Scarlett, Robert (DNB00)

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SCARLETT, ROBERT (1499?–1594), ‘Old Scarlett,’ was a well-known figure in the precincts of Peterborough cathedral during the greater part of the sixteenth century. He was born about 1499, and was established as sexton some years previous to 1535, when he buried Catherine of Arragon on the north side of the cathedral choir. On 1 Aug. 1586, after great ceremonial, he buried Mary Queen of Scots on the south side of the same choir. He was buried near the west portal in July 1594. On a square stone at the west end of the cathedral is the inscription ‘July 2 1594. R. S. ætatis 98,’ but a manuscript note in Gunton states that his real age was ninety-five. Above the stone hangs an extremely quaint oil-painting (canvas 76 by 54) in a large wooden frame; 1l. 12s. was paid for the original picture in 1665. The present work, a copy made in 1747, represents the nonagenarian sexton with a shovel and keys, dressed in a red suit, with a dog-whip thrust through his leathern girdle, it being a regular part of a sexton's duty in those days to whip dogs out of church; below the figure are twelve rude verses.

A good etching was executed by W. Williams in 1776 (Brit. Mus. Print Room, portraits s.v. ‘Scaleits’), and there is an engraving by Page in the ‘Wonderful Magazine,’ reproduced in 1804 in Granger's ‘Wonderful Museum’ (ii. 656), where Scarlett is noticed as ‘Old Scaleits.’ His portrait is still reproduced in colours upon the porcelain cups and other vessels sold as souvenirs of Peterborough cathedral, and a local annual is entitled ‘Old Scarlett's Almanack.’

[Sweeting's Peterborough Churches, 1868, pp. 54, 62; Gunton's Hist. of the Church of Peterburgh, 1686, p. 93; Dibdin's Northern Tour, i. 13; Chambers's Book of Days, ii. 17; Once a Week, 18 Feb. 1871; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. x. 293, 358; Murray's Eastern Cathedrals, p. 71; personal inspection]

T. S.