Wednesday 30 December 2009

Fingers pointing Upwards

In revisiting my folder of images taken in Fleetwood Cemetery earlier this year, I came across one of the most ornate representations of a finger pointing heavenwards I have seen. It is on the headstone that marks the grave of Richard Price who died in 1875.

I then came across another on the grave of Matthew Till who died in 1920. Here, the message clasped in the hand is pretty stark. It simply states: "We Shall Meet".

Saturday 7 November 2009

Scritch, Scratch!

I can remember being at Primary School and being taught to write with a dip pen. The nib would be dipped into the inkwell and then moved across the paper. Scritch, scratch it went. Oh, those were the days, weren't they.

You can imagine my pleasure when I noticed a hand with a pen on the front of a gravestone recently. A writer's grave, I thought, but I was wrong. It marked the grave of a lawyer. It was still a very fine example of graveyard symbolism. Alfrey Percy Ames was his name - born 1872 and died 1953.

Sunday 20 September 2009

Naming of Names

As I was leaving the Fleetwood Cemetery in Lancashire, I approached more recent graves from behind and noticed that a large number of them had a single surname or forename on the reverse. I guess that when someone is visiting a plot where most of headstones are similar in shape or colour, it is is much easier to find someone with the name on the back. Has anyone come across this custome anywhere else?

Thursday 3 September 2009

A Balloonist's Grave

Twenty years ago, I happened across a military cemetery in Aldershot - a town then known as the home of the British Army. It was full of fascinating characters whose remains were buried there. Opening another dusty box today, I found this photograph that I had taken of the grave of a military balloonatic [I tend to describe early baloonists thus as they must have been mad to take such flights!

The sword draped cross marks the grave of Lt Caulfield of the Royal Engineers who lost his life while on duty in the Military Baloon 'Thrasher'. A guide to the cemetery notes:

Lieutenant William Caulfeild, Royal Engineers. Killed along with fellow Officer, Lt Martin-Leake RAMC, whilst demonstrating to King Edward VII and Prince Fushimi of Japan, military balloon ‘Thrasher’, on 25 May 1907 at Aldershot. The balloon headed SW and was last seen close to Abbotsbury, Nr Weymouth only 40 feet from the ground. One of the balloonists shouted to a nearby farmer to catch the trail rope, unfortunately he failed to do so and the two men were never seen again. The next day the trawler ‘Skylark’ picked up a tangled mess of cordage and fabric – all that remained of the ‘Thrasher’.

If they were never seen again, why the grave? Perhaps someone out there knows the reason? It would be nice to hear why

Sunday 23 August 2009

Hands clasped in Memory 2

Since my last post, I have revisted the folder of photographs taken in Fleetwood Cemetery and think I may have found two female hands clasped on a gravestone. The clothing on the wrist of the hand on the right is slightly worn, but sufficiently 'frilly' to look feminine. I compared it to others in the same cemetery and the only other variation from the jacket sleeve with shirt cuff bearing a cufflink was what seemed to be a knitted [perhaps Fairisle?] pullover sleeve. The latter being a popular item of clothing among males working in the then Fleetwood fishing fleet.

It is quite an interesting gravestone and besides, possibly, hiding some tragic event, it also demonstrates the potential for confusion when first read.

Robert C Stirzaker
Son of John and Mary Stirzaker
Who died February 28, 1893
Aged 24 years

Also Martha, Wife of Robert, the aforsesaid
Died April 6, 1893, aged 25 years

Also Daniel C Stirzaker, their son
Died October 3, 1893, aged 23 years

. . . . . .

Also the above John Stirzaker
Who died February 5, 1907
Aged 69 years

Also Mary Stirzaker
Wife of the Above
Who died May 31, 1911
Aged 72 years

Once we have worked out that Daniel is the son of John and Mary and not of Robert and Martha as the inscription seems to indicate - the confusion - we are left with the fact that a man, his wife and his brother died within a few months of each other.

I have not looked at Census Returns or Death Certificates, but Margeret Pangert is fond of inviting people to use their imagination to come up with a reason for something. So I'll start:

I immediately thought that illness might have been involved - husband and wife - and maybe the brother killed himself in grief. Then, I thought that, perhaps, the brother had an affair with the wife, the husband killed himself and the errant wife couldn't live with her guilt . . . Maybe, then, the guilt of unintentionally causing the deaths of the other two weighed heavily on his mind . . . ?

That's my thoughts, but my writers' imagination has probably worked overtime. What do you think happened?

Saturday 22 August 2009

Hands clasped in Memory

The other day I was thinking about hands on gravestones, sometimes pointing heavenwards or sometimes clasped. The latter can be seen in profusion in Fleetwood Cemetery in Lancashire. As is the norm with the clasped hand symbolism, one hand is female, the other male. Has anyone ever seen two male hands or two female hands on a gravestone?

I was taken with the clasped hands on the stone pictured above this post. On occasion, as with this example, a finger points down to earth. I seem to remember it indicates a continuing connection with life on earth - perhaps with one partner surviving the other? What do others think?

Monday 27 July 2009

A broken Angel

A glance at this headstone in Fleetwood Cemetery revealed an exquisite little angel plaque. Sadly, at some stage, the plaque was shattered and the surviving fragments were glued back in place. The headstone commemmorates the death of Ben W Schofield who died on March 17, 1915 aged 47 years. His wife Mary Elizabeth passed away almost fifty years later at the age of 93.

Cemetery Symbolism - Musician

I spotted this headstone in Fleetwood Cemetery. It marks the passing of a Salvation Army musician - Frederick William Atkinson - who passed away on April 23, 1919 aged 20 years. Under the Sally Anne badge, the mason has chisled out a cornet to mark the departed's musicianship.

His headstone is inscribed with the following charming words:

"We cannot say and will not say.
That he is dead. He is just away.
With a cheery smile and a wave of the hand
He has wandered into an unknown land."

A Boy with a Lamb

About three weeks ago, I visited Blackpool and, while there, I took the opportunity to visit the former fishing port of Fleetwood. The town has a large cemetery which is the oldest and largest cemetery in the Borough of Wyre. It opened in 1841 with the first listed burial taking place in 1845.

The cemetery covers 16.9 acres and contains areas for Church of England, Non-Conformist and Roman Catholic interments, with special areas designated for the interment of cremated remains. More recently, a Baby Section and Garden of Remembrance have been created.

I spent three fascinating hours there and can confirm the cemetery's graves are a rich source of grave art and symbolism. From time to time, I will share some of what I found in the pages of this blog.

One of the most striking memorials is in memory of a five-year-old boy, Ian Donald Murray, who died August 4, 1935. The grave is topped by the seated figure of a child. A lamb is sat beside him and he is cuddling it. It is possible that the figure is based on a likeness of the deceased child, but the representation looks older than a child of five. What minor catastrophe struck the grave, I do not know, but the feet of the figure are missing.

Sunday 19 July 2009

Graveyard Etiquette

The BBC News magazine has an interesting article on Graveyard Etiquette, following a report of tourists picnicing on burial mounds on the Cullonden battlefield in Scotland. To view the article, click here

Sunday 5 July 2009

Tomb at centre of Victorian Poisoning Allegation

Lt General George Dick

This first photograph from my visit to Abbey Cemetery in Bath shows the tomb of Lieutenant General George Dick with its distinctive red cross. Dick's was the third burial to take place in the cemetery which opened in 1844. He lived with his two daughters in Bath and after his death, his son, George sailed home from India to find he had been cut out of the general's new will, written shortly before his death.

An unsightly spat took place with allegation and counter allegation appearing in the local newspapers. When George accused his sisters of poisoning their father, an exhumation was arranged. Two coroners, solicitors and doctors and a jury attended, as did the general's butler who had the unpleasant task of identifying the body. The tomb was removed and the lead coffin recovered to the cemetery's chapel where a post mortem was carried out. There was much surprise at how little decomposition had occurred in the seventeen months since General Dick was buried.

The next day, an inquest heard that there was inflammation in Dick's digestive tract. Was it caused by arsenic, prussic acid or strychnine? The jury couldn't decide, returning a verdict of death from inflamed stomach and bowels, but with no evidence to show how. The press quickly lost interest, George returned to Calcutta and his sisters retired to Devonshire. The general's body was reinterred and remains undisturbed to this day.

Monday 29 June 2009

Arnos Vale Cemetery - an Angel Heaven

If you are interested in Angels, then the magnificent Arnos Vale cemetery is the place to go. I have been to dozens of cemeteries and churchyards across the world, but this heavenly plot is one of the best. Forty-five acres of Angel Heaven is how I describe it to people since my visit two weeks ago. Every time I look at the images I took, it makes the hairs on my neck stand up - such is the beauty of the funerary architecture on public display. Here are just three of them:

Friday 26 June 2009

Striking figure weeps over Grave

I was photographed a small angel standing sentinel over a grave at Locksbrook Cemetery, Bath when I my camera refocused itself to reveal an absolutely stunning weeping figure reclining on a large memorial. The grave marks the deceased members of the Klinker family. I make no apology for including so many shots of the figure, but each gives a different view of her . . . The close up portrait appears to show a single tear that has been shed.

Dove is a witness to Grief

When I first saw this memorial at Locksbrook Cemetery in Bath, I was struck by the scene of grief it had captured. The weeping figure hangs from the cross while staring heavenward. I though the cross was topped by a slightly malevolent bird of prey, but closer scrutiny revealed it to be a dove offering down a floral tribute to the figure. What surprises me is how threatening the doves wings are. You can really feel the grief that must have been felt by the family.

Thursday 25 June 2009

The Blue Angel

A recent post of a photograph of a blue angel in Locksbrook Cemetery in Bath asking whether readers preferred the colour or black and white version of the shot, raised a question from Margaret Pangert who asked what the orginal colour was. The colour version was exactly as photographed and had not been manipulated at all. Here are three more photographs of the same angel which gives a better idea of her location. She is mounted on top of a large sarcophagus style tomb commemorating a Lieutenant General in the British Army who died in the 1840s. I am not aware of the significance of the banner she appears to be studying. Please remember to click on the photographs for an enlarged view!

Wednesday 24 June 2009

Great Blog with Great Photographs

I have just been over to the Digital Cemetery Walk blog by Gale Wall. It has some really fantastic photographs like the one above. Gale certainly has a good eye for graveyard subjects. I recommend you all go over to her blog straight away and have a good look - you won't regret it! Click on Gale's photo above and the magic of the Blogosphere will take you to her wonderful word. Go there now!

Saturday 20 June 2009

Monochrome or Colour?

A Photographic Dilemma

In these days of digital photography, it is easy to switch a digital image from colour to black and white with just a couple of clicks of the computer mouse, assuming of course that you have the right software to be able to do it.

On my short visit to Locksbrook Cemetery in Bath, I took around 450 photographs - just a snapshot of the grave art treasures it contains. One in particular caught my eye - a striking, seated angel on a sarcophagus tomb. People often say that black and white photographs are more atmospheric. With this shot, I am not sure. I think both work very well. Which do you prefer - colour or black and white?

Two Little Angels mark Terrible Tragedy

Two little angels mark the graves of two young girls who were brutally murdered by John Straffen in Bath in 1951. Five-year-old Brenda Goddard lived with here foster parents and, according to Straffen's police statement, he saw her gathering flowers and offered to show her a better place. After lifting her over a fence into a copse, he strangled her and when she did not scream, bashed her head against a stone. He made no attempt to hide the body and went on to visit the cinema.

On August 8, he met nine-year-old Cicely Batstone at the cinema. He took her first to see another film at a different cinema and then took her on a bus to a meadow on the outskirts of Bath. There he strangled her to death. This time, there were many witnesses who had seen him with the girl and he was quickly arrested.

At a subsequent murder trial, an expert witness said: "In this country, we do not try people who are insane. You might as well try a babe in arms. If a man cannot understand what is going on, he cannot be tried. The jury formally returned a verdict that Straffen was insane and unfit to please. He was committed to Broadmoor - then a 'lunatic asylum for the criminally insane'.

He was the longest serving prisoner in British legal history. He briefly escaped from Broadmoor in 1952 and killed again. This time, he was convicted of murder. Sentence, due to his mental state, was commuted to life imprisonment and he remained in prison until his death more than 50 years later. A lengthy account can be found on Wikipedia here.


Next to the two graves is a decaying bench (below). It has seen better days, but I would imagine that for years, the relatives and visitors to this spot in Locksbrook Cemetery sat for hours and grieved. It is a shame that the authorities haven't restored it, so it can be used once more as a site for comtemplation. Perhaps, I should contact them? What do you think?

Is this the Longest Family Grave?

During yesterday's visit to the Victorian Locksbrook cemetery in Bath, I came across this grave. I approached through graves to the right of its headstone, and it was only when I turned round that I realised just how remarkably long the grave was! I walked to its end so that I could capture this image for you. Aside from mass graves for disaster victims, have any of you seen a family grave of this length? Please let me know.

By way of historical interest, the headstone records that four people are buried in the plot. George Annersley Phayre [Captain Royal Navy], his widow, a daughter and the quaintly described 'third' daughter. Phayre was commander of the paddle sloop Basilisk which was one of a fleet of Royal Navy ships sent to North American waters because of the Trent Affair in 1861.

The Trent Affair has been described as the most serious diplomatic crisis between Britain and the US federal government during the American Civil War.removed It came about when the US Northern navy stopped the British merchant ship, Trent in neutral waters and seized two Confederate emissaries [to London and Paris].

Writing in the online Canadian Encyclopedia, author Robin W Winks records that news of the seizure and violation of British neutrality was greeted by demands for apologies from the US and for its surrender of the diplomats. For a while, was appeared possible between Britain and the North, with Canada likely to be a battleground. The crisis passed when the North returned the Confederate commisions some seven weeks later. No apology was given . . .

Sunday 14 June 2009

Seeds are Momento of Tragic Death

On July 16, 1891, a Transatlantic Cablegram was sent from Toronto to the Sowter family residing in Cobourg Road, Bristol. It contained just four words: "Ernest drowned red river". It is impossible to know the precise effect this message had, but it is easy to imagine the grief of family members when they heard the news. The same day, at the Headquarters of the 90th Battalion of the Winnipeg Rifles, Ernest's friend, Private Harry Hooper wrote to the the late soldier's mother.

Dear Mrs Sowter,

I want to write to you about dear Ernest but I don't know what to say. When I received the news in Town yesterday noon, I cannot tell you how I felt. I have lost more than a brother. I wish I could run home and tell you all about him.

I saw him this morning dressed in his full uniform, he looked beautiful in his coffin. He died with heart disease, he has complained to me of his heart before. He was out bathing just a few feet fromshore, another boy who had been with him had swam out to the middle of the river. There were a few children on the bank who he stood in the water for a few minutes and then fell over.

The doctor says it was his heart. He has succh a happy peaceful look on his face as if he saw beyond this world. He has been greatly interested in Church work lately and I am sure he has gone to heaven. he is greatly loved by all his officers and men. He will be buried this afternoon at Five o'clock by the Corps of Volunteers to which we both belong. Captain Mclaren who is very much cut up about him will write you.

We picked out his grave in the Regimental burying ground in St John's Cathedral next to the Officers who were killed in the Rebellion. I have all his clothes and will hold them until I hear from you. I telegraphed the Parkinsons in Toronto at once and they replied that I had to hold him until I heard from them again - the undertaker says the body cannot wait as this climate is too hot . . .

17 July

Dear Mrs Sowter,
I thought I would write you an account of dear Nestie's (a nick-name) funeral which took place yesterday afternoon. I forwarded you today's Free Press which will give you a far better account than I can write, it was so peaceful.

Dear Ernest was thought a great deal of in the City, his employer, Mr Carsley sent a most beautiful wreath and was also present himself. I have been to his grave this afternoon and took a flower from each wreath, I thought you would like to have them. He is buried in a beautiful spot next to our late Colonel McKeaud. At his head stands two oak trees, the emblem of our dearly beloved home. I intend to obtain photographs of the grave to send - I think you would like to obtain it.

I collected the cards off two or three of the wreaths that had them on the remainder were chiefly from the 90th and had the different companies initials worked in them. Canon Matheson preached the service, it was very impressive. The Doctor says that dear Ernest must have died before his head ever touched the water as he had heart disease. I will write you again in a day or so. Believe me to be Dear Mrs Sowter, your deeply sympathysing Friend, Harry Hooper.

One further letter exists [dated 31 July] in which Harry Hooper asks Mrs Sowter whether she would like her late son's burnished gold ring which had broken in two and the pages of a diary her son had kept the previous winter. It also hints at Ernest's ill health.

Extracts from the newspaper obituary are very descriptive of the occasion:

Consigned to the Grave
Beneath the shelter of a spreading oak, alongside the graves of the 90th men who fell at Fish Creek and Batoche in the 1885 Rebellion, the mortal remains of Corporal Charles Ernest Sowter were consigned to their final resting place with full military honours . . .
The body was taken from the camp in a hearse which was preceded by a firing party of 13 men of D Company and followed by the chief mourner, Private Thomas H Hooper, a life-long acquaintance . . .
The sad procession wended its way to the cemetery by the shady and grassy lanes of St John's where the swaying of the trees was like a soft and gentle requiem as the regiment passed almost noiselessly along . . .
The firing part fired three volleys over the grave . . .

Fast forward some 110 years and the written momentoes mentioned above found a new home. They must have been passed down through the family and when an elderly relative died, a house clearance firm would have cleaned out the home of the deceased. This is, probably, how they ended up for sale at a Bric-a-Brac fair in Somerset for a couple of pounds. I saw them and recognised there was probably an interesting story behind the tragic death of Ernest Sowter. I put them away in a drawer and forgot about them for the best part of a decade.

When I was looking through them, in more of an investigative frame of mind than I was when I first purchased them, I found they were accompanied by folded pouch of paper. You can imagine my surprise when I unfolded the paper and found the dried flower heads that Sowter's friend Harry had plucked from the wreaths and sent home to the dead man's mother. I was further surprised to find that the pouch was full of flower seeds from 1891.

Now I am left thinking, what happened to the photograph of the grave in the St John's Roman Catholic Cathedral cemetery and the broken ring and diary pages? Did they ever get sent back to Bristol or were they lost in the post? I wonder, too, what state the grave is in, today? I'll certainly be checking the Census returns to find more details of the family.

More importantly, what about the seeds and this is where I am seeking your advice? I seem to remember once reading about some scientific organisation managing to grow flowers from seed long ago, but cannot remember where. I am loathe to try myself and waste the seed. Indeed, should I try to create a connection with the sad events of the past and do something with the seed? Do you know of an institution that might be interested in the seeds? I would really welcome your views. Please think about it and let me know. Thank you.

Friday 12 June 2009

Loading the Coffin

Staff at this undertakers lift the coffin ready to slide it into the funeral coach. Note the spectacular floral tributes. They are not young men!

Set in Stone: The work of the Stonemason

Hoare and Sons produced this postcard to advertise their services. The stock of crosses and headstones in the store is very impressive. I presume the figure stood by the doorway is the stonemason whose work is on display.

Thursday 11 June 2009

Sad Eyes of an Angel

The downcast eyes of this angel add to the poignancy of the graveyard scene

When Angels Look Down

This angel has plucked a bloom and is dropping it, but why? The reason will be revealed in a separate post.

Saturday 6 June 2009

A Lonely Figure weeps upon a Grave

This large memorial on a Somerset Grave is topped by a weeping figure. It's mourning sorrow is there for all to see. More on weeping figures in a future post.

A Lonely Figure stands and Mourns

Over this grave, a lonely figure stands and mourns. She leans on the cross for support

Welcome to the Graveyard Detective

An illustrated look at the World of Graveyards and Cemeteries. There are many Stories behind the Stones that Stand in them. Who knows what we might find?


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