My family and friends have long teased me about what they see as my macabre interest in the dead. Indeed, when I discovered Facebook for the first time some years ago now, there were celebrations that I had discovered
a website devoted to communications with the living, to replace in my affections my previous favourite website which was the one belonging to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
There's a clue there,
for any of you concerned that I may be a dabbler in the occult or a holder of seances. Nothing so spooky, I assure you. But I am a Family History addict which inevitably means getting up close and personal with my ancestors. I am far better at digging and
delving into the past than digging and delving in our back garden.
It stands to reason, therefore, that when I heard that the speaker at this month's U3A meeting would be telling us all about the history of
a local cemetery, I was thrilled. Right up my street, I thought. Well, not exactly right up my street, literally, but not far away. Near enough for me to pay a visit if I wanted to find out more after hearing what our speaker had to say.
Our monthly meeting is usually held in the afternoon but for this month only had had to be transferred to the morning as the Vicar had accidentally booked the hall for a Wake without informing the Bookings Secretary or the
Caretaker. You have to admit there is a certain synergy about this - cemetery in the morning, wake in the afternoon - or am I the only one who puts two and two together in this way? Communicating the change of start time to all 500+ members of our august organisation
was no mean feat and involved every convenor contacting his or her members to pass on the message. I contacted all my Nomination Whist group but I needn't have worried because they all seemed to have heard about it from another, quicker off the mark, source.
Be that as it may, the communication must have worked for we were a goodly number who gathered in St Mary's church hall at 11 a.m.
I liked the way our speaker started her talk. She asked us all to close our
eyes while she took us on a journey - through great wrought iron gates, along a gravel path, with the sun shining on our faces, birds singing from the trees above us, butterflies flitting here, there and everywhere, primroses at our feet. Turn right at the
fork in the path, she exhorted us, and there in front of us the twin chapels (one for C of E burials, one for non-conformist burials, she would tell us later. Roman Catholics had to hold their funeral services elsewhere. Who said there is equality in death?)
Past the twin chapels, she encouraged us, and there in front of us the green, green grass studded about with white memorial stones. "Now open your eyes!" she commanded - and on the screen in front of us, a photograph of the picture we had carried in our heads.
Clever, don't you think?
It was a good thing she didn't make us keep our eyes shut for much longer for a good number of her audience (all of whom have reached what Young Faris would term A Great Age) might
well have snoozed off. I took a quick, sideways glance at Mr B to make sure he was not slumbering peacefully beside me. Unfortunately he saw me looking and was most affronted. I was only looking out for him, you understand.
The Burial Board which decided a cemetery was needed was established in 1861; the cemetery, on four and a half acres of land provided, at a price, by the local vicar, opened about two years later. From that time, until it was closed in the mid 1930s,
it became the final resting place of members of the local community, the good, the bad, the famous, the infamous, the old and the young.
My favourite of the stories she told us of local people buried in the
cemetery was of one Mary Hughes who was adamant that she was the inspiration for that much-loved nursery rhyme, Mary Had A Little Lamb. Mary Hughes did, indeed, have a pet lamb. It did, indeed, follow her everywhere. Sadly history tells that the rhyme dates
back to well before Mary's time.
Poor Mary Hughes fell into a common pitfall which those of us who dabble in family history recognise only too well. It's called Making Assumptions and I am as bad at it as
anyone. I know I need to gather at least three proofs of evidence before I can establish exactly how my ancestors lived, loved and went about their daily business.
Only that way can I be, as the custodians
of the Broadwater Cemetery would say, dead certain.