Visitors to the Open Day at Townsend Cemetery in Crewkerne, had a great opportunity to research family history and find family graves by looking through the burial records, made available in the chapel. Despite the heavy rain at times, the event was once again declared a success, with at least three visitors discovering where their relatives were buried and being able to pay their respects at the gravesides.
Funeral director Tracey Warren of A E Stoodley & Son in Crewkerne gave an interesting talk in which she spoke about the great changes made to burials during the Victorian age and an Act of Parliament passed in 1819, following pressure from ‘cemetery movers’ which saw the introduction of non-conformist chapels at cemeteries throughout England. Other major changes took place in the mid 19th Century when suicides that had previously been buried at cross-roads were allowed cemetery burials in 1859.
Townsend Cemetery opened in November 1874. Tracey Warren led a guided tour of notable older graves which she began in the earliest part of the burial grounds, now behind shrubbery. One of the first graves was that of an 11 month old boy called Thomas. Tracey pointed out that infant mortality was high, as there were no vaccines for diphtheria, whooping cough, scarlet fever and other childhood diseases in the early days. The cemetery is set out as a Victorian park with scenic walks among yew trees, evergreens and colourful shrubs. There are memorial benches along the paths for visitors to stop and rest and spend time in quiet contemplation.
The generosity of Crewkerne philanthropist Robert Bird was remembered at his graveside. Tracey said: “Robert Bird was one of the founding industrial fathers of Crewkerne. He was an amazing and remarkable man, ahead of his time.” Robert Bird set up the first hospital in the town, Mr Bird’s Infirmary, established in South Street in 1867. His care and welfare of his weavers was altruistic, setting up a row of almshouses in South Street for his retired workers and the formation of a charitable trust which previously had properties in Bird’s Close, now managed by the Yarlington Housing Group.
The guided tour led by Tracey Warren included tales of murder, mystery, generosity and valor. Townsend Cemetery open day was organised by Crewkerne and West Crewkerne Joint Burial Committee, whose representatives that attended the event remarked how pleased they were with its success and that the number of visitors had increased this year, even though the poor weather had made wearing waterproofs essential and had probably put some people off coming. For those who missed out, there will be another opportunity in September 2018, when organisers are hoping the sun will put in an appearance.