A Friend to the Liberties of Mankind

The extraordinary tale of John Baskerville, the atheist who was finally laid to rest in the catacombs at Warstone Lane Cemetery.

John Baskerville is renowned for his career as a printer and designer of typefaces. A unique and eccentric individual, Baskerville was a confirmed atheist and when he died in 1775 he was buried inside a conical tower in the back garden of his home, Easy Hill. The house was later sold and ransacked during the Birmingham Riots of 1791, but Baskerville’s body remained there for another 50 years.

At some point new owners had the body removed, and it was stored in a plumber’s warehouse. Baskervillle was then moved again, this time to be displayed in a shop owned by a Mr Marston. The shopkeeper did ask that St Phillip’s receive the body, however this was refused, likely due to John Baskervillle’s atheism.

Upon hearing this, local bookseller Mr Knott had Baskerville’s body secretly interred in his own vault at Christ Church, New Street. Incredibly, this was to be another temporary home, as the church was demolished in 1899. In the dead of night, a secret convoy of carriages spirited the 600 bodies out of Christ Church and Baskerville was finally laid to rest in consecrated ground here in the Jewellery Quarter.

John_Baskerville_1706–1775_by_James_Millar