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John Michell Mysteries


ARCHIVE for Thursday 6th December 2001 - The mystery of the long-living Yorkshireman

A few weeks ago I wrote here about ‘Old Parr’ who died aged 152 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. (November 8th in our Mystery Archive section) I also mentioned his rival as England’s oldest inhabitant, Henry Jenkins, a Yorkshireman. Born in 1500, he died in 1670, aged 169. These facts are recorded in the church at Bolton.

I thought this must mean Bolton, Lancashire (properly called Bolton-le-Moors). But I was wrong, and readers have kindly put me right. The monument to Old Jenkins is at the church of Bolton-onSwale, a tiny village near Richmond, North Yorkshire. Nearby, at Kirby Malzeard, is a pub named after him.

From Mr S. Wass of Leeds I received a pamphlet on this ancient person. There was no parish register when Henry was born, so the exact date is unproven. But, says the pamphlet: "Proofs of his great age have been examined carefully to detect the slightest fallacy, and the fact appears to have been established beyond any reasonable doubt."

Jenkins’s age was investigated by Ann Saville, who lived near him in Bolton-on-Swale. Several of the other villagers were about a hundred, and they said he was an old man even when they were children. He could remember historical events from ancient times. And he was often consulted by lawyers about traditional land rights.

One of the lawyers told how he went to see Henry Jenkins in his cottage. Outside it was an old man. The lawyer asked him a question, and the man said to go inside and see his father about it. In the cottage was an aged "wreck of humanity" nodding by the fire. He was too old to understand the question. "Ask my father", he mumbled, pointing to the back door. Out in the yard was Old Jenkins, aged 166. He was busily chopping wood, and looked younger than his grandson. His mind was perfectly clear and he told the lawyer all he wanted to know.

Ann Saville asked him the secret of his long life, and again he was clear. Drink plenty of tar-water and nettle soup, he advised, wear flannel next to the skin and eat simply - bread and cheese, raw onion and cold meat. Old Jenkins could never read or write. Up to the age of 161 he worked every day in his garden or doing odd jobs. For some time he was butler in the house of a local lord. The date of his service there is recorded, giving proof of his great age.

They say we live longer nowadays. But I am not so sure. The oldest person in Britain now is only 109. Ancient records, from the Bible onwards, tell of people who lived for centuries. It may be possible. But you would have to live quietly and naturally, with pure air and water and no worries. And that is not so easy as things are today.

John Michell

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