A couple of weeks ago my mother and I decided to adopt a grave in the graveyard surrounding Windleshaw Chantry in St. Helens after stumbling upon a request for volunteers to help with the maintenance and preservation of the site. We actually adopted three graves: a family grave containing my five times great uncles John and Patrick Flanagan, the Beesley family grave, and the grave of a five week old child named William Davies. You can read about our first visit here. During our second visit we also adopted the grave of Thomas Wearing/John Webster, which you can read about here. Read on to discover what we got up to during our third and fourth visits.
Following our first weekend, we returned on Tuesday night. We found some fellow volunteers still hard at work in one particular corner of the graveyard, but we were there simply to have another look around in the cooler evening air (and to walk the dog!). Walking around, we could see the differences creeping in and the restorations beginning to take shape. I took the opportunity to inspect some of the soldiers’ graves where the men who fought for our freedom in various wars and campaigns are laid to rest. I’m yet to investigate their histories, but I’m sure my mum will soon be on the case and I’m going to make her write a blog piece on them. It’s really nice to see that these graves have been maintained, and that they are not forgotten. Here are a few photographs I took of the graves.
There is still a great deal of work to be done in the graveyard, and this will be an ongoing project, but one particularly overgrown section caught our eye and we resolved to clear some of the graves in this corner during our next visit.
This corner contains the graves of nuns from the local Carmelite Convent which was vacated by the sisters several years ago, and sadly demolished earlier this year after the council gave permission for luxury homes to be erected on the site, tragically robbing the town of its history and heritage. Thankfully, there are parts of the convent that survive; altars and reredos were rescued and recently reassembled in the Carmelite Monastery of the Annunciation in Birkenhead. You can read more about this here. It also contains a grave featuring a memorial to soldiers who lost their lives in the Boer War and the Second World War respectively. This was the grave we decided to attend to on our next visit as although it was not in need of immediate attention, it was becoming a little overgrown like the surrounding area. It would be nice to clear the rest of this area one day, but we have already adopted several graves, and must not neglect them.
So on Saturday morning, accompanied by our Bichon Frise named Bob, we returned to pull up some of the weeds from the soldiers’ memorial, which is actually the Jolliffe family grave. It looked much better after the weeds were pulled up and so we decided to move along the front row of this section in order to tidy up the graves.
Once the hard work has been done and an adopted grave has been cleared, it is simply a case of maintaining it and pulling up the weeds like we did with the Jolliffe grave. There are still plenty of graves to be adopted, so please do come along if you are in the area on a weekend to find out some more information. A couple of visits a year would be sufficient; you don’t have to be there all day every day.
Moving along the row we also pulled up the weeds from the Vose grave which lies adjacent to the Jolliffe grave. Much of the work had already been done as you can see, and it was just a spot of gardening that was required.
However, the next grave along posed more of challenge as the headstone was practically buried by the overgrown grass and weeds. Next to the Rigby family grave we could also see a partially buried smaller stone with the name Vincent Rigby engraved on it. We assumed that this was also a part of the same grave, and after checking the old list of monumental inscriptions, my mum saw that the small stone pot was indeed part of the Rigby grave.
We began to trim the weeds and snip at the grass, intending to make the headstone visible, dig the pot out of the ground, and re-unite the two. However, we began trimming, but soon began digging after discovering the plot in front of the grave. With a little help from a fellow volunteer, we were able to unearth this, and hopefully somebody will adopt this grave soon and stop it from sinking back into overgrown grass and earth.
It looks like a completely different grave now and you can see the detail in the unusual but beautiful headstone. You can also see that the pot is now back where it belongs in front of the headstone. I feel like we made a real difference to this little corner. The photographs below show the area before and after a little T.L.C.
It was nice to see the arrival of some new volunteers this week including those seeking the burial place of family members, those seeking to get out of the house, and those seeking to encourage children to get involved with our heritage and history. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group of children so excited to be in a graveyard. It’s fantastic to see young people wanting to get involved in the preservation of our heritage. It will also encourage them to respect the graves if they have an active part in maintaining them, and this is a good message to pass on to the next generation.
It was also nice to see the children wanting to adopt the graves of other children who were not as fortunate as themselves despite their initial disappointment at being unable to adopt the big crosses they could see in the middle of the graveyard. I’m sure Alice and Mary Ann Johnson, who died aged 9 months and 3 years respectively, will appreciate their time, effort, and enthusiasm.
As there has already been a lot of work done on this particular grave, it will simply be a case of keeping it neat and tidy and like I said, it’s a great opportunity for children to actively engage with their history and heritage.
With regards to our own graves, the Beesley family grave is almost ready to be spruced up. Hard working volunteers have filled in the plot with soil and compost which will enable us to plant there on our next visit.
What a difference they have made. You can see the before photograph above left and the after photograph above right. It’s going to look beautiful once there are some plants in there. I’m pleased to report that the rest of the graveyard is also coming along nicely, with volunteers working whenever they are free to uncover, protect, and preserve these graves. Well done to everyone involved!
You can see how the area above is clear and free of weeds. It must have been hard work unearthing these headstones.
I was also pleased to see the remarkable transformation of the angel that caught my eye last week. It really does look like a different monument now. It’s so beautiful. Although there is still much more work to do, we’ll keep at it, and please do join us if you can. If Bob can do it, so can you!
By Nicola Friar.
Thanks for reading. Find me on twitter @NicolaFriar where I tweet about books, the Brontës, and animal rights. A lot.
Please do not copy, share, or use the images from this post without seeking permission first.