The open day at Townsend Cemetery delivered on history with two interesting and informative talks and a guided tour around the burial grounds by Tracey Warren, funeral director at Stoodley & Son. The burial records from when the cemetery first opened in 1874 were available for family research with many visitors finding their relatives graves. One Crewkerne resident discovered the grave of her great grandfather’s younger brother Sidney. She also found out that two women had visited the grave of Sidney Banfield on the same day but sadly they had not met and she would love to hear from them.
The first talk of the afternoon was given by Crewkerne Town Clerk Peter Davidson. Peter showed the dramatic change in the number of burials from Victorian times to the present day. Peter said: “Today we are recording 30 burials a year with the average age just under 80 years. Although the town wasn’t any bigger back then, in the 1870’s there were at least 90 burials a year with the average age being 32 years and the high number of infant and child mortalities was horrendous.” There are 6,800 burials in the old part of the cemetery and 600 in the new part, which opened in 1990.
Tracey’s talk emphasized how burials had changed during Victorian times. Graves for those who had been un-baptized or who had committed suicide were not allowed on consecrated ground until 1859. Tracey said that wealth was also a factor on how close to the church a person was buried with the more elaborate headstones closer to the chapel entrance and many unmarked graves a lot further away being of children or paupers. Tracey said: “In the early days of cemetery burials, it was not unusual for 17 people to be buried in one grave plot and many of those were non-relatives.”
The tour with Tracey included chilling tales of grave robbing, body snatching and murder. The most notorious case in Crewkerne being the tragic death of Mary Budge, a widow who found herself with child. Mary visited a Yeovil couple Robert and Jane Colmer who had set up as herbalists but were later found to be ‘back street abortionists’ and sentenced to hang before a petition of some 4,000 signatures led to a reprieve in the death sentence. Mary Budge died in March 1880, the day after taking a prescribed potion of quinine sulphate. She left behind five young children, who thanks to a living relative’s research were found to have all survived and gone on to lead good lives.
Headstones at Townsend Cemetery come in all shapes and sizes. The graves looked after by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission have white headstones of Portland stone, a fine example of an Art Deco design can be seen of polished black granite and Gothic splendour is notable in the Masonic arch at the grave ‘In Loving Memory’ of John and Elizabeth Genge. The open day was organised by the Crewkerne & West Crewkerne Joint Burial Committee and very well attended.