Lost gravestones

The lost gravestones of Holy Trinity Church, Carlisle, inspired this post about the importance of such memorials to anyone who cares about history and their ‘roots’.

Tell people you like to wander round graveyards, and it meets with surprise, to say the least. But as a family historian, you don’t associate them with ghosts or a desire to wear black make-up! For they are basically open-air archives, with a wealth of information about generations before us.

A legible gravestone can give you the date of death and age of an ancestor. Plus their spouse. And may include children who died in infancy, adult children and their spouses…

But there’s the rub: a legible gravestone.

Weather the storm

Jeffery Peat, Cumbrian Characters
The original envelope!

When I first visited the churchyard of St Michael’s, at Bowness-on-Solway, I was a student with a vague knowledge of my past. I jotted names down literally on the back of an envelope. From the gravestone of Jeffery Peat (who died in 1836) and his wife Ann (Lawson), I was able to jot down their dates, four young children, a son and his wife, and a great-granddaughter (with details of her parents)

Fast-forward to today, and this is what it looks like:

lost gravestones, Jeffery Peat, Cumbrian Characters, Bowness-on-Solway,
In the years since my first visit, the elements have taken a terrible toll

And people who have made the amazing effort to transcribe all the Bowness-on-Solway gravestones have:

Jeffery Dec 24 1835 and of the above Jeffery Peat died…

John Oct 1857 62 Also John son of Jeff and Ann died… Also Elizabeth???

Joseph — ‘Joseph’ & ‘Peat’ & ‘of Anthorn’ and ‘Ann Peat’ only words legible in first four lines

For the record, Jeffery died on December 24 1836. John was their son, Elizabeth was John’s wife.  And I didn’t get ‘Anthorn’ at all. Amazingly, I do still have the envelope!


A sad ‘compare and contrast’

These two photos are a sort of sad ‘before and after’ of the Pattinson family grave, also at Bowness-on-Solway. The second was taken in 2018. The first at most a few decades before.


lost gravestones, Pattinsons, Bowness-on-Solway, Cumbrian Characters

Lost gravestones – making room

Lost gravestones, St Mary's High Hesket, Cumbrian Characters,
These stones might hold a wealth of information. For sure, they did once.

Another reason that gravestones get ‘lost’ to family historians is that they get moved. Perhaps the churchyard is full, space is needed to new burials and memorials, and there is no one left to claim old memorials. An example of this is St Mary’s Church, at High Hesket:



Or perhaps there is no church any more.

Holy Trinity Church, Carlisle

Holy Trinity Church was built circa 1828-30. An old photo shows an imposing building, on a triangular plot between Wigton Road and Newtown Road. The old Port Carlisle canal (and later railway line) would have formed the back of the triangle.

But the building became unsound and was replaced and demolished in the early 1980s.

You can see the foundations in the grassy triangle, which is now a park.Trinity church Carlisle, Cumbrian Characters

But what is really sad is the lost gravestones (main photo).

Moved to the back wall, with wire fencing in front, these lost gravestones are smothered in weeds. Some are so badly weathered, it hardly seems to matter – but the sight is still a sad one. These were once records of people who lived, and loved and worked and hopefully played. And who meant so much to those who erected these memorials. And there may be descendants today who are researching their family history and would love to have a tangible place to pay their respects.

William Blackburn

One of the stones that is still legible is to a William Blackburn, millwright, who died in 1843, aged …? It looks like 50, but the only 1843 death recorded by the General Register Office for Carlisle district says 49. 

Lost gravestones William Blackburn, Holy Trinity Carlisle, Cumbrian Characters, graffiti
This stone is at least still legible

The 1841 census has a William Blackburn of Cald Coats (as the form reads). A stone’s throw from Holy Trinity Church. But he is 30 and a labourer – and he was very much alive in 1851 (though his wife Jane had died). 

There is a William Blackburn aged 55, in lodgings in White Hart Lane. Not born in Cumberland, he is described as an ‘engineer’. Which is a better match for millwright. He has no family with him and there is no will on Cascat

But someone ensured his burial was marked by a gravestone.

A poignant aspect

You can see from the photo that at some point in relatively recent times, a man or boy called Dave decided to leave his mark on William Blackburn’s gravestone, with paint. Nothing poignant about vandalism, especially when it disrepects the dead, I hear you say. Well no, but the fact that time has erased part of that ugly grafitti means that like the memorials no can read any more, Dave, too, is being eroded from history.