Hello and welcome to part four of my Adopt a Grave series where I document some of the work taking place to restore the historic Windleshaw chantry and its surrounding graveyard in St. Helens, Merseyside. Firstly let me say a big thank you to all those who have taken the time to read the first three parts of this blog series. I’ve had some really lovely comments from people both online and in person, and they’re very much appreciated. Secondly let me stress that I am in no way involved in the running, planning, or organisation of the project or the St. Helens Chantry Facebook group, and nor do I have anything to do with the church or the graveyard; I’m just a volunteer who likes to blog an awful lot.
Week one saw us adopt the graves of our distant uncles, John and Patrick Flanagan, and William Davies who sadly died aged just 5 weeks. Week two saw us uncover a mysterious headstone, and our third week saw us sprucing up and uncovering some neglected graves. A week in Greece followed by a lot of rain meant that I didn’t visit any of our adopted graves for a fortnight, but on my return last weekend I could already see some huge changes.
The first change was evident immediately on entering the graveyard. The row featuring the handful of graves that my mum and I tidied a few weeks ago had now been completely tidied, and it looks so much better.
The image below shows how the overgrown area looked before we tidied a few weeks ago.
The image below shows the progress we were making. It was nice to read recently that the Jolliffe family grave (pictured below far left) has been adopted.
And the photograph below is the scene that greeted me last Saturday. You can see how much hard work done by other volunteers. An awful lot of hard work has also been put into other sections of the graveyard too and the whole place has been transformed even in the few weeks I have been volunteering. Well done to all involved!
This Saturday when we returned we planted a few small plants on our adopted Beesley grave to spruce it up a little. We took a couple ourselves and another volunteer also very kindly provided some more for us to use too. It will look beautiful when these flowers eventually bloom. Now the hard work has been done, it’s all about the maintenance.
After planting these flowers and paying our respects to my five times great uncles, John and Patrick Flanagan (our first adopted grave), we decided to move back up into the far corner to do a spot of tidying near our other adopted graves, that of the Davies family, and the mysterious Thomas Wearing/John Webster grave.
We began to tidy and unearth a few more graves, however, sadly all five headstones belonging to the three graves were damaged in some way. We also met a feline friend who led us to the graves in question and stayed with us as we worked. Perhaps she was trying to tell us something.
The first graves we came to were overgrown and needed some T.L.C. Due to the potentially fragile monuments, extra care must be taken to ensure that no further damage comes to the stones during restoration. This was the first grave the kitty took us to. The names on the headstone are Dominic Jordan, Agnes Jordan, Vincent Lyon, and Margaret Mabel Lyon. The small pot in front of the grave reads: “A TOKEN OF RESPECT FROM HIS FELLOW WORKERS.” We’re unsure whether this refers to Dominic Jordan or Vincent Lyon, but as Jordan died in 1948 and Lyon died in 1983, we think it’s more likely a tribute to Lyon due to the age of the stone. We could be wrong though.
We carefully moved the broken pot in order to uncover and unearth the two headstones lying in front of it. This was hard work as the grass was incredibly tough despite such a hot summer this year
Some digging revealed two broken and very fragile headstones, one of which bore the names of Richard and Nancy Crank. This stone was particularly difficult to read and it was only after consulting the monumental inscription records that my mum managed to confirm the names. Even pouring water onto it didn’t help much at the time, but you can read the names in the image below.
Because the names on the Lyon and Crank headstones do not match, and as the stones are so very different, we wondered whether they belonged to the same grave, or whether one had been displaced at some point in time. However, my mum did some cyber digging when she returned home and discovered that Agnes Jordan and Margaret Lyon were sisters who were part of the extended Crank family. She’s promised to write her own blog post on this grave and family soon so I won’t say any more.
The third headstone was very badly damaged and had completely broken away at the bottom. You can see the damage below.
The name on the stone seems to be Thomas Woodward who died aged just 18 in 1812. After consulting the monumental inscriptions records my mum could see that his was the only name on the stone, and that the damage breaks up a rather sweet verse that perhaps suggests a period of illness and suffering before Woodward’s untimely death. I’ll get her to investigate this grave some more.
The monumental inscription record for this grave reads:
Underneath this stone lieth the body of
Who died 1 May 1812 18 years
His pains are o’er – His life’s short lease is run
Remember him Lord through … Christ Thy son
The final grave we tidied was extremely damaged, quite probably due to acts of vandalism, and we found lots of debris including pieces of glass as we went about our work. You can see how neglected it was before we started in the photograph below.
What you can’t see from the photograph is that underneath the broken cross is a badly damaged stone, lots of earth, grass, and bugs. This one really was hard work and we had to be very careful due to its already fragile state. This was another one the kitty led us to for some reason.
You can see above how badly damaged the monument and the stone which was lying under the cross and a layer of earth are. The names on these stones include Sarah McLachlan, Thomas McLachlan, and John Ashcroft. It’s such a shame they have been so badly damaged. There is little anyone can do for graves in such a fragile condition. It does look a lot better now though as you can see from the before (L) and after (R) photographs below.
The next two weekends are open weekends where you can come along and find more information about the graveyard and its history. I can’t make it next week, but I hope to see you there the weekend after.
If any readers and/or fellow volunteers have any information/stories/photographs they would like to share on this site regarding the graveyard or this project, then please feel free to let me know using the contact information below or through Facebook if you are a member of the St. Helens Chantry group. I will of course credit any individuals who contribute anything to future posts. It would be nice to hear about the work of other volunteers besides myself and my mum, and your own reasons for taking part in the restoration of the graveyard.
By Nicola Friar.
Thanks for reading. Find me on twitter @NicolaFriar where I tweet about books, the Brontës, and animal rights. A lot.
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