The Christopher Burraway mystery 

Ann Meakin writes about the gems from our treasury of Martham Parish magazines.  In this one she returns to Barbara Cornford's analysis of one of Martham's biggest tourist attractions.

Ethel Watson who, from 1969, for many decades typed, printed and organized distribution of the Martham ‘Parish Magazine’ before the days of computers, kept a copy of every one she was involved with.  Ethel has now presented all of these to me, and what a marvelous treasury it is of the social life of the village. 

For many of those years Barbara Cornford was the editor and also as a local historian wrote numerous articles about the history of the area. 

In the 1970s one of the great attractions that brought coach loads of people to Martham were the Burraway Memorial gravestones in Martham Church.   This is Barbara’s article from one of the magazines:-


Some people come to Martham

Church to see the Burraway Memorial.

They have read the story of the

foundling boy, Christopher Burraway,

son of an incestuous union between

father and daughter, who took

service with a widow in Martham

whom he later married, not knowing

that she was his mother.

Historical research has shown that

there is no foundation for this story.

Here are the brief facts:

CHRISTOPHER BURRAWAY was born in Potter Heigham in 1672.  His father died a year later.

His mother married GREGORY JOHNSON in 1674.  She died sometime

after 1677.

GREGORY JOHNSON married a widow, ALICE RIALL and they moved to Martham about 1691.

GREGORY JOHNSON died in 1700 and was buried in Martham Church.

CHRISTOPHER BURRAWAY married ALICE JOHNSON, his step-father’s widow, in Norwich Cathedral in 1702.

The thrice married ALICE BURRAWAY died aged 76 in 1729 and was buried beside her second husband in Martham Church.

CHRISTOPHER BURRAWAY died in 1730 and was buried beside her.  On his tombstone is a hand pointing to his wife’s grave, with the inscription:

'Alice, who by her life was my sister, my mistress, my mother and my wife.  Dyed feb. ye 12th 1729.  Aged 76 years.'


Similar inscriptions are found on gravestones in England, France and Italy.  It is possible that Christopher Burraway read about them in the works of Jeremy Taylor which was popular at the end of the seventeenth century and realized that such an inscription could apply to him and Alice, since she had been his step-father’s wife.”


The Burraway stones were moved from under the tower in 1999 and now stand against the south wall of Martham Church.


Christopher Burraway was a highly respected inhabitant of Martham and a churchwarden.  His name is on one of the church bells which he probably paid for.  The Burraways were wealthy people, which is why Christopher and Alice could afford to be married in Norwich Cathedral.  They lived at Martham Hall – a very fine Grade II listed house which still stands.


 Before the end of the 18th century, those who could afford a gravestone were often buried in the nave of Martham Church.  Eventually there would have been no more space, so perhaps that is why the oldest gravestone we found outside when we did a survey of the churchyard was of William English who died in 1791.

Ann Meakin 

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