Last week my mother and I decided to adopt a grave. Yes, you read that right, we adopted a grave. Well, we actually adopted three; an old family grave of ours, the grave of the Beesley family, and the neglected grave of a five week old child. The project is volunteer run, and aims to restore and preserve the historic but unloved graveyard surrounding Windleshaw Chantry, which dates back to 1415. Although the graveyard lies adjacent to a much larger cemetery which serves the town, the two are unconnected. The graveyard dates from the 17th century, and due to neglect and vandalism it has been falling into a state of disrepair for many years. However, thanks to a dedicated team of volunteers who meet regularly, vandals have been deterred more recently, and many graves have already been tidied and restored.
As I’ve had such a positive reaction to my first Adopt a Grave post, I’ve decided to make this a weekly series, although there will be two this first week. Don’t worry though, I’ll still have time for Brontë posts.
My mother and I visited for the first time last Saturday, joining volunteers both old and new. We intended to return again this weekend, however, we actually went back the following day to uncover the grave of the five week old child. Upon arriving, we saw that some of the other volunteers were already hard at work, and the stone on our adopted Beesley family grave had already been moved in preparation for our own work on the plot surrounding it. Below left you can see the condition of the grave when we adopted it, and below right you can see the progress that has already been made.
Hopefully I will have more photographs to show you once we start restoring and sprucing up the grave.
As our Flanagan grave doesn’t require immediate attention, we paid our respects and then headed for the child’s grave. We dug out the weeds and grass surrounding it, and to our surprise, discovered that it was a much bigger stone than we thought. There is also a possibility that the child is not alone in the grave as we feared. Below left you can see the grave as we originally found it, and below right is the rest of the stone featuring the names of Richard and Alice, and their son William Davies, the latter of whom died on 10th January 1814.
It is possible that William’s parents are not actually buried with him, and that their names are just on the stone which acts as a memorial to them. However, I do not have confirmation of either theory yet. With the help of two more volunteers, we were able to lift the sinking stone back out of the ground, and what a difference it made. We then filled in the sunken ground with more soil and placed the stone back on top where it now sits proudly.
Following this, we turned our attention to the small stone immediately next to the Davies grave as we couldn’t decipher the inscription on it. Some more digging and tugging at weeds revealed a slightly damaged stone with the inscription Thos. Wearing engraved on it. We lifted it out of the ground in order to fill the sunken area with more soil, and to our surprise, we found another inscription on the back that read simply: John Webster. From the old records of the memorial inscriptions my mother has, we can see that only Thomas Wearing’s name is recorded. John Webster’s name does not appear on the list of grave inscriptions which indicates that the presence of his name on the back of the stone had been long forgotten until we turned it over. My own theory is that this was actually some kind of practise stone used by the stone mason, and that John Webster is neither buried there nor connected to Thomas Wearing. Below are photographs of both sides of the stone.
The shaping and partial pattern on the Thomas Wearing side (top) indicates that damage has been done to the stone, and that a piece has possibly been lost. The lack of shaping, patterns, or damage to the John Webster side (bottom) further indicates that this was never meant to be seen, which is another reason I believe it to be a practise stone.
Although we only stayed for a couple of hours, a lot of work was done by ourselves and the other volunteers, some of whom cleared away an extraordinary amount of weeds and grass from some of the graves. Hopefully, our efforts will make a difference to the preservation of this graveyard for future generations.
I’ll leave you with the before and after photographs of our adopted graves so you can see the difference clearly, and also some photographs that once again serve as a reminder of how much work is still to be done. There is much more to be done than simply clearing away the grass and weeds; the purpose of adopting a grave is to look after it and see to its ongoing maintenance and we will certainly be doing that in the coming weeks, and hopefully sorting out some plants and ornaments to be placed around the Flanagan, Beesley, Davies, and Wearing graves.
There is still much damage to be repaired though.
And we’re working on it!
By Nicola F.
Please do not copy, share, or use the images from this post without seeking permission first. Please also remember to credit me for my original photographs.