folklore, myths and legends


We specialise in collecting and recounting folklore, myths and legends


Saved by the bell? The True and terrible Tale of Mrs Blunden, as recounted by Elizabeth

Fear of premature burial is a recurring theme in folktales and horror stories, but it was once a genuine and well founded concern. Our story is true and well documented. 

A wealthy merchant by the name of Blunden lived in Basingstoke several centuries ago. His wife was often left at home with the servants, and led them a merry dance with her temper and her headaches. One warm summer's day he set off again on his travels and in a very short time Mrs Blunden was complaining and calling for poppy water. This was often administered to ease pain and aid sleep, but could be a dangerous potion in the wrong hands. Whether the mixture was too strong, or Mrs Blunden took much much we cannot know, but in a few moments she fell to the floor in a dead faint. The distraught maid sought help and soon a doctor arrived. In those days it was often difficult to ascertain whether a patient was alive or dead, he held a looking glass to Mrs Blunden's mouth to test for breath, but could find none, and sadly pronounced her gone.

The lady's family were summoned and they sent word to her husband. He sent back a message that he would return in a few days but meanwhile, on no account was she to be buried, he would make the funeral arrangements himself. 

However, it was a very hot summer and her family took the decision to arrange a quick burial rather than leave Mrs Blunden lying around in the warm house. So it was done and she was interred in what is now the Holy Ghost cemetery.

The following morning during a break in lessons some young boys from the nearby school were playing close by the newly dug grave. As they played they heard a strange scratching noise, and then a voice calling out from beneath the ground. Terrified, they ran back to the school to summon their master. Of course he assumed this to be a boyish prank and took some persuading to return with them to the cemetery. But once there, he too could hear the frantic scratching and the voice, he even thought he could hear "release me from my grave"....

They fetched the warden from the church and he agreed that it appeared Mrs Blunden had been buried alive. But even then there was little urgency, these things take time and there were forms to be filled out and permissions to be granted before poor Mrs Blunden could be helped.

By the time the grave was open it was nightfall. It was clear from scratches on the wooden coffin lid and the way her clothes were ripped that the unfortunate woman had indeed been buried alive. But by the light of the torches the doctor could find no signs of life now. So the gentlemen in attendance decided to leave the lady in her coffin, put the coffin back in the grave but uncovered by earth, and they set a guard to watch and to listen through the night.

Sadly for Mrs Blunden, later that night a storm broke out, and in the thunder and lightening the guard decided that he was not sure he wanted to stay by the open grave of someone who might be alive or might be dead, and he fled. When the party arrived in the morning to check they found a terrible scene; it was clear that Mrs Blunden had spent the early part of the night scratching at the coffin again and renting her clothes, but in the morning light they could find no sign of life at all.

So once more and for the last time she was buried and that was the end of her. When her husband returned he was furious, the story was published in papers and pamphlets all over the country and the good aldermen of Basingstoke were fined for their treatment of Mrs Blunden. All the furore added to fears of premature burial, so that some took out extreme precautions against the risk. It was said that one woman in Edinburgh was buried with a string around her finger which was linked to a bell above ground. When she was indeed buried alive she pulled the string which summoned help and she was therefore "Saved by the bell"...

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