Jaqui's Daily Blog

Forgotten Lives and Stories That Deserve The Telling

Mr B says that, once again, I am heading for a dead end. He is, indeed, dead certain of the fact.

These are just two comments of similar ilk, on the theme of Morbid Mirth. The reason: I am spending my afternoon in a cemetery. Along with, I hasten to add, fifteen merry members of Questers which, regular readers will recall, is a group which goes on "behind the scenes" visits to interesting places near and far.

Myself, I particularly like the local visits which introduce me to parts of my home town of which I previously knew little or nothing at all. I have organised two trips to the local Museum and Art Gallery, two to the Library, four more to the Local Studies section of the Library to pore over the Old Maps of Worthing. We have also visited the famous Dome and Howarths of London, world-class manufacturer of oboes, tucked away in a back street just off the town centre - one of Worthing's hidden secrets.

Today's visit is to what my dear Dad (who shared Mr B's sense of humour) would have called "the Dead Centre of Broadwater" - Broadwater Cemetery. Carole, organiser of this visit, suggested we should arrive about 2.15 and advised that we could park in the road outside. Being The World's Worst Parker, I decide to arrive early in case I have to drive all round the houses in search of a good-sized parking space. As it happens, I am able to park right outside the cemetery gates and am therefore commendably early. I join Val on a convenient bench and we wait for everyone else to arrive.


Our guide, Paul Holden, joins us and prepares to lead us on an hour long tour of the cemetery. It is the mist beautiful, sunny afternoon. Butterflies are glutting in between the graves while cheeky squirrels are darting here, there and everywhere. Just spending an hour walking about the place, now in the shade of the trees, now in the warm sunshine, now gently pushing aside the wild roses straying across the pathways would be well worth the time. This, however, is a Walk With Added Interest.

Here is the grave of Edward Lloyd, who was a famed opera singer in Victorian times, known as the "Prince of Tenors". Paul tells us that when he shows schoolchildren around the cemetery, he always gets the youngsters to sing their school song at Edward's grave. I am sure the Prince of Tenors would appreciate the thought. We could have sung my U3A song, of course, but until it makes its debut at tomorrow's Soirée, nobody but Morag and I know all the words. I'm not sure Edward would approve anyway.

Here is a striking Mausoleum built for the Ralli family, originally from the Greek Island of Chios. During the Second World War, fearful of German invasion, the Borough Council hid all its records in the mausoleum. I can image some official rubbing his hands together and saying, proudly: "Let's see 'em find them there!"

Here is a simple headstone decorated with a lamb. It's the grave of Mary Hughes who is believed to have been the inspiration for the popular nursery rhyme "Mary had a little lamb." Apparently the author of the rhyme, on a visit to Llangollen, Wales where the Hughes family lived, saw our Mary off to school one day, followed (yes, you are there before me) by her pet lamb. Of such are myths and legends - and nursery rhymes - born. Except that, we are told, our cousins Across The Pond have laid claim to the Mary of the nursery rhyme and say it was written about a completely different Mary. I'm on our Mary's side - after all, there's that lamb on her headstone. It may not be proof positive but it's good enough for me.


Here is the grave of Ellen Chapman, created Worthing's first woman Mayor in 1920. She would have made it to First Citizen six years earlier but in 1914 the country was just going to war and the local Powers That Be decided it would be inappropriate to have a woman Mayor at such a time of Trouble and Strife. Much muttering and shaking of heads from the largely female contingent of Questers. Another worthy First Citizen is buried here: Alfred Cortis who funded the search for a clean water supply following a typhoid epidemic which killed 200 local people - several of them buried in Broadwater Cemetery - in 1893. How many lives did he save, I wonder, through his philanthropic action?

Also buried here are nature writer William Henry Hudson, who helped found the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and naturalist John Richard Jefferies, described on his flower-filled grave as "the prose poet of England's fields and woodlands."

There are thousands of graves in the Broadwater Cemetery, every one a story of someone's life and death. The Friends of Broadwater Cemetery, who have rescued the graveyard from the drunks and the vandals who previously skulked the land, put on regular tours on different topics. "I fancy this one," says my friend, David, picking up a booklet entitled "Unusual Deaths." He is not alone in his taste for the macabre, we are told; the last tour by this name attracted more than 100 visitors.

I drive home pondering on the fact that hardly anybody today will have heard of Edward Lloyd, or Alfred Cortis or Ellen Chapman - or even Hudson and Jefferies. Their graves are simple, the inscriptions telling little of their amazing lives and times, their courage, their inspiration, their genius. Well done to the Friends for working so hard to keep their stories alive.

"How was it?" Mr B wants to know when I arrive home. Dear reader, forgive me, I simply couldn't resist:

"Dead interesting!" I tell him.

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Latest comments

23.04 | 20:15

lovely and heartwarming - an inspiration to us all x

09.03 | 12:07

Love this story told as ever beautifully.x

10.11 | 21:31

What a super account of a special event. I loved meeting you last night and seeing your creation come together. I’m so pleased you got so much from the activity

07.09 | 13:17

I have broad shoulders x

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