THE BURIAL GROUNDS OF MELTON MOWBRAY

WHITHER LIE THE BODIES?

It may be of interest to learn that the three main cemeteries of Melton Mowbray have each evolved from a basic conundrum relating to the available space, divided by or in ratio to, the required demands of an increasing population – no different to the vexed problem of providing homes for homo sapiens today. Simply resolved, when the hallowed ground comprising the limited curtilage of St Mary’s Church became no longer comfortably viable for the acceptance of more human remains, suitable and then available land was acquired from the garden area which adjoined King street at the rear of the Generous Briton public house and bounded with Norman Street to the north of the town.  This plot was to become known as the ‘New Cemetery’.

A brief knowledge of the history of the Country’s religious problems, tells us that Melton Mowbray was very much a part of the schism which grew to be  a rancorous separation of the long established ‘high’ Church by a much smaller but growing and dissenting community in their various scattered guises, but predominantly, it was the growth of the Methodist movement in the sixteenth Century which fanned the embers. Dissent became very much a pro-active part of the social scene and in many ways it was a productive and progressive part, though suffice to comment for now that the often rancorous separations which existed within the population at the moment of this particular re-location. An inevitable ‘them-and-us’ scenario was resolved by Dissenters being ‘allowed’ to be laid to rest specifically in the northern one third of the ground provided by the public purse, whilst the larger ‘established’ number of ‘adherants’ to the High Church, were allocated the remaining two-thirds.

With the inevitable crowding-out of the loyal deceased parishioners from the small graveyard of St Mary’s which abutted Burton End, it was vital that somewhere be found to carry the ever increasing overflow. There were several acres of grassland behind the Church apparently doing little apart from providing one or two small allotments, but these were owned by wealthy outsiders then, so an alternative compromise on the grounds of cost was arranged when the Town Estate property was utilised off King Street. See the small maps  which clearly show the ‘new’ cemetery layouts.

The enforced removal from the original church grounds to the virgin land off King Street in that late Summer of 1845. was to prove not to be a permanent answer to the space problem, more a relatively short term solution and as the town expanded towards the end of the Victorian era, its useful days were to become numbered once more, when, in 1898, Meltonians would  celebrate the opening of a what was planned to be the ultimate answer to the burial problem when the new purpose-built facility in Thorpe Road was officially opened. though its future too, is now currently in doubt as the onward march of each generation continues to quickly fill up the existing allocations.  In the meantime I present below, a short account of the opening in 1845 of the ‘new’ town cemetery, through the eyes of the then irascible Leicester Chronicle, which is bizarrely presented with an edge of humour in some sort of reference or rejoinder to a competitive newspaper.

(The following is reproduced from the Leicester Chronicle of Saturday 25 October 1845) 

FIRST INTERMENT IN THE ‘NEW CEMETERY,’ MELTON MOWBRAY. 

The coffin has been made, 
To receive its fallen dead,
And therein it will be laid
When its tiny spark has fled
'Twill be buried with the grandeur it deserves,
And thus it will be sung
Whilst the great bell will be rung
It died of sap among all its nerves.
(old song)

On Friday, the 3rd inst., (says a correspondent,) the new burying ground in Melton was consecrated. In anticipation of this event, the ‘Recorder’ had been ‘lying in state,’ ever since its demise, at the office of the Publisher, for its ‘nobility’ could not, even in dust, blend with the ignoble democrats over the wall ; and on Monday, the 20th inst., the ‘maiden sod’ was upturned, that its remains might be deposited in the silent tomb.  At present all that marks the mournfully interesting spot – the grave of Melton’s hope – is a pasteboard tablet (in imitation of marble) bearing the following inscription;

“HIC JACET 

all that was mortal of 

THE MELTON RECORDER’ , 

After a lingering and painful illness, 

it departed this life 

the 14th day of July, 1845, Aged 20 weeks. 

Ye readers kind, who now lament, 

Be thankful while you weep. 

For I, who made you drowsy once. 

Myself am fallen asleep.”

But of course this will not be deemed a sufficient tribute to its ‘memory dear’ by its admirers. It is therefore proposed either to erect a statue to, or build a nest for, the ci-devant Editor, testifying thereby that his herculean labours have not been wholly unappreciated. If the statue is decided upon, a premium will be offered to artists for designs.

Sir Francis Grant, President R.A. (1803-1878)  

Meanwhile, On a related note, referring to my recent presence at the cemetery, I might draw attention to the placement in this former cemetery – now not recognised as such in its present state – of the monument of one of our town’s most prominent former residents. By the way of a diversion from the theme of this article, I speak of the world-renowned artist and long term popular resident, Sir Francis Grant, President of the Royal Academy of Arts. A Scot, he was born in Edinburgh on the 18th January 1803. At first a student at Harrow on-the-Hill school as a young child, he was later educated in Edinburgh, but not at university nor did he achieving any significant degree. Arriving in Melton Mowbray, attracted by its reputation, he was to gain the friendship of two locally established artists, the well regarded Ferneley brothers.  Without formal training he would learn to paint and in later years, to advance this self-taught expertise to a standard beyond even his own wildest dreams. Francis grew up to become a formal portrait painter of some great renown, specialising mainly in the portraiture of many aristocratic and political figures of his time, including that of his greatest admirer, Queen Victoria. 

The Grant family home in London was at No 27 Sussex Place, Marylebone, where he spent the early days of a spoiled life with his two brothers and from where, with an inheritance of more than £10,000 from his deceased father’s estate, he vowed to spend his early years spending it all, with a further promise to train later as a lawyer.  He achieved his first avowal to spend but did not quite make his visit to the halls of higher education, instead, wasting his precious moments in his great passion of hunting and gambling, pastimes which were to bring him inevitably to Melton Mowbray, where only the very best of this popular sport was to be achieved amongst some of the most important people in world society.  

At the age of 23 years he met his wife-to-be, Emily Farquharson who also hailed from Scotland and they were married in 1826, but sadly, in circumstances seemingly unknown, young Emily, without issue, was to die in 1828, it being less than two years after their nuptials and for a short time Francis was on his own again. Extremely handsome and reportedly most attractive to the ladies of his time, the young budding artist was not to mourn for too long before he was courting local lady, the highly sought and esteemed society beauty, Isabella Elizabeth Norman (1805-1894) a relative of the Manners family of Belvoir.  On the 8th July, 1829, Melton Mowbray was to witness the wedding of all weddings at the Parish Church of St Mary’s, when Francis married for a second time. No children had emanated from his first marriage with Emily, but this new union was to eventually produce five girls and three boys born between 1830 and 1847.  I understand that one of these eight children is said to have been born out of wedlock, but I have as yet, no further details.  The Grants lived in the large house, then known simply as ‘The Lodge,’ today extant on the lower slope of Dalby Road almost opposite the swimming baths. In the 1930’s, the residence was renamed for some reason as ‘Dorian Lodge’, the name which it currently retains. When, as a popular and respected Associate of the esteemed Royal Academy of Art in London, he became their President in 1866 being simultaneously rewarded with a Knighthood from his Queen in recognition of his valuable and prolific services to art.

With a very much dispersed family of children, we usually hear mainly of two or three of his young daughters who remained in Melton as their home town. Sir Francis and Dame Isabella had retained the family home at 27 Sussex Place in Marylebone, adjoining Regents Park and in the Spring of 1871 they are to be found there in residence with four house staff and a carriage in the driveway. His work in the capital city ensured a close connection with his art, but by now it was more with the business of administration and exhibitions.  

Finally, as they say, ‘All good things come to an end’ and it was on the 5th day of October, 1878, when apparently without prior warning, Sir Francis Grant suffered what was described as a ‘massive’ fatal heart attack whilst resting at Dalby Road with his daughter, Daisy.  His funeral service at St Mary’s Church was widely reported as being one of the biggest turnouts ever seen in the town.

The New, New Cemetery in Thorpe Road

‘APPOINTMENT OF CEMETERY SUPERINTENDENT 

‘At the meeting of the Local Board, on Wednesday evening, Mr Joseph Smith, of Nottingham Road, Melton, was appointed superintendent of the new Cemetery out of fourteen applicants for the post.’  

(Grantham Journal, 3rd June, 1893.)

Towards the end of the 19th Century, it is apparent that the ‘new’ cemetery in King Street was now becoming as congested as that of the church of half a century before and it became once more the business of the local board, in partnership with representatives of the various denominations now proliferating in the town, to provide the extra space for a future generation of the residents. In 1893, land was acquired at the side of the Thorpe Road, then utilised as public allotment gardens, for the purpose of providing an up-to-date and ‘state-of-the-art’ new facility. The Leicester Chronicle of the day, described the opening event.

OPENING OF THE NEW CEMETERY AT MELTON MOWBRAY. 

‘On Thursday morning last, the new Cemetery provided for the locals of the town of Melton (a full description of which appeared in these columns some few weeks ago) was formally opened after having been handed over to the Board at a special meeting on the previous evening. The proceedings were of the simplest character possible, the members of the Board meeting at the Lodge, where the Chairman (Mr. J. J. Fast), in a few words, “opened the place.” It had been suggested that a dedicatory service of some kind should be held to mark the event, the proposal being that the whole of the ministers in the town should take part in it, but no definite steps in this direction were not taken, and consequently nothing was done as regards any religious ceremony. The whole of the cemetery is open, i.e no pets it is consecrated as is the custom in many towns, according to the rites of the Church of England.  Though complete as regards its buildings and the laying out of the various intersecting pathways, the Cemetery as yet presents by no means a finished appearance, no trees or shrubs having been planted, as doubtless there will be in time, and the ground near the Chapel and also the lodge still bears traces of the “hands” of the builders. When the ornamentation of the place in these respects has been carried out it will look very pretty, and we think that Meltonians will have no reason to be dissatisfied with the new burial ground when it is got into proper order.
As stated, the Cemetery was opened in the most formal manner, with a special meeting of the Board being convened for ten o’clock that Thursday morning at the keeper’s lodge. There were present— J. Fast (chairman of the Board), J. Glover, J. Gill, W. Willcox, G. N. Wing, J. Anderson, C. Callis, Rd. Barker (Clerk), and K. Jeeves (Surveyor). The grounds were formally inspected and they then, proceeding to the room where the ministers robe, the Chairman said they were there that day for the purpose of formally declaring the Cemetery open to the public, and he hoped they would all live long enough to hear the public say that they looked upon it as a boon. He would like to have expressed entire satisfaction with regard to one or two small matters which had been detected, he supposed there was nothing perfect in this world, and they must put up with things as they found them unless they had the power to remedy them. Mr. Willcox said that he thought it would a great boon to the town at large when the place was properly set out, and hoped it would not fall so heavily upon the ratepayers that some of their friends have imagined, because no doubt they would derive a considerable revenue from here on.  Mr. Glover remarked that he had no wish to see the cemetery pay its way, which would only mean a heavy death-rate.—A slight discussion then ensued with reference to the letting of the plot of ground attached to the cemetery, and it was ultimately resolved to let it by tender.
The proceedings then terminated. The first funeral took place at four o’clock in the afternoon when the body of Mrs. Sophia Clarke, wife of Mr. Henry Clarke, refreshment-house keeper of Church-lane, Melton, was interred. The deceased, who was sixty-eight years of age, died on Monday after a somewhat lengthy  illness. Mrs Clarke was well known in the town and highly respected. The obsequies were conducted by the Vicar (Rev. R. Blakeney) the first part of the service being held the Parish Church, and then completed at the grave-side where a short dedicatory prayer was said.  The funeral was witnessed by a large number of people. The Parish Magazine for June had announced that the custom which has hitherto prevailed of the portion of the burial service being read in the Parish Church, can still observed in every case in which it is desired.’

Leicester Chronicle

.. and what of tomorrow?

For more than a century the Thorpe Road Cemetery has served the people of Melton Mowbray. Its fine lodge at the main entrance still stands today, overlooking the large, manicured area of the various sections representing the religious followings of its occupants, which must now amount to many hundreds over time.  Little seems to have changed over these years, during which time the spare plot mentioned at its opening ceremony was indeed utilised for extra space.  There is talk today, in 2019, of the sale of the lodge house as a private dwelling and news of a possible end of term for the facilities so lovingly provided all those long years past. There is even a current  public discourse on the subject of bringing to an end the ancient practice of burial in the ground in civic open spaces, leaving no doubt, much contention amongst the religious groups who will no doubt need to organise alternative methods of the disposition of loved ones.  Watch this space!

© John McQuaid 2019

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.