It was a dark and gloomy November night in 1857 when the people living in Goat Lane heard strange voices and saw unaccustomed lights coming from the direction of Eastrop graveyard.

A few hardy souls ventured out and rushed back to tell their neighbours what they had seen.

Soon a crowd of people gathered outside the graveyard. The crowd grew larger as the news spread that there was a strange sight to be seen.

In the lane, outside the graveyard gate stood a horse and an open cart. In the back of the cart, lying in full view, was the dead body of a man.

The dead man was David Neville. He worked for Sir Richard Bethell, the Attorney-General, who rented Hackwood House from Lord Bolton. 

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David Neville was responsible for managing the stock in Hackwood Park. His duties involved selling some of the stock and accounting for the money to Sir Richard.

He had lately been in the habit of drinking but had never been incapable of doing his job. However, on his last accounting day he was unable to produce his account, but agreed to settle with Sir Richard the following Sunday, the 8th of November 1857.

Basingstoke Gazette: St Mary’s Church, Eastrop c. 1860St Mary’s Church, Eastrop c. 1860 (Image: .)

On the Sunday, when he was due to settle his accounts, he left home at about a quarter past seven.

As he had not returned by midday, his wife asked their daughter to see if she could find him. During her search, the daughter noticed that the door of the paddock-house was partly open. She went inside and saw her father hanging by his neck. She called for her mother and then they both called for assistance.

Thomas Masters, the groom, arrived and cut the rope with a knife, but David Neville was dead and cold.

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An inquest was held the following day which concluded that David Neville killed himself because he was unable to pay the sum due to Sir Richard.

As there was no evidence of insanity, the jury returned a verdict of Felo de se, which is Latin for “felon of himself”, which meant an illegal act of murder.

Basingstoke Gazette: Eastrop church after 1886 enlargementEastrop church after 1886 enlargement (Image: .)

Suicide was traditionally viewed as an act against God who gave the person life. It was caused by the instigation of the devil, who compelled the person to murder themselves.

Because of the nature of their sin, such people were denied a Christian burial. As they were denied the requirements for a heavenly afterlife it raised the possibility that their spirits would remain earthbound to haunt the living.

Basingstoke Gazette: St Mary's church in Eastrop before the lychgate was moved to a different position in 1995St Mary's church in Eastrop before the lychgate was moved to a different position in 1995 (Image: Newsquest)

This is why suicides were buried at the crossroads, to confuse the ghost as to which direction to follow. To make doubly sure that the dead would not rise again, a stake was thrust through their heart.

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It is thought that the last suicide to be buried at the crossroads was one Abel Grittiths in June 1823 at Pimlico near where Victoria coach station is now.

Basingstoke Gazette: Burying a suicide by moonlight- a painting by James GreenwoodBurying a suicide by moonlight- a painting by James Greenwood (Image: .)

The Burial of Suicide Act, which was passed later that year, abolished the practice and specified that those found guilty of Felo de se should be buried in a graveyard between the hours of 9pm and midnight without any Christian ceremony.

In line with the 1823 Act the coroner issued a warrant for David Neville to be interred at Eastrop churchyard between the hours of nine and twelve that night (Monday, 9 November 1857) without the performance of any funeral ceremony.

Basingstoke Gazette: The north front of Hackwood House, circa 1830. The north front of Hackwood House, circa 1830. (Image: .)

Before a boundary change in 1879, part of Hackwood Park formed a detached portion of the civil parish of Eastrop.    

According to the Reading Mercury, “a most extraordinary scene occurred at Eastrop Churchyard”.

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The dead man had been taken from Hackwood to Eastrop in the open cart, dressed in the clothes he died in. When the cart arrived at the graveyard, Henry Portsmouth, one of the churchwardens, refused to allow the body to be buried unless it was placed in a coffin.

There was a bit of a standoff until someone agreed to construct a makeshift coffin. The cart with the body in the back was left in the lane from nine o’clock with a large crowd soon gathering until half-past eleven when the coffin was finally made.

Basingstoke Gazette: Eastrop Church after 1912Eastrop Church after 1912 (Image: .)

It appears that the coffin was too small. The paper reported that, “When the coffin — a few boards loosely put together — was made, the body was taken from the cart by the light of a few lanterns, and with great difficulty placed in it, and it was nailed down and lowered into the grave.

"The horrible sight had such an effect on the brother of the deceased, who was present that he immediately fell into a fit, thus increasing the distressing and dreadful character of the scene”.