Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Just 38 years ago in the village churchyard

Our parish churchyard in the april of 1978
It is just 37 years since this picture of our old parish church yard was taken.

And yet it is so far from the knowledge or experience of many in Chorlton that it might as well have been taken in 1878 rather than 1978.

And it is one of those odd things that despite having frequently walked past the crowded jumble of grave stones I have no recollection of the place looking like this.

Nor of the attack on the gravestone of Police Constable Cock who was murdered on August 1st 1876.  According to the local newspaper* “ the small headstone on the already battered, iron-railed grave in the old St Clements’s churchyard near Chorlton village green has been torn from its retaining screws by vandals or thieves attracted by the historic tablet.”

P.C.Cock's headstone, Preston, 1980
The original six foot high headstone which included the old Lancashire Constabulary crest was moved to Preston in 1956.

Now the murder is fairly well known and still crops up from time to time in stories of Chorlton.

At the time the understandable wish to get a quick conviction led to the arrest of William Hebron who was found guilty in the December but the death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

Which was all to the good given that just over two years later Charles Pearce who had a history of petty theft confessed to the murder of the policeman.

Looking back at the picture I continue to be surprised at the state of the place.  Leaving aside the vandalised graves you have to admit that it’s more than a little neglected.

Some of the headstones have been lift to tilt and those on the ground are uneven.

This is all the more shocking when back in 1847 an official inspection reported that the church and the graveyard along with the headstones were well kept and the grass mown regularly.

But this had been when there was still a church here and when people made their way down from the north entrance to worship in a church which dated back 149 years.

It had been built in 1800 on the site of an earlier chapel, survived the opening of a rival church on the corner of St Clements and Edge Lane and only closed in 1941 when frost damage made it almost impossible to hold services there.

Overturned headstone, April 1978
After that it lasted just another eight years succumbing to persistent attacks by vandals and was eventually demolished.

Not long after our picture was taken Angus Bateman and a team of people undertook two archaeological digs of the site and a little later the area was landscaped.

Now I remain ambivalent about that.  Certainly something needed to be done, and it is now a nice place to sit, but many of the gravestones were taken away and lost and the few that remain were not all returned to their original resting place.

And so the memorial stone to P.C.Cock is now situated close to the lytch gate which is some distance from where he was buried.

Does it matter?  Well yes I think it does.  Not only are the surviving headstones in the wrong places but the actual records of so many of the people who were born worked and died in the township are lost forever.

Their names and the often poignant inscriptions are no longer there to read and so it is almost as if they never were.

Looking north in 1978
Now I am not religious but I do think such memorials are important.  As historian I know they are, as indeed they are for anyone who has links with Chorlton.

And to underline that thought recently I met a descendant of the Reverend Booth who presided over services in the parish church for thirty-three years.  She was thrilled that his headstone had survived and paid for its restoration.  To her it was a very tangible link to her past family.

Nor is that quite the end.  For the gentleman in the picture is Mr Fred Casson who was verger of the church from 1930 till it closed in 1941.

He knew the church when it was still a lively and important part of the community and reflected on the struggle to maintain graveyard.  “Manchester City Council now look after the graveyard. They do a lot of repair work but every time workmen finish one job vandals smash something else.  It’s a losing battle.”

Looking north in 2009
Today by and large the place is vandal free and it is pleasant place but I rather think I would like it as it was, even if it meant coming down and helping make good from time to time.

And there I shall leave it.

Picture; from The Journal Thursday April 13, 1978, the Loyd collection and the collection of Andrew Simpson

*Vandals wreck memorial to famous murder, The Journal Thursday April 13, 1978

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