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Historian Fred Hughes writes....
Diane McDaid’s neighbours won’t be calling round for a festive drink this Christmas; she says they’ve already got enough spirits. The owner of a popular Stoke on Trent restaurant Diane has plenty of friends who are very welcome to call for a drop of cheer; it’s just the neighbour’s who won’t be getting an invite. And the reason for this parsimonious inhospitality is simply that Diane’s neighbours are all dead.
Diane’s new home was built in 1877, the year Longton cemetery opened.
“Its first occupant was a chap name Joseph Ashworth who was appointed registrar and accountant by Longton Borough Council,” says historian Steve Birks. “Joseph, a bachelor age 47 and his housekeeper sister Mary, age 49 and also single, came from Yorkshire, but little is known of their previous lives.”
According to the council minutes Ashworth had an annual salary of £100 with the house added rent free. Gas and other services were also included but exclusively for the office. Victorian prudence no doubt influenced the Ashworth’s to spend most of their time in the office, a pleasant sun-filled room by the front entrance.
“I love the office,” says Diane. “Even the original wardrobe safe is still here. Nothing has been altered from those times and even now I expect to be greeted by a wing-collared registrar wearing a morning coat and a black top hat. It’s as though I’m living inside Victorian history.”
What about the neighbours, I ask.
“Oh I don’t anticipate trouble from them,” she laughs.
There are actually two chapels beneath one roof; Nonconformist and Anglican. Each has three bays either side of an arched entrance beneath an impressive tower designed with two stages of ornate timber panels and a small spire. The main entrance has segmental archway gables with stained glass quatrefoil windows and decorative timber panelling.
“The surrounding land is relatively flat,” Steve adds. “But possibly because of its late construction many of Longton’s Victorian notables are buried elsewhere. Nevertheless the grave of Matthew Wardhaugh is here. He was a Victorian theatre proprietor who built the Royal Victoria Theatre in Berry Bank, Stafford Street, now called The Strand. He wrote and performed at least 50 plays. Most popular was his last play, My Little Wife alternatively known as Nuts to Crack. Yes, it’s true!”
Another fine memorial is the granite tribute to the 64 miners killed in the Mossfield Colliery explosion in 1889. The remains of 45 miners are buried here together. Another 14 are buried elsewhere. But perhaps the saddest are the five names listed beneath the simple stone-carved valediction ‘not recovered’.
23 September 2008
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