Testimony to Henry Jenkins.
Yorkshireman Henry Jenkins is said to have been 169 years old when he died in 1670. The following epitaph, composed by Dr Thomas Chapman, master of Magedelene College, Cambridge, can be seen in the church at Bolton-on-Swale near Richmond in North Yorkshire : ‘ Blush not, marble, to rescue from oblivion the memory of Henry Jenkins, a person obscure in birth, but of a life truly memorable; for he was enriched with the goods of nature, if not of fortune. and happy in the duration, if not variety, of his enjoyments; and though the partial world despised or disregarded his low and humble state, the equal eye of Providence beheld and blessed it with a patriarch’s health and length of days; to teach mistaken man these blessings were entailed on temperance or a life of labour and a mind at ease. He lived to the amazing age of 169; was interred here December 6th 1670 And has this justice done to his memory 1743.’ A monument to the memory of Henry Jenkins was also erected in the churchyard (seen to the left of the photograph) in 1743, by public subscription, and the local pub at Kirby Malzeard near Ripon is called The Henry Jenkins Inn. Although no parish register exists to support Henry’s doubtful claim that he was born in 1500 at Ellerton-on-Swale, he certainly died at Bolton-on Swale in 1670, having lived there for some 20 years. Born of peasant stock, Henry remained totally illiterate all his life. He worked as a farm labourer, as butler to Lord Conyers and later in life as a thatcher and river fisherman. A teetotaller, he regularly swam across the Swale when he was more than 100 years old. He was often questioned about his long life by Lord Conyers who failed to find fault with his recollections such as the Battle of Flodden (1513) when Henry claimed to have guided a horse load of arrows to Northallerton for use in that battle; and the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Other Swaledale centenarians clearly remembered that Henry was a very old man when they were young and all the evidence pointed to the possible truth of Henry’s claim. He was often called to testify in court in ancient disputed matters and was a witness at York Assizes during the latter years of his life when he testified that to his knowledge, tithes of wool and lambs had been paid to the vicar of Catterick for at least 120 years.
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Photo taken in Bolton-on-Swale, North Yorkshire DL10, UK
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