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

Friday 5 June 2009


Welcome to The Graveyard Detective blog. Over the coming few days and weeks, it will grow rapidly. I hope you will find something to interest you in its pages? The first piece of detective work will launch this weekend. Please look out for it! In the meantime, I look forward to you joining me. Please remember to click on the image for a closer look!

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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