grave matters

The Springhill area has a long association with nonconformity, being home to at least one Baptist and two Unitarian ministers, the possibility that Polefield Cottage and Lodge Fold Cottage were early dissenters meeting places and the Friends’ burial ground on Chapel Hill. Sion Baptist Church, which dates back to 1672, is next to Springhill and it has long been one of my ambitions to transcribe its burial ground.

This summer I managed it. The results are on the Sion - gravestones page.

It started with a chance meeting with the assistant Pastor in Costa one morning. Permission granted, off I trot with coffee, notebook and camera and get going.

That’s when the problems start and decisions have to be made.

Firstly, worship in the church building ceased in the 1970s with the congregation meeting since then in the Sunday School building, a veritable palace of a place. The church fell into decay and in 1986 was demolished with the stone being used for sheltered housing flats. As part of this process the graveyard was tidied up with headstones being moved to the perimeter of the graveyard and other stones being grassed over. It is thought that a few of the stones were damaged in the process and the arrangement around the edges is completely arbitrary. No assumptions can be made about people named on adjacent stones as their original position was unknown.

graveyard 13 right wall back thumbnail

I decided not to go in for gardening. I did push back ivy to read the underlying stone but did not feel comfortable exposing those parts of stones which were underground of covered by moss or grass. I was always conscious of being a guest at someone else’s burial place and in someone else’s garden. Being in someone else’s garden led to a few interesting conversations with the residents of the flats and picked up a number of OPS snippets that way.

Secondly, the renovations meant that the arrangement of the stones appeared random with only the major monuments remaining in situ. The first job was to draw up a plan, but the numbering was somewhat arbitrary, being vaguely clockwise from the left of the gate.

Thirdly, work and family meant that the main opportunities to visit were late Sunday afternoons. I know the theory about both transcription and photography: visit at different times of day under different lighting conditions, take a mirror or lightbox and the like. The reality is not that simple and the north facing stones are in shadow whatever time of day as the light is blocked by adjacent buildings.

However, it is done. And I learned a lot of interesting OPS stuff in the process:
  • how far some of the places named are from Springhill. Jersey? Germany?
  • how many people retired to St Annes on Sea. I was aware of the strong connection between Rossendale and St Annes but it seemed like an awful lot of them
  • that there are some very sad stories there which warrant further study. I would love to know the details of the obstetric disaster which befell poor Tattersall family.
  • money didn’t protect, with some very rich people losing children
  • William Spence of Springhill Farm being buried almost in his front garden - about 12 feet away.

Being intrinsically ‘share friendly’, I have made the data available to the local FH society and hope it is useful to others as well. Still lots of work to do to tease out all the ramifications which will keep me quiet over the long winter months.