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  1. New Discoid Discovery at Lamberhurst, Kent. Grave marker or Consecration Cross

    In October 1986 Ben Stocker wrote an article entitled ‘Medieval Grave Makers in Kent’ which was published in Kent Archaeological Review in 1988. His article presented an interim report of 66 discoid-shaped stones found in Kent churchyards, which appeared by the designs up on them to date to medieval times, and which he suggested were early grave markers. Aided by Patricia Stead, Stoker surveyed 90% of pre-Victorian churchyards in Kent and plotted their locations. Each discoid was incised with a cross on the face of the head (usually on both sides) and Stocker clearly illustrated the 20 different styles of cross found.

    The discoids found by Stocker and Stead were (in his own words) ‘…confined to an area bounded by Stone in Oxney in the west and Stodmarsh in the north and are most numerous in an area about six miles of Folkestone. An arc of seventeen miles long with its centre at Hythe would encompass them all.’

    Only twelve of the discoids found in 1986 were still set in the ground, with others being located loose in the churchyard or church or reused as building material in later church alterations. Some of those he found no longer appear to survive, such as that at New Romney.

    Sadly, Stocker died without ever publishing a further report, but more recent research by Andrew Linklater and Celia Heritage has shown the presence of further discoids not located by Stoker which push the boundaries of Stocker’s defined area considerably further; also the revival of a counter argument (only briefly mentioned by Stocker) that the discoids were actually churchyard boundary markers and in fact it is now believed that they might actually be consecration crosses set into the ground when the churchyard was consecrated, although further research is needed and their original purpose is still unclear. The latest new discoid to be found is at Lamberhurst on the Kent Sussex border which moves Stocker’s projected radius significantly further west. This is pictured below. Others have now been located at Folkestone, Newington (Longport House), Ickham and Northbourne.

    The main identifiable features of the discoids are:

    • A ‘lollipop’ or discoid shaped stone. The head of the stone has frequently been severed from the shaft through damage or wear and tear

    • The head of the stones are incised with a cross. These can be of varying designs and are often on both sides

    • Many have been reused in the fabric of later church alterations or have been found loose in the churchyard or in church porches

    • Unlike gravestones there is no inscription or initials on these stones

    • If you think you have spotted a discoid in any churchyard please contact me on celia@chfh.co.uk

  2. Until the late nineteenth century the cost of erecting a gravestone over the burial place of a family member was beyond the means of many of our poorer ancestors. Those who could afford it, however, would no doubt have hoped that the memorial would last for many years after its erection. Sadly, as most family historians realise, this was often not the case. While headstones deteriorate at varying rates depending on climate conditions and the type of stone, a large number have also been moved during alterations to the church or churchyard. Some memorials have been re-sited but some, unfortunately, were not and have been destroyed. Therefore, even if you find a memorial to an ancestor don’t presume that he or she must actually lie beneath.

    The burial sites of our ancestors might also have been disturbed by later burials, while both the church and churchyard were places where social status played an important part. There are examples of individuals arranging for the occupants of family burial vaults within the church to be  re-interred outside in the churchyard so that they themselves could take over the more prized location within the church after their own death.

    Even in the churchyard there are examples of what can best be described as the inconsiderate siting of memorial stones, these being placed where they all but obscure earlier gravestones. A good case is to be found at Brookland Church, Romney Marsh, Kent. Here a large body tomb dated 1852 in memory of  Ellen the wife of Clifton Simmonds has been rudely placed so that it backs right on to the front of an earlier gravestone to  Robert Skeere and his wife Mary, erected approximately 50 years earlier. Somewhat galling for the Skeere family!

    The gravestone of Ellen wife of Clifton Simmonds, Brookland

    In the churchyard the families of the deceased often showed little care or sensitivity for those buried before. Here the large body tomb of Ellen Simmonds backs directly on to the face of the earlier memorial to Mary and Robert Skeere, totally dominating and obstructing the earlier stone

    Brookland Kent. Memorial to Mary & Robert Skeere rudely crowded out by the later gravestone to Ellen Simmonds 1852

  3. Donation of Hackney, Undertaker’s Records: James Recknell

     

    Recknell books

     

    I am delighted to have received a wonderful donation to my collection of death records! This is a set of undertaker’s records for the firm James Recknell & Co. This company operated from 46 Dalston Lane, Hackney for many years.  My initial read through these fascinating records shows that, while the business ran under the name of James Recknell & Co from 1886 to 1973, it was taken over by Albert Thomas Camfield in 1939. Albert later went into partnership with William Arthur Marr. William took over the business after Albert’s death in 1952 finally closing it in 1973. The site is now occupied by the undertakers’ business T. Cribbs.

    The freehold of the property at 46 Dalston Lane was owned by the family of Cecil Rhodes (founder of Rhodesia) and deeds show transfers of leases from Cecil’s brothers, Arthur Montague Rhodes and Bernard Maitland Rhodes, and later his nieces Georgia and Violet Rhodes, to James Recknell in 1932, Albert Camfield in 1939 and to William Marr in 1953.

    Of all the books in the collection, most fascinating are the undertakers’ order books and accounts giving details of funeral arrangements for hundreds of people, not just from Hackney but from places much further afield too. These also provide a useful insight into the work of an undertaker.

    You can read more about funeral records and also gravestones, burials and cemeteries in Chapters 2, 3 and 7 of my book Tracing Your Ancestors Through Death Records

    As I work my way through these precious records I will report further!

     

     

  4. The King Family of Ivychurch

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    The King gravestone temporarily raised last year

    As part of my one place study of Ivychurch in Kent (where I live) I have come to know some inhabitants of the churchyard better than others. Some, such as William Bates, whose grave I can see from my office window and who left 55 grandchildren behind him, seem to have descendants scattered all round the world and I have had several emails from them this year alone! Others grab my attention for other reasons, such as William Kennett King and his wife Louisa. During our churchyard survey last year theirs was one of two stones which had been recumbent for many years and which we managed to raise temporarily to read and photograph. It is an irony that since William and Louisa’s stone had fallen face down, the writing on it was well preserved. Had it fallen the other way this would not have been the case.
    William Kennett King was born in nearby Kenardington in 1867. Although his father was a labourer, William trained as a grocer and by the 1891 census appears in Appledore, just a few miles from Ivychurch, working as a grocer’s assistant. He married Louisa Orman from Ivychurch in 1894 and the couple had two children, Olive and Mabel. By 1911 William and his family had moved to Ivychurch where William was working in his own right as a grocer and draper while both he and Louisa were running the sub- post office at Kent House.
    Sadly their daughter Mabel died in 1919, aged 22, and just a few years later in 1922 both William and Louisa died – within four days of each other! The parish registers show that William was buried on 18th January and Louisa on the 23rd. Receiving an email from one of the King family members I learnt that rumours in the wider family told that Louisa had committed suicide. Seeking the truth behind this tale, I bought her death certificate. Although the death certificate of someone who took their own life will not necessarily record the death as ‘suicide’, an indicator would be that the coroner’s name would be given in the column for the informant and the death would have been subject to an inquest. The date and place of the inquest will also be noted on the certificate from 1875.
    The certificate showed that in actual fact Louisa died from diabetes, from which she had had for two years and four months. She fell into a coma 33 hours before she died and there cannot have been any suspicious circumstances, because there was not even a post mortem. She was 47 years old. It may be the case that once William died she lost the will to live and this may be where the rumours of suicide began.
    Before we leave the Kings, however, another lesson can be learnt, this one regarding accuracy of dates and ages on gravestones and in other sources. William’s age at death is given as 53 in the burial register, on the gravestone and also on the 1911 census. Checking the GRO birth index it was, however, 1867. His daughter Mabel, who is recorded on the same gravestone, has her age given as 23 years, although in the burial records it states 22 years. Checking the GRO birth index again it is probable that she had not reached her 23rd birthday when she died, as her birth was registered in the final quarter of 1896. It is almost certain that Mabel’s sister Olive raised the stone in memory of her family, possibly some years after their deaths because Mabel’s death is the last one mentioned despite the fact that she died first. Olive must have got her father’s age wrong and forgotten that her sister had not had her birthday in the year she died. So bear in mind that any source can be subject to inaccuracies.

  5. Farewell to Cumbria

     

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    Appleby St Lawrence

    For the last week my husband and I have been relaxing on holiday post-WDYTYA! Our favourite place is Cumbria, where we both have long established roots and, although we were staying in Appleby-in-Westmorland, as usual we ended up roaming all over the county from East to West, North to South (Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire North of the Sands – with bit of Lancashire proper too!) – walking, relaxing and exploring churches and churchyards. Just what I needed after after all the work involved in preparing for WDYTYA.

    Celia

    Celia Heritage

    I also spend time in both Kendal and Carlisle Record Offices searching for my own ancestors in manorial records. My visit to Carlisle RO was my first since its relocation and I was very impressed! A lovely purpose built, yet tasteful, building with efficient knowledgeable staff and even car parking! A rare treat these days. My only gripe with Cumbria Archives is that if they had to reduce opening hours to four days a week why must all the record offices shut on the same day (Monday)? A real pain if you are visiting for a week and want to carry out some serious research. At least closing some on Mondays and some on Fridays, for example, would give the non-local researcher a better opportunity to utilise all his or her time.

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    Lamplugh churchyard

    Some other highlights of our holiday were churchyards at Lamplugh where many of the older gravestones are wonderfully preserved such as the one shown here for Margaret Burnyeat who died, aged 72, in 1724 ; also Moresby on the West Coast – an impressive church standing near the cliff edge looking across to Scotland and surrounded again by many well-preserved graves, many marking those killed in the local mines.

    We took our fond farewell of Cumbria a couple of days ago to return home to Kent. Hopefully we will be back ‘up North’ before too long.

    Moresby

    Moresby churchyard