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Inspecting the Gibson Tomb, Surrey

The modern fashion for cremation has meant that fears of being buried alive have become somewhat redundant. But in former days this was a concern in the back of many minds, especially the old. For the story of a folk custom associated with one who escaped just such a fate, see our entry on Old Man's Day , a custom that takes place at Braughing in Hertfordshire .
Mary Gibson took a rather odd view of the potential danger. She had a family tomb erected at St Nicholas Church in Sutton in 1777, her father James, a man who had a wonderfully varied career - wine merchant, distiller, sailor, master of the Ironmongers' Company - was buried there before her.
Mary died in 1793, and under the terms of her will (with money left to Christ's Hospital to guarantee the continuance of her wishes) the tomb is unlocked and inspected every August 12 , with a certain amount of ceremonial attaching to the event. Quite what she expected the church officials to find on opening the mausoleum is unclear; and with the annual event still taking place some two centuries and more after her death, it seems unlikely she will be found to have recovered. They are also charged with making any necessary repairs to the stone building topped with a steep pyramid, however, and that duty seems rather more likely to require their attention.

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