Sunday, September 24, 2017

Joseph Smith late of Brixton Hill

Among the newly revealed headstones in St Mark’s churchyard is one dedicated to Joseph Smith – late of Brixton Hill.

I’m thinking of having something similar put on my headstone when the time comes, as I grew up in Brixton. Not exactly Brixton Hill, but a bit closer to the market end of Brixton. We moved out of London in 1966 to Haverhill, a London overspill town in Suffolk.

In 1952 Swindon had also been designated a London overspill town. A hundred years earlier the town was in the grip of railway mania. Perhaps this was why Joseph Smith decided to bring his family here.

Joseph was born on August 31, 1805 in Lambeth, the son of George and Isabella Smith, and spent most of his adult life there. On Christmas Day, 1830 he married Lilly Moncrief Rutherford at St Giles, Camberwell.

The couple had five children and at the time of the 1851 census they were living at Brixton Hill where Joseph describes himself as a master grocer. Ten years later and the family had removed to No 1 High Street (later renamed Emlyn Square) where Joseph ran a grocer and druggist shop.

He died on March 2, 1866 and left effects valued at under £600. The England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966, 1973-1995 records:- The Will of Joseph Smith formerly of Brixton Hill Lambeth in the County of Surrey Grocer but late of New Swindon in the County of Wilts Postmaster deceased who died 11 January 1866 at Swindon in the County of Wilts aforesaid was proved at the Principal Registry.

Lambeth Town Hall with Brixton Hill on the left and Acre Lane on the right

The street where I grew up in Brixton. We lived in three rooms on the first floor, no bathroom and shared a toilet with the other occupants of the house.

Brixton Hill back in the day

Friday, September 22, 2017

Bubb family headstones rediscovered in St Mark's churchyard

As part of last year’s Swindon175 celebrations Noel Beauchamp (Swindon Heritage blue plaque organiser and Radnor Street Cemetery guide) along with Swindon175 project manager Caroline Black and Paul Gentleman, rediscovered the overgrown grave of William Frederick Gooch in St Mark’s churchyard.

Engineer William Frederick Gooch was the younger brother of Sir Daniel Gooch and was employed as Manager at the Swindon GWR Works at the time of the 1861 census.

This week, when Noel returned to see if the brambles had reclaimed William’s memorial, he discovered that someone had been busy at St Mark’s clearing a large overgrown patch of graves. Among the newly revealed memorials were three beautifully carved and inscribed slate headstones dedicated to the Bubb family.

William Bubb was born in Ledbury, Herefordshire in 1840 and married Mary Ann Garland in Hereford in 1863. By 1866 they were living in the railway village where William was employed as a fitter in the GWR Works.

In 1867 tragedy struck when two of their young children died. George was 15 months old when he died on April 11 and Mary Jane was three months old when she died on October 9.

The couple were clearly very devout; the babies’ headstones both include inscriptions taken from the book of Revelation. For George they chose:

‘They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.’ Revelation 7 verse 16.

For Mary Jane the inscription reads:

‘For the lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.’ Revelation 7 verse 17.

The couple appear on the 1871 census living in Taunton Street where they have two more daughters; Laura Jane aged 2 and Louisa Emily 2 months old. But sadly, this story was not to have a happy ending as William’s wife Mary Ann died on March 5, 1875 aged 38 years.

This time William chose for the headstone the words that Jesus spoke to Martha and Mary upon the death of their brother Lazarus.

‘I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.’ John 10 verse 25.

By the end of 1875 William was living in Aberystwyth where he married for the second time. As a widower with two young daughters to support he needed a job and a wife. In the 1870s the railway factory experienced a depression with many jobs lost and men laid off, probably the reason William left Swindon.

William and his second wife Elizabeth had two children, Thomas William born c1878 and Ella, born shortly before her father 1879 when he was working in London as a ‘Plumber, Painter and House Decorator.’
The 1881 census records that Elizabeth was still living in Aberystwyth with her two children then aged 3 and 1 and her stepdaughters Laura Jane and Louisa Emily aged 12 and 10.

So many times we discover the graves of babies and young children buried in a public grave with no headstone to mark the spot, whose family eventually moved away from Swindon. The three beautiful headstones mark the brief life and death of these two babies buried alongside their mother, now rescued from the brambles in an overgrown area of St Marks.

The grave of William Frederick Gooch - before

Swindon175 project leader Caroline Black and Paul Gentleman

The grave of William Frederick Gooch - after

George Bubb

Mary Jane Bubb

Mary Ann Bubb

Photographs published courtesy of SwindonWeb and Noel Beauchamp.

Monday, September 18, 2017

A monumental mistake

I quite like my christian name - it's reasonably unusual without being weird. As a small child I was called Franny, which was shortened to Fran as I grew older, but the one thing that drives me absolutely crazy is that no one ever spells it correctly, always choosing the male spelling of Francis.

I was named Frances after my dad's much loved elder sister who died at the age of 14. She was named after her father's youngest sister, who was only ever called Babs as she was the youngest in a family of five children, such are the vagaries of known names in family history.

I've often wondered if any Francis' out there get the same misspelt treatment and then last week while walking through Radnor Street Cemetery I caught sight of the following headstone inscription, which definitely needed proof reading.

In loving memory of
The beloved son of
William and Mary Ann Eyre
who died August 11, 1890
aged 29 years

Not lost but gone before


Frances William Eyre
Father of the above
who died Decr. 21st 1899
aged 71 years

Also Mary Ann,
Wife of the above
who died Decr. 21st 1906
aged 80 years

Perhaps the monumental mason who completed the inscription on this headstone was having an off day.

The first part of the inscription following the burial of James Eyre names his parents as William and Mary Ann Eyre.

However, the person who completed the inscription, presumably nine years later following the death of William, not only reversed William's two christian names, but misspelt Francis, using the female version of the name.

William Francis Eyre was born in Ashbourne, Derby in 1828. By 1871 he had moved to Wiltshire and a job in the GWR Works as a Coach Body Maker. William first lived in London Street, Wroughton with Mary Ann and five of their children.

William's last home was at 11 Exmouth Street, where he died on December 21, 1899. A search of the burial registers revealed that even here his name had been spelt incorrectly and the letter i is heavily written over.

Looks like not only the stonemason but the burial clerk should have gone to Specsavers!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

An old photograph and a bit of detective work

The Old Town Autumn Fayre took place on September 9 in Christ Church and the Community Centre where I joined the Swindon Society team last weekend. The group had a display of Swindon images selected from their archive of more than 8,000 photographs, including a slideshow projected on a screen suspended above the nave altar.

It was while I was watching the slideshow that a photograph appeared of two girls taken in a cemetery or churchyard. By the style of the girls' dresses I guessed the photograph dated from the Edwardian period.

There was no description on the photograph and Andy wondered if it might have been taken in Holy Rood churchyard before the headstones were re-positioned around the perimeter wall. But there was something very familiar about the headstones where one of the girls stood and I thought the scene was possibly just a few yards from where we were standing in Christ Church.

With crowds gathered around the stalls in the churchyard it was difficult to get into the same position where the photographer had stood more than a hundred years ago. And something else confused me; the headstone for Clara Hartley, which stood in the foreground of the photo, wasn't there. In fact quite a few of the headstones pictured in the old photograph were missing. I convinced myself I must be mistaken and the photograph was obviously taken in a completely different churchyard.

All week long that image haunted me and yesterday I returned to Christ Church and had another look at the headstones.

Without all the stalls and visitors I was able to stand in the perfect position and now there was no doubt that this was the scene of the old black and white photograph and now I could study the names on the headstones where the girls were standing.

The girl on the right of the photograph is standing next to headstone dedicated to Sarah, daughter of John and Fanny Jefferies, who died September 1, 1864 aged 44.

The girl on the left of the photograph stands behind a small cross (sadly, now broken). This memorial is to two children, Frederick James Hall who died age 6 years in 1864 the son of William and Martha Hall and little Ethel Mary Hall who died age 19 months on May 24, 1890, the daughter of John Jefferies and Mary Hall.

To the left of the girl is a headstone dedicated to Mary, daughter of John and Fanny Jefferies who died on January 24, 1862 age 47.

A compelling conclusion at which to arrive is that these two girls are related to the people whose graves they stand next to, so let me explain who they all are.

Mary and Sarah Jefferies and Martha Hall were sisters, the daughters of John and Fanny Jefferies.
Mary and Sarah never married but Martha married William Hall with whom she is buried in a grave nearer the church. It is their son, Frederick James Hall who is buried beneath the cross. Ethel Mary Hall, the baby buried in the same grave, is the daughter of another son John Jefferies Hall and his wife Mary, so William and Martha's granddaughter.

Mary, Martha's sister, is buried in a neighbouring grave. This headstone has been removed and is now placed alongside the wall beneath the new Community Centre. The National Probate Calender (Index of Wills and Aministrations) states that Mary left effects valued under £200 and that Letters of Administration of the Personal estate were granted to John Jefferies of Swindon Baker and the Father of the Deceased.

The headstone to the right of the other girl is dedicated to Sarah Jefferies. She died on September 1, 1864 age 44 years at the Fairford Retreat, a private asylum where she had been admitted just a few weeks earlier on August 10.

These three sisters were the aunts of naturalist and novelist Richard Jefferies who was born at Coate Farm where his former home is now a thriving museum. Visit the website for information about the many events and activities that take place there.

It is seldom we are fortunate enough to discover old photographs of the churchyard and cemeteries we visit, so this one is a fantastic find. We wonder if any readers of this blog or followers of Radnor Street Cemetery have any photographs and stories they would like to share?

Our next and final walk of the season will take place at Radnor Street Cemetery on October 8, meet at the chapel for 2 pm. Over the winter months we will be planning events for next season. There will be fewer walks at Radnor Street Cemetery where we plan to include the occasional evening and Saturday walk. However, we will be extending our programme of walks to Christ Church, possibly Holy Rood and I will be conducting the occasional walk at St Mary's, Lydiard Park.

The same view today

The grave of James Frederick and Ethel Mary Hall

Mary Jefferies headstone 

Sarah Jefferies headstone

William and Martha Hall (nee Jefferies) in old age

Richard Jefferies

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Radnor Street Cemetery Walk

Fantastic turnout for our guided walk at Radnor Street Cemetery on Sunday - 50 people! With the grass almost as high as an elephant's eye we kept mainly to the paths. Andy had three new stories to tell, including that of Town Crier John Hiscock, a direct ancestor of one of his best mates.
We look forward to seeing you all next month, September 10, when we are joining forces with the folks from Eastcott Community Organisation during the Open Heritage Days with an Eastcott centric walk followed by tea and cakes at the Savernake Street Social Hall.
Thank you to everyone who joined us today, and especially to the person who bought a copy of my book!

Someone enjoying a bird's eye view

Friday, August 11, 2017

Join the Cemetery Club

Andy and I will be conducting a guided walk at Radnor Street Cemetery this Sunday, August 13, meet at the Chapel for 2 pm. We both have some cracking new stories to bring to the party, plus a couple of favourites I have told before, but I can confidently predict, neither of us will be singing.


Can I recommend that you check in with the Cemetery Club co founded in 2013 by Sheldon Goodman and Christina Owen? Today the blogposts and guided cemetery walks are more often led by Sheldon and Sam Perrin (read more about them and other contributors here). Sheldon and Sam’s stomping ground includes the Magnificent Seven London cemeteries, although you’re likely to find them practically anywhere.

So, what’s all this about singing? 

On a guided walk in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park made in December 2016 Sheldon introduced Cemetery Club followers to Alec Hurley, the second husband of Marie Lloyd and, well sang. (Visit the Cemetery Club facebook page and scroll down to 10 December - Cockney singalong).

We have discovered some interesting characters in Radnor Street, but so far, no lyricists although one of our monuments has starred in a video. The Miles family guardian angel monument featured in an XTC music video to accompany their song ‘In Loving Memory of a Name’ filmed in the cemetery in the 1980s.

If you would like to know more about this and a few other stories you might like to read my e book Radnor Street Cemetery: A Selected History of a People’s Museum.

My thanks go to Sheldon who first coined the phrase ‘a people’s museum’ the perfect description of a cemetery. I hope he’ll forgive me for borrowing his words (and without permission). I did explain that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

The Cemetery Club publishes new blogposts every Monday. You can also follow them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

And don’t forget our walk on Sunday, August 13.

The Miles family monument

XTC - back in the day!

William Hooper view of the cemetery published courtesy of Paul Williams

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Radnor Street Cemetery: A Selected History of a People’s Museum

Written for Radnor Street Cemetery followers and anyone who has an interest in the history of cemeteries and the people who lie in them, this e book is available now via Amazon.

Howses Coppice and Swindon’s Cemetery
We Will Remember Them
Funeral Fashions
James Hinton – Entrepreneur
Henry Smith – Planter
Albert Edward Wentworth and Matthew Henry Bissell
Levi Lapper Morse – Mr Retail
Herbert Marfleet
Esther Swinford – Murdered in the Ship Hotel
Horder Bros – Drapers, Milliners, Mantle Makers and Costumiers
George and Elizabeth House – Social Workers
Charles Haggard – Prisoner of War
Edith Gay Little
William Chambers – builder and funeral director
George and Emma Alley and their seven amazing daughters
Alfred and George Birks
Arthur Joseph Rye – Ironmonger
Elia Isaac Webb – Sign Writer and Artist
Frederick Charles and Marcia Kiddle
James (Raggy) Powell – one of nature’s princes
James Fairbairn – Engine Erector
Plot B2899
Frederick Gee – Plate Layer
Doreen Ind
Charles Normandale and Alfred Hughes – Brothers in Arms
George and Mary Hemsley – a co-operative family
Elizabeth Ann Jefferies – first wife
George Boucher
Harold Morley Starr – Battle of Britain hero
George Adams – Master Pawnbroker
The Butlin family
Celia Morkot – first woman employed in the Swindon Railway Works
Martha Hale
Richard Strange – farmer
Little Freddy Whitby
Samuel Limmex – Ironmonger
James William Price
Joah and Albert Sykes – first settlers in Swindon
James Shopland – another Swindon hero
Robert Laxon – coppersmith
Jason Johnson – homegrown railwayman
Ellis Herbert Pritchett – architect
Charles and William Bond
Charlotte Wilsdon (Andrews) Crimean Nurse
Chiseldon Camp Disaster
William and Henry Wall
William Henry and Susannah Read
William James Pitt
Frederick O’Conor – Secretary of the Mechanics’ Institute Council
Friday Frederick Roberts
William Miles and the XTC Angel
Samuel Chappell – Minister of the Gospel
William Dorling Bavin – Swindon’s War Record
Reuben George – forgotten political hero
Stanley William Ashton – Pilot Officer
Thomas and Susannah Hughes
Walter William Palmer
Thomas Trafford Shipman
Samuel Carlton – Manager of the Locomotive Department
William Medcalf Packer – unfit to serve
William Graham Little – generous benefactor
Preater family – the sacrifice
Richard James Leighfield – builder
James Henry Thomas
William and Georgiana Ormond
Lost Memorials -

'But now it is time to come for a walk with me. The best time to appreciate the beauty of Radnor Street Cemetery is to take a gentle walk in early Spring when the snowdrops spear the cold earth and the view across Swindon is visible through the bare trees.

But come again in early summer when Forget Me Knots and Morning Glory appear and Bluebells peek above the invading horsetail grass. Animal tracks weave through the gravestones and magpies chatter and scream as squirrels jump from tree to tree.

In Autumn the cemetery palette is yellow and red and gold and as the season ends leaves are tugged from the trees and the wind soughs through the creaking branches.

November mist and December frost and occasionally a fall of snow in January complete the changing cemetery panorama.

So, come, take a virtual walk among the memorials of Radnor Street Cemetery with me as your guide. I shall don my raincoat and carry an umbrella as the weather forecast is not good, but you can put the kettle on, make a cup of tea and join me from the comfort of your home.'