The Grave of Muldebriar Herrin

History: Cemetery headstone of Muldebriar Herrin, St Mary's Church, Birch, Lancashire
The headstone (
An interesting headstone can be found next to a hedge in the graveyard at St Mary's Church, at Birch-In-Hopwood. It lies on the grave of Muldebriar Herrin, and reads:
In affectionate remembrance of
Muldebriar Herrin
A Gipsy of Sherwood Forest 
Who died 4th September 1881
Aged 70 years 
"Darker and darker
The black shadows fall
Sleep and oblivion
Reign over all
Until the day break and
The shadows flee away."
The story behind this unlikely presence in the graveyard is that back in 1881 a group of Romany travellers were heading through the area in their horse-drawn caravans, on their way to the winter camp in Sherwood Forest.

Passing Heaton Hall, it became obvious that Muldebriar Herrin, an old man in the group, was dying and needed help. They stopped at Birch village where the locals gladly assisted them and a doctor and a vicar were soon on the scene. Despite this help, Muldebriar passed away.

An unusual discussion followed. It was a Romany custom to be buried under a hedge where the hawthorn blossom would fall on the grave each Spring, but this pagan practice was not to be allowed by the local vicar, who demanded the burial take place in consecrated ground.

A compromise was reached, and Muldebriar was was buried in the church graveyard but as near to a hedge as possible. His chair was garlanded, and a procession of his friends and family carried him to the grave and he was laid in the opening, with floral tributes, on his chair. A single rose was placed on top to bloom every year. A conventional headstone was later erected by the grave.

His death certificate describes him as 'Mulderbry Herring, a basket maker who died at the age of 70 years of pneumonia at Bury New Road'. The informant of the death was his brother, Elijah Herring, who signed his name with a ‘X.’

A 1936 article by David Priest, titled ‘Do You Remember’, describes Muldebriar as 'the king of the gypsies', and that he became ill while his group was camped in a meadow at Birch. It gives a detailed account of the camp and also the heated discussions over the demands that Muldebriar be buried under a hedge. The Romany were apparently confronted by the local constable and magistrate who told them that he was to have a 'proper burial' and that there would be 'none of your hedgerow business here’.

History: Cemetery headstone of Muldebriar Herrin, St Mary's Church, Birch, Lancashire
The headstone when it was still standing (

History: Cemetery headstone of Muldebriar Herrin, St Mary's Church, Birch, Lancashire
The grave by the hedge (



Unknown said…
I have visited the graveyard several times over the years. As children this grave had a particular fascination for us. Not understanding the inscription, we always believed it to be the last resting place of a witch. We were told many tales of revenge towards anyone who would disturb, or disrespect the grave in any way. I'm sure that these tales still persist today.
Dawn Hilton said…
Very interesting, I have been researching ancient celtic connections to the hawthilorn Bush for months. I find this interesting as I was just born down the road under a Bush in Heywood along Rochdale Lane. I have roots going back to Heap or Hep. 💚 I believe there are even more bushes there. Might be an idea to look under th hawthorns. 💚 Thank you.