Founded 1946, by Geoffrey Beard

Stourbridge Historical Society

The first meeting of 2019 of Stourbridge Historical Society took place on Thursday 17th January. It was attended by 95 members, 8 visitors and 5 new members. Our President Michael Blamire -Brown welcomed everyone, wished them a Happy New year and introduced the speaker Peter Bates. His subject for the evening was A History of English Graveyards.

The Anglo Saxons buried their dead often with a single wooden cross to mark the spot. The Normans realised that they could generate income by selling burial plots. By Saxon times there were graves that had graveboards running along the length of the plots or there might be simple headstones or footstones some with names carved on them. During Edward III’s reign churchyards were used for archery target practice rather than burial. When the longbow became obsolete the churchyards again resumed a more pastoral role. Between 1666 and 1687 everyone was buried in a pure English wool shroud except for plague victims and the destitute.

Peter explained that it is very difficult to find 17th century stones where the engraving is legible because of the detrimental effects of weather and time. By the 18th century there were many more headstones in circulation and they are much better preserved. Peter explained that you do find examples of soft stone graves that have been painted to aid preservation. By the mid-20th century some churches recorded epitaphs that were in danger of becoming completely illegible. Clearly effigies and graveslabs laid into floors of churches fare much better and are of considerable use to the researcher. Peter explained that the north side of graveyards was considered sinister and if one had to have a grave on the north side it was considered better to position it out of the shadows. The south side was the coveted area to be buried because it catches the sun all day.  Mausoleums came into being when the rich wanted a permanent memorial but did not have the finance to have a chapel built or where space did not allow such building. The Dashwood Mausoleum in West Wycombe is one of the finest examples in England apart from those of royalty

By the 19th century funeral directors came into being. The advent of the railways facilitated movement of stone which in turn meant that harder stones were used in areas that previously had used softer stones. Peter noted that during the Victorian period epitaphs became less amusing and considerably more stoical. The population increased rapidly in the same period and municipal cemeteries began to appear. In the mid-1800s the 61-acre Lodge Hill Cemetary in Birmingham came into being.  The first legal cremation talk place in Woking Cemetery in 1874.  Birmingham’s Warstone Lane Cemetery was built on the site of a sandpit in 1847. London’s first commercial garden Cemetery was built at Kensall Green in 1833. Famous characters buried at Kensall Green include Anthony Trollope, Charles Babbage and William Makepeace Thackery. Peter explained that cemeteries now get considerable attention and one has to pay to go into Highgate Cemetary in London. Peter concluded by asking if anyone knew the name of the first American woman to be buried on English soil. Several members of the audience did; Pocahontas.

Michael thanked Peter for a fact filled fascinating talk. The next meeting will take place on Thursday 21st February at 19.30 when Charles Brecknell will deliver How to survive the Great War: The War Service of Stuart Menzies, Despatch Rider and Pilot.