though. In the days before births were registered, and when not all children were baptised, it could be hard to prove a year of birth. The Guinness Book Of Records would have been unlikely to have recognised Townley’s claim to fame, unless the local vicar could produce a record of baptism for him showing that he had, say, been alive and baptised in 1727 or 1728.
Guesswork may have been involved here – “he’s old – I’d say he’s at least 103″ – and Townley was certainly not the only centenarian in the south-west during the 19th century. I’ve found the death of a Caroline Buckland, aged, 107, in Highworth, Wiltshire, in 1888, for example.
But let’s not quibble, and let Thomas Townley have his moment of media notoriety. The Cotswold centenarian must have been a local celebrity, of sorts, with his drift and his long walks – let us remember him that way.