English Bicknor Gravestonesby Ann Butcher and Gillian Warden-Heggie

Tantalising Tombs of English Bicknor Graveyard

Ann Butcher and Gillian Warden-Heggie

Meeting of 12 July 2017

Only the wealthy used to have gravestones as they are expensive. Granite is very hard and lasts, but limestone and marble are easier to carve. Sandstone and slate suffer delamination. The wood markers of the early days rarely survive. Iron grave markers were quite popular with the Victorians, including railings, and were often made by the local blacksmith, but they rust. Mortsafes were iron cages to protect graves from body snatchers, these died out by 1900s.

The oldest tomb in Bicknor is of our first rector; this is the effigy inside the Church in priest’s robes and dates to 1288. One of the effigies is of Lady Cecelia, who died in 1301 – she owned a coal mine and presumably lived in Bicknor Castle.

The large incised cross in the floor of the main aisle is dated around 1420, written in Lombardic script Latin is ‘Pray for the soul of our departed brother in Christ’.

Just to the left outside the Church door is a 1708 table tomb with a coat of arms on the end and a poem inscribed on the side. Here lies Anne Liblamb who died in 1708 aged only 13 but the wife of John. Her 13-month-old sister was buried in the same tomb in 1691.

In 1973 Gillian and Ann worked with the WI on a survey of the graves. They found a stone lying flat and covered in moss – careful cleaning revealed its secrets, but they then had to put it back as found: ‘Here lieth the body of Charles a black servant. 1721. Age 25. Owned by local squire George Wirral.’ It was very fashionable to have black servants in the 1700s.

They also recorded Adam Harms’ family stone of the 1800s, which lists six children dying under the age of 2 years (further research reassures us that four children did survive).

A 1918 stone records Frances Mary Toobey who died in the Auxiliary Hospital during WW1. She was in the first women’s corp to be set up as the high death toll for the men meant women started to take over front-line jobs. Frances was a cook.

The Buffin sisters’ grave records a sad story; Eliza Buffin was buried at sea on July 6 1900 on her way to Australia to meet her fiancé, having died of typhoid. Her sister Henrietta died of typhoid on July 30 and is buried in Bicknor. At this time, it took eighty days to reach Oz from England; for sea burial the body was stitched into sail canvas and weighted down with chains, and the last stitch went through the nose to check no life was left in the body.

The Smith family grave depicts a miner; another grave has a sheep – both images relate to their jobs.

Some gravestone symbolism:

- IHS – an abbreviation of the Greek spelling of Jesus

- Dove – the Holy Spirit

- Cherubs – the guardians of the sacred place; those that are just head and wings represent innocence

- Celtic cross – resurrection

- Shattered urn – death of someone very old

- Draped urn – a very Victorian image representing the drape on the coffin

- Garland – victory over death

- Oak – strength

- Two roses – a couple

- Poppy – eternal sleep

- Flower bud – died too young

- Tree trunk cut in half – cut off in the middle of life

- Sunflower – gratitude and affection CS