Page last updated at 14:18 GMT, Wednesday, 20 January 2010
Verger in Tong faked grave of Dickens' Little Nell
John Murfin at "the reputed grave of Little Nell"
John Murfin continues the tradition of showing visitors Little Nell's grave

St Bartholomew's Church in Tong is Grade I Listed, but one of its most appealing features is a fake grave to the fictional character, Little Nell.

Charles Dickens knew Tong and in his story The Old Curiosity Shop, it is thought the village where Nell Trent dies was based on Tong in Shropshire.

The popularity of the novel brought many visitors to Tong and the church.

In about 1910 the verger made a false entry in the burial records and a false grave which still attracts tourists.

Fans from America

John Murfin, who lives in the parish and is a member of the congregation at St Bartholomew's, said Charles Dickens visited the area to see his grandmother who was a housekeeper at Tong Castle.

The false registry of Little Nell's death
The verger recorded Little Nell's death in post office ink and the wrong name

The Old Curiosity Shop was published by Dickens in instalments between 1840 and 1841.

In the story Nell dies in a village in the West Midlands, which many people believe to be Tong.

She is buried at the village church, and in the novel her grandfather grieves at the side of her grave.

The story appealed to so many readers at the time that fans began to visit Tong church from as far afield as America.

Charged a shilling

According to Mr Murfin, George Bowden, the verger and postmaster in Tong, used post office ink to record the death of Little Nell, although he used the wrong name, recording the death of Nell Gwyn instead.

John Murfin at St Bartholomew's Church in Tong
John Murfin and his family love St Bartholomew's

Mr Bowden also made a grave which includes a small metal memorial stating: "The reputed grave of Little Nell".

It is claimed that Mr Bowden then charged visitors a shilling to see the grave.

Mr Murfin said the church still gets visitors from the United States who come to see the grave of Little Nell.

He said: "That's just a lovely thing, so we carry on the tradition of showing them the grave - but we tell them the truth."

Tong 600 Appeal

St Bartholomew's Church is 600 years old in 2010 and the small parish has launched an appeal to raise funds for repairs.

Religious services have been taking place on the site for 1000 years, according to Mr Murfin.

Isabel de Pembrugge's tomb
Isabel de Pembrugge paid for St Bartholomew's to be built

Dame Isabel de Pembrugge founded the current church, which was built in 1410 in memory of her husband Sir Faulk Pembrugge.

The tombs of Sir Faulk and Dame Isabel are in St Bartholomew's.

There are also tombs of members of the Vernon family.

According to Mr Murfin, St Bartholomew's is a perfect example of Perpendicular Gothic architecture, which is almost in its original state.

He said two previous churches had fallen down: "We don't want to be the generation where this one falls down - we've got to take responsibility for it."

He added: "We love the church. Our family has grown up in Tong - they've all come here."

The Tong 600 Appeal is looking for 600 people to donate £100.

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