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Historian Fred Hughes writes....
The words of the poet W. H. Auden, “Death is like the roll of distant thunder at a picnic,” carries immense aura among the forests of granite in Hanley Cemetery. Yet, in such lovely surroundings, Auden’s words speak more for life than of death. The picnic fragrance of freshly cut grass and the pungency of a distant wood fire are more appropriate to the living than the departed. Here, along the gentle slopes wedged between the Cauldon and the Trent and Mersey Canals, I meet companions Pat Simm and Gillian Carter.
“It’s one of the pleasures of my day,” says Shelton resident Pat age 67. “It’s easy to say I come here to visit my husband’s grave. But it’s more than that. There’s a peace about this place that gives me great pleasure.”
and Gillian, from Hartshill, sit beside clusters of poplar and alder,
Pat’s old Labrador Molly stretches lazily on the grass completing the
idyll. “It’s the tranquillity here, and the pleasant pastures that lead to
the canal side. It’s like an oasis in the heart of the city where
everything stops,” Gillian agrees.
The Staffordshire Advertiser covered the opening on a glorious May Day in 1860 reporting that a 2000-strong crowd cheered Ridgway and the Bishop of Lichfield’s arrival at the new, Regency-styled, Cemetery Road where the consecration of the chapels was made.
“The chapels building really is something special,” says Steve. “Each one is actually a separate entity connected by three open archways. The centre was designed for carriages with pedestrian access through two side arches. The whole is made from shaded sandstone with a central tower surmounted by a spire. And the floors are paved throughout with Minton encaustic tiles. There’s no doubt that Hanley’s cemetery chapels are architecturally the most impressive in Stoke on Trent, but I fear they’re being allowed to go to rack and ruin. Maybe it’s a sign of the times. Fenton cemetery chapel was demolished in 2001; Burslem chapel is about to be demolished. And even though Longton and Hanley chapels are listed buildings and protected from summary demolition, I’m afraid the condition is being allowed to deteriorate fast.”
In front of the chapels is the prominent monument of the first town clerk of Hanley Edward Challinor. Nearby are the family graves of the Huntbach’s, pioneering department store owners. And all around are memorials to the Hanley Victorians who made the town great – Pidduck, Goodson, Mayer – each with a street named after them. The famous Shirley family, and the Twyford’s; the Dudson’s and ‘Honest’ Sam Clowes, the first working potter to become a Member of Parliament. And many more, so many that I seek out Shelton resident Don Maddocks to guide me.
“There had already been a couple of burials before the official opening,” says Don, age 83. “The first was Sarah Toft of Hanley who died April 25th 1860. The memorial actually says she was first person to be buried here.”
Don leads me through a maze of gravestones with expert familiarity.
In grateful memory / of
“You know about the memorial to Timothy Trow, the young man who died saving a child from the canal at Stoke? Well here’s his family grave,” he indicates. “The plain granite cross has been pushed over for safety reasons by council officials,” he says. An outrage, I respond silently.
JOHN LIVESLEY/ PVT CO L 6
And then we’re off in search of other icons – a curious rusting cast iron memorial to the Hawley family; a bronze plaque to Private John Livesley, a soldier in the New York Cavalry during the American Civil War. Two brothers age 17 and 18 killed in the Sneyd Pit disaster on New Years’ Day 1942. Closer to the canal are the memorials to Madame Reymond and her protégé John Cope, founder and conductor of the North Staffs Symphony Orchestra respectively.
“Can you see what’s happened here,” cries Don. “Someone’s pushed this memorial over and probably made it more unsafe than before. Why the council can’t preserve all this history instead of allowing the memorials to deteriorate is beyond me.”
I nod in agreement.
2 October 2008
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