In the graveyard with Ivy

Duration: 3:44 minutes
Accession No: TWCMS : 2009.513
This story has been viewed 4126 times

This story is about Michael's involvement in clearing an overgrown graveyard and the things he has discovered.

By Michael Young

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Video transcript

In the graveyard with Ivy.

The rewarding thing about clearing a graveyard aside from the clearing itself is the stories you come across. Several of us were recruited to help clear the graveyard at St James’ church in Benwell. The aim was to have it ready so that it could be mapped as Tyne and Wear Archives have the burial registers but there is no record of the gravestones. Our mission was to complete the lost records of the community of Benwell. Over 1300 people have been buried there but sadly only about 500 have gravestones. This means that there are long odds against anyone finding a headstone for their relatives.

Definitely there is the grave of Richard Grainger, of Grainger Street, market and, I suppose, town. It is enclosed by railings making cleaning it difficult. There are also 30 military graves from both world wars. We have a picture of mourners, that of Barbara and Anne Steadman, at their brother’s grave. Many of the graves were festooned or smothered in ivy obscured by sycamore or protected by nettles, thistles, broken bottles and the odd syringe or two. Ted Clark and I worked through the winter until we decided to have a change and started to photograph the exposed gravestones. The donor of the land for the church and the graveyard was John Buddle, the mining engineer, who is remembered in the church itself but whose vault was much overgrown. It was thought not to have an inscription until we found a Jimmy Forsyth photo taken in 1994 which clearly showed one. We hacked our way into the mini jungle which covered the vault and there it was. The vault was later cleared completely by a hard working council worker.

In the process of clearing we found and were pretty unexcited by a grave of John Atkinson. David Cook, a keen cricketer, had heard of our work and wondered about a man called John Atkinson Pendlington, a member of Benwell cricket club, who had invented an improved method of scoring for cricket. ‘Never come across him’ we said but his dates fitted with our John Atkinson. David Cook hacked his way into the weed cover and revealed that our JA was his JAP. Just shows you can’t assume anything about graves until you uncover the lot. We also discovered the vandalised gravestone of John Sowerby, the founder of Sowerby glassworks in Gateshead and who lived in Benwell Towers. Examples of his glass can be seen in the Laing Art Gallery.

The clearing is progressing, impeded only by confusion about what to do about Japanese knotweed. Ted is the master clearer, against him the rest of us are amateurs. He also likes a very good bonfire from time to time. Ann takes charge of the litter picking and is always astounded by the amount of broken glass which has accumulated over the years. I take photographs which we hope will be on a database for anyone interested to access. It’s not ready yet though. Another sportsman to come to light is one John Liddle, as it says on his gravestone, better known as Jack Palmer. He is probably the only heavyweight boxer of note who was born in Benwell. He was once thought to be number two in the country but a certain Tommy Burns beat him with ease. The Lord Bishop of Newcastle who died on 1907 is buried here but his grave has been vandalised and the cross that was on it is now in the grass beside it. The volunteers continue to graft in the undergrowth and slowly the look of the place is improving but there is a long way to go. The graveyard group meet on a Tuesday afternoon for a good hack, a cup of tea or coffee and a chocolate biscuit. It’ll take a while but we’ll get there.  

It's good to hear about the lives of people who are all but forgotten. Your enthusiasm for finding out more about them and telling their story is infectious. Posted on 06/10/2010 at 11:12:49

Enjoyed this, humour mixed with fact, keep gannin kidda. YvonnePosted on 26/11/2010 at 02:23:03

Hi there I have just viewed your video which is really interesting, Through Family research I discovered my Great Grandfather died in Benwell in 1910 and is buried in St James Church grounds.I don't know if he had a headstone but I have the plot number of his grave. If I was to come up would I be able to find it ? Hope you can help Thanks Pat FawcettPosted on 16/07/2012 at 14:05:34

congratulations on your dedicated work.My g'grandparents james william harris and maryjane harris buried 1924 and 1935 . Research G323.Visiting may/june 2013 . just being there will be fullfilling enough. Posted on 15/09/2012 at 21:54:24

Hi, grew up in Benwell and this church was where I and my siblings went. I spent hours polishing brasses along with other youth group members. I was confirmed here. Hope to visit in 2013, now living in Adelaide, Australia. Graveyard info was interesting, was "just there" as a 16 year old when I left. Posted on 09/11/2012 at 09:49:01

Hi, grew up in Benwell and this church was where I and my siblings went. I spent hours polishing brasses along with other youth group members. I was confirmed here. Hope to visit in 2013, now living in Adelaide, Australia. Graveyard info was interesting, was "just there" as a 16 year old when I left. Posted on 09/11/2012 at 10:05:33

Hello, I have just found this video of St James graveyard, thank you so much for clearing it and taking a video. My 3rd Great Grandfather is Robert Thomas Atkinson (nephew to John Buddle), he is buried in the vault of John Buddle Jnr and John's sister Ann. Robert's wife MAry (nee Burnet) then married the first vicar of Benwell, Rev William Maughan. They too are buried in the graveyard. I live in Australia, however one day I will come to the UK to explore my family roots, in particular, Benwell and surrounds. Many thanks again, Ross Buddle AtkinsonPosted on 13/05/2013 at 00:43:28

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