A History of Headstones in Liverpool

Four hundred years ago burial in churches was reserved solely for those of a certain religious or noble stature. For the vast majority of those who died, the body was wrapped in a shroud and graves were marked with a simple structure such as a small wooden cross or some stones.

These basic grave markers were said to stop the dead from rising and if they were inscribed it would be with no more than the person’s name, age and the year that they died.

After the Reformation the right to burials in churchyards was extended and the first markers were often flat. There are not many churches still standing in the Liverpool area that were around then but one of them is Prescot Parish Church. Many of the oldest graves have now sunk but in August 2015 a stone from 1677 was uncovered during the clearance of jungle ivy.

From the eighteenth centLiverpool headstones historyury upright memorials became more commonplace but the information about the deceased was still very limited, as the picture on the left of a headstone in All Saints Church in Childwall demonstrates.

The first purpose built cemetery in Liverpool was the Necropolis in 1825, near the corner of Rocky Lane and Everton Road. Over the next seventy years more than 80,000 burials took place there before it was closed, the headstones removed and the ground landscaped over. Now it is known as Grant Gardens.

In the year the Necropolis opened, the quarry at St James Mount was exhausted and that was converted to a cemetery, the first interment taking place in 1829. There have been no burials there for eighty years and it is now Cathedral Gardens but not all of the gravestones were removed.

Both the Necropolis and St James Cemetery were privately run, but with churchyards full to capacity by the 1850s and Liverpool’s population booming drastic action was needed. The Burial Act of 1857 allowed for new municipal cemeteries out of town and away from the densely populated areas. Toxteth Park Cemetery opened in 1856 and Anfield Cemetery in 1863. As the town expanded, further cemeteries opened in the 1880s serving the parishes of Everton, Kirkdale and West Derby and then in 1909 Allerton Cemetery opened.

Liverpool Headstones History

These grand cemeteries were designed as places of reflection not just mourning, and the headstones that were erected there memorialised the dead. The sections containing the most elaborate memorials remembering the most well to do, give the air of being in a park with statues rather than a cemetery. The huge Celtic cross marking the grave of Samuel Robert Graves (right) in Toxteth Cemetery states that he ‘represented Liverpool in Parliament’, while a headstone in Anfield tells us that the person who is buried there, Samuel White, was a ‘master mathematician at Liverpool College’. Ornamentation on the gravestones also become common in this period with different symbols reflecting loyalty, someone taken too soon and so on.

Lengthier inscriptions on headstones in Victorian times weren’t reserved for the privileged few. They now began to began to say more about the person whose grave they mark, sometimes detailing the circumstances of death. A walk around any cemetery opened in Victorian times will reveal a huge variety of inscriptions. Random examples from Toxteth for instance are that of John Worrall, who in 1856 was ‘killed by a fall from the hold of the ship Hannah Mary in Brunswick Dock’ and of Edward Ellis who died in 1862, having ‘laboured in the Mount Pleasant Wesleyan Sunday School with faithfulness and success for upwards of 26 years’.

Such practices continued prior to the 1st World War, but the inter war years saw headstones become much more simplified when it came to inscriptions. In today’s more secular times there has been a shift from religiously inscriptions to family epitaphs. Whereas one hundred years ago reference to family members was factual, such as ‘husband of’ now this is often extended to something along the lines of ‘a loving and much loved husband and father’.

Memorial sizes are much smaller now. Many local authorities place restrictions on headstone height and also give guidance on inscriptions. With cremation becoming more common, the plots for the interment of2016-07-13 18.22.21 cremated remains are smaller than standard graves and thus the headstones are too. Many sections of cemeteries are much more uniform, with graves being identical in size and material, such as in the area of Allerton in the photograph on the left.

As cemeteries around the world fill up to capacity some innovative solutions are being put forward. In Hong Kong there have been proposals for a vessel containing over 300,000 cremation urns to be floated offshore, while in Oslo a skyscraper several hundred metres high containing vaults has been proposed.

Virtual memorials are now common on the internet and greener woodland burials are on the increase. However most likely in Liverpool the oldest graves will simply be turned over, as they are only leased for a period of 99 years rather than owned. The traditional headstone is sure to be around for many more years to come


Titanic Graves in Liverpool

A memorial to commemorate engine workers from the Titanic was unveiled one hundred years ago on 8th May 1916 at the Princes Landing Stage in Liverpool (image by Elliot Brown). The Grade II listed structure had been commissioned in 1912, the year the Titanic sank, but by 110677317536_3df55c6cf6_o916 further disasters at sea led to its dedication being broadened. It is officially called the Memorial to the Engine Room Heroes, but still commonly known as the Titanic Memorial.

Although the Titanic was built in Belfast and had sailed out of Southampton, the fact the White Star Line was based in Liverpool meant there were a number of crew members from the city on board, as well as some passengers. Around the city there are a number of graves of where people who were on board were buried or are remembered on the headstone.

One of the most senior crew members from Liverpool was Hugh McElroy, the ship’s purser. He failed to survive and his body was picked up by the rescue vessel Mackay-Bennett a week later and buried at sea. He is remembered on a family headstone at  Anfield cemetery. Also at Anfield a gravestone remembers Peter Sloan, the chief electrician, whose body was never knowingly recovered. The inscription reads ‘Also Peter, only son of the above who lost his life with other brave officers in Titanic disaster 15th April 1912, aged 31 years, faithful unto death.’

Kirkdale Cemetery has headstones remembering stewards Henry Ashe, who is buried in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Gordon Davies, whose body was not found. The chief officer Henry Wilde, another whose body was not found, is also henry wilde kirkdale2remembered on a gravestone there as is the carpenter John Maxwell. An inscription on the gravestone of his mother, father and sister states ‘John, eldest son of the above who was drowned through the foundering of the SS Titanic April 14th 1912 aged 29 years.’

Maxwell’s body was not found and neither was that of greaser Thomas McInerney. A 38 year old widower from Kirkdale, his name is on the headstone of his wife at the Liverpool Roman Catholic Cemetery in Ford. This cemetery also contains a memorial to another greaser, Thomas Fay who was 30 and left a widow and two children in Southampton.

One of the bodies that was recovered and brought back was first class passenger Alfred Rowe, who was on his way to visit a ranch he owned in Texas. He clung to a block of ice and froze to death, his body being picked up by the Mackay-Bennett and then shipped to Liverpool. He walfred rowe titanic survivor memorial toxteth cemetery (1)as buried in the family grave at Toxteth Park Cemetery amidst what the Daily Post described as ‘sorrowful scenes.’ This cemetery also contains a family grave with a dedication to William Farquharson, an engineer whose body was never knowingly recovered. Another body that was lost forever was that of Norman Harrison, an engineer who is remembered on a family gravestone at St John’s Church, Knotty Ash.

Finally. there are are two graves in Crosby remembering Titanic crew members. Clerk Austin Ashcroft is mentioned on a headstone at St Peters and St Paul Roman Catholic Church, while senior assistant engineer Bertie Wilson’s name is marked on his mother’s memorial in St Luke’s Church. There eventual whereabouts of both these crew members bodies was unknown.


Memorials of the May Blitz

Merseyside commemorates seventy five years of the May Blitz this month, when the Luftwaffe pounded Liverpool, Birkenhead, wallasey and Bootle for seven successive nights.

These weren’t the first bombs the area had endured during World Bootle Cemetery Blitz memorial (2)War II. There were fifty raids over a three month period over the autumn 1940, with one killing twenty two inmates at Walton gaol. The single worst incident came at Durning Road in Edge Hill on 28th November when 166 were killed when a shelter took a direct hit. Over three nights just before Christmas 365 were killed, including 74 at a shelter in Blackstock Gardens, with a memorial remembering them on nearby Vauxhall Road.

The May Blitz though saw an increased intensity of bombing with over 2,000 bombs dropped on both sides of the River Mersey over seven successive nights between the 1st and 7th of the month. 1,741 people were killed and 1,154 injured with many more left homeless. Of all the people who lost their lives during air raids on Merseyside in World War II, just under half of them did so in that one week in May. 409 of those who died were in Bootle, where a memorial stands on the site of the former chapel in Bootle Cemetery.

St Luke’s Church in the city centre was hit on the fifth night of the bombing and now stands as an empty shell in memoriam to all those killed. This was the second city centre church to be bombed in the war, the nave of St Nicholas Church on the waterfront having been hit the previous December. A statue now stands there of a boy playing with a toy plane, his mother beckoning him to come downstairs and seek shelter from the bombs.

Liverpool Cathedral had a near miss when a bomb pierced the roof of the south east transept but was deflected by an inner wall and exploded in mid air shattering several stained glass windows. A main target of the raids was the docks, where nearly half of the 144 cargo berths were put out of action. At Huskisson Dock, flames from a shed which had been hit spread to the SS Malakand which was carrying 1,000 tons of ammunition which exploded, killing four people. The subsequent fire burned for 74 hours and parts of the hull plating was found a mile away.

Amongst the casualties was stage and film actress Mary Lawson, a former lover of tennis star Fred Perry. She and her husband were killed when a bomb was dropped on  the house of a friend with whom she was staying in Bedford StrAnfield Cemetery Blitz memorialeet in Toxteth. They were both buried in Kirkdale Cemetery. A deeply personal tragedy took place in Dorothy Street in Edge Hill in the early hours of 4th May when the bodies of George Webb and his wife Sarah (age 61 and 59 respectively) were pulled from the rubble of their home. Their son George, a fireman, had been attending attending the tragic scene at Mill Road hospital, where 83 people were killed, only to return to his parents property to be greeted by his colleagues and such devastating news.

Mr and Mrs Webb were buried at West Derby Cemetery, but there were many victims of the May Blitz who were never identified, 373 of whom were amongst the 554 victims interred in a communal grave at Anfield Cemetery. The grAnfield Cemetery Blitz memorial - Copyave is 170 by 8 feet and cost £4,400 and the memorial that marks it was unveiled on 7th May 1951, ten years after the last night of bombing. The ceremony was unveiled by the Lord Mayor, Alderman H. D. Longbottom. The Daily Post reported that he told those gathered ‘The calamity of the Blitz brought us closer together. It would be a great thing today if we could recall the best of those tragic years.’ 75 years on,the victims of the May Blitz have never been forgotten and a commemoration service will take place at Liverpool Cathedral on 2nd May, hosted by Radio Merseyside.

The Qingming Festival

Every April Chinese communities around the world mark Qingming,  or ‘tomb sweeping’ festival, which takes place twice a year in Spring and Autumn. This is when the graves of relatives are visited, swept and tidied. Prayers are offered, as well as tea, wine and joss sticks. In China and Taiwan it is a public holiday on either the 4th or 5th of the month, while foreign Chinese communities tend to carry out their visits on one of the weekends either before or after.

In Liverpool, Anfield and Everton cemeteries have sections specifically for Chinese graves. Chinese graves are traditionally situated on higher ground as they represent better feng shui. The size of the headstone is significant too, with elders having larger ones than younger persons. Prior to the burial, strict funeral customs are observed, with rituals varying according to the deceased’s rank. When an elderly person dies for example, their son must sit next to the coffin during the wake which takes place in the home. For a younger person however, the elders are not expected to show grief and the body remains at the funeral home.

Chinese gravestone

Inscriptions on Chinese headstones usually contain more detail than on Western ones. There are usually at least three columns of characters, with the middle one containing larger writing due to the information being more important. That is where the deceased’s name is inscribed, usually with the family name first followed by the given name. The columns on either side and writing along the top contain information about the date and place of birth, starting with the village and the writing increasing in size as it goes through county, district and province. When it comes to details about death, the date that it occurred and sometimes even the time is inscribed.

Apart from at Qingming, members of the Chinese community are not expected to visit graves on a regular basis. When they do however, it is quite an event. The See Yep association (named after the four counties in the south west of the Guangdong province in China) organise visits to both Anfield and Everton cemeteries, with coaches departing from Chinatown in the city centre.

Members of the association visit to pay respect not just to their own ancestors but all compatriots buried there. At Anfield, the Chinese section is on the left after heading in through the Cherry Lane entrance, while at Everton it is on the right hand side after the road bends to the right once the chapel has been passed. 

Cremation in Liverpool

Cremation may have been a method of disposing of dead bodies for thousands of years, but it has only available in Liverpool since the end of the 19th Century. It is also only in recent decades that dedicated plots in cemeteries for cremated remains have been available.

Although common among the Ancient Greeks and Romans, by the 5th Century AD cremation was virtually unheard of in Europe as Christianity sought to do away with their rituals. It even carried the death penalty some countries, but would also be used as a way of punishing heretics.

It was not until the 1870s that physicians, concerned about poor sanitation in a rapidly increasing population, began to call for cremation to be legalised. In 1873 at the Congress of Vienna Professor Brunetti of Padua displayed his cremation apparatus and ashes and the following year the Cremation society of Great Britain was formed.

The first legal cremation in the United Kingdom took place in March 1885 in Woking, although there were only two more there that year and ten in 1886. Further crematoriums opened in Manchester in 1892 and Glasgow in 1895.

Designed by James Rhind, the crematorium at Liverpool’s Anfield Cemetery was the fourth in the country. It was opened by Frederick Stanley the Earl of Derby in September 2015-12-08 12.41.361896. The first resident manager was William Sargeant who placed advertisements in the local press inviting people to inspect the premises for a payment of 6d.  It is now a Grade II listed building and has one chapel.

A second crematorium in the city at Springwood in Allerton opened in 1975. Set within landscaped gardens, it has two chapels meaning up to four cremations an hour can be carried out.

When a loved one is cremated it is common to have the ashes scattered at a favourite place, such as a football ground or river. However it is also an option to inter the remains in a cemetery. At Anfield Cemetery a niche space can be purchased in a colonnade wall which was added in 1951, replacing a columbarium that had been in a crypt underneath the crematorium. Up to two wooden caskets of cremated remains can be placed in the niche and a memorial plaque and if desired a photograph can then be placed over it. The cremated remains will stay for five or ten years, with the option to extend this time period for a fee. Anfield Cemetery also contains a book of remembrance, wdesk tablethere a permanent handwritten entry accompanied by a motif painted by a craftsman can be made.

Both Anfield and Springwood have memorial rose gardens, where ashes can be scattered and a memorial plaque with black lettering on a gold background added to an existing rose. This is available for extendable five year periods, as are memorial plaques mounted onto the wall of the Book of Remembrance Room or Garden of Remembrance.

Springwood Crematorium has a dedicated Baby Garden, where plaques can be added to a memorial wall. These come with a decorative motif and are available for a period of five years, with the option to purchase another five. Each plaque is displayed for a five year period. AOgee further five years may be purchased upon expiry, but if a further five year period is not purchased the plaque will be removed from display and given to the family if desired.

Anfield, Allerton, Kirkdale cemeteries have plots available purely for the burial of cremated remains, which can accommodate a maximum of four urns and be leased for up to 75 years.  Sarsfield has a range memorial and tablet options, although they can be no greater in height than three feet six inches.

Sarsfield Memorials provides a range of memorials for cremated remains in Liverpool’s cemeteries, from tablets and plaques to headstones, but not rose garden plaques which are council made. Examples can be viewed here and please contact us to discuss further and a no obligation quotation.

Beatles Graves in Liverpool

A new statue of The Beatles at the Liverpool waterfront has been unveiled to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the last time the band played in the city on 5th December 1965. Neither John Lennon or George Harrison have grave markers anywhere, their ashes having been opened privately, but there are other people connected with the Fab Four who are buried in Liverpool.

julia Lennon grave

Both Paul McCartney and John Lennon lost their mothers while they were teenagers. Paul’s other Mary died in 1956 when blood complications arose following a mastectomy and she was buried in Yew Tree Cemetery. John’s mother Julia was knocked down by a car on Menlove Avenue in 1958 and buried in Allerton Cemetery. For many years her grave was unmarked and a simple stone marker now stands there, bearing the names of her four children.

Only three of the four lads that went on to conquer the world played in the group’s residency gigs in Hamburg in the early days. The drummer then was Peter Best, who was replaced by Ringo Starr shortly before the first single Love Me Do was released.  the concerts in Hamburg were performed by a five piece band, with Stuart Sutcliffe on bass guitar. He left the group to concentrate on an art career in July 1961 after their second stint in the city. He tragically died of a brain hemorrhage on 10th April the following year, just three days before the rest of the group arrived in the city to begin a six week residency at the Star Club. Manager Brian Epstein flew out their with Stuart’s mother and arranged for the body to be brought back to Liverpool, with the burial taking place at Huyton Parish Church.

Epstein, who ovBrian Epstein Graveersaw the groups sensational rise to worldwide stardom, also had a tragically early death, at the age of just 32, in 1967. He was found in his London flat and was believed to have accidentally overdosed on medication. To allow the family some privacy, the band members did not attend the funeral or burial, which took place at the Jewish section of Everton Cemetery.

When Ringo Starr joined he group in August 1962, he did so from Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, who were billed ahead of The Beatles in Hamburg in October 1960. The group though never hit the heights, both of their singles failing to make the charts. After disbanding in 1967 Storm became a DJ before returning to Liverpool to live with his mother after his father’s death. On 28th September 1972, Storm and his mother were found dead at their home in Broadgreen Road. Alcohol and sleeping pills were found in his bloodstream and it was believed that after finding her son’s body , his mother Violet had deliberately overdosed to kill herself. They were cremated together and the ashes scattered at Anfield Cemetery’s garden of remembrance.

One of The Beatles many number one hits was Eleanor Rigby, who is buried in St Peter’s Churchyard in Woolton. Eleanor was a scullery maid and died of a brain hemorrhage in 1939 at the age of 44. Even though Paul McCartney and John Lennon would often go there, McCartney maintains this is purely coincidental, although has admitted the lyrics of the song could have come about due to his subconscious.

Whatever the truth is regarding Eleanor Rigby the gravestone, which was only discovered in 1980, has become a stop on the Beatles tourist trail, with taxis and minibuses often seen outside the churchyard. The other graves too are often tracked down by Beatles fans who have visited the city from all corners of the world.



A History of Anfield Cemetery

Situated in the shadow of Liverpool and Everton football grounds, themselves there since the later Victorian period, Anfield cemetery is even older having been taking in burials for over 150 years.

By the middle of the 19th Century Liverpool’s graveyards were reaching saturation point and in 1854 the Corporation prohibited any more burials in the centre of the town. The new cemetery at Anfield was designed by Edward Kemp and building work began in 1861 with the first burial taking place two years later. The total cost of the project, including purchase of the land, was £150,000, equivalent to £16 million today.

The cemetery is laid out in a diamond shape with four entrances and axial paths that run north-south and east-west. Liverpool architects Lucy and Littler designed the lodges, chapels and entrance gates.Only one chapel, originally for Nonconformists, remains and this is now unused and on the Heritage at Risk Register. The crematorium was opened in 1896 and was the first in Liverpool and only the fourth in the United Kingdom.

Four recipients of the Victoria Cross are buried in Anfield Cemetery, including John Kirk who was awarded one for gallantry in the Indian Mutiny of 1857. He died aged 38 in 1865, having fallen into poverty following a discharge from the army due to having contracted rheumatism which in the opinion of the Inspecting Medical Officer was ‘the result of, or aggravated by, the use of intoxicating liquors, or indulgence in other habits or vices.’ Kirk had been punished twelve times for being drunk on duty, going AWOL and escaping from barracks cells.

The cemetery contains a mass grave containing the remains of over 500 residents of Liverpool who were killed during the May Blitz of 1941. There are over 900 British servicemen from the two world wars buried in the cemetery as well as 67 from other nations, mAnfield Cemetery Alfred Lewis Jones Graveainly Dutch and Norwegian seamen.

Notable local people buried in Anfield Cemetery include Thomas J Hughes, founder of the T J Hughes chain of shops in 1925; Michael J Whitty, former Chief Constable of Liverpool and founder of the Daily Post newspaper in 1855; shipowner Sir Alfred Lewis Jones, who opened the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in 1898 and whose grave is pictured left. Also buried here are Victorian boxing champion Jem Mace and singer Michael Holliday, whose song ‘Starry Eyed’ was the first number one of the 1960s.

Near to the Cherry Lane entrance is a grave containing the remains of husband and wife William and Julia Wallace, who were at the centre of a classic ‘whodunnit’ in 1931. On 20th January that year Julia was found battered to death at her home in Wolverton Street by William, an insurance agent. He was later charged with murder after police concluded he still had time to carry out the killing and then create his alibi, that he was in Allerton looking for an address that did not exist. After being found guilty by a jury he waWallace Murder Grave Anfield Cemeterys sentenced to death but the conviction was overturned by the High Court as the verdict had been reached against the weight of evidence. Just two years later William died of renal cancer and was buried alongside his wife.

Being so close to Anfield and Goodison Park football stadiums, it is not surprising that a number of notable people connected to the early years of the Liverpool and Everton clubs are buried there.

William E Barclay holds a unique place in Merseyside football history as the only man to manage both clubs. He combined these roles with that of headmaster at an industrial school in Everton Terrace, off Netherfield Road South. He later drifted into obscurity and was found dead in tragic circumstances in 1917, an inquest returning a verdict of suicide during temporary inEverton George Mahon Grave Anfield Cemeterysanity. His final resting place in Anfield cemetery remained unmarked over ninety years but due to the sterling work of local football historians a stone was placed on it in 2013.

Barclay had remained loyal to Liverpool FC founder John Houlding after the acrimonious split within the Everton membership in 1892. However local solicitor George Mahon was instrumental in Everton’s move away from Anfield and arranged the purchase of the land that became Goodison Park, after which he became the club chairman. He lived at 86 Anfield Road and was buried in Anfield cemetery after his death in 1908.

Liverpool FC’s longest serving manager was Tom Watson, who tooTom Watson grave Anfield cemeteryk over from William E Barclay in 1896 and guided then club to two league titles and their first FA Cup final. He died in May 1915 and his funeral at Anfield cemetery was attended by many leading figures from the game in which he was held in high regard, having also won honours with Sunderland. In May 2015 a headstone was re-erected on his grave after family members were traced.

Anfield cemetery remains open to burials today. A charity, the Friends of Anfield Cemetery, has been founded with the aim of removing it from the Heritage at Risk Register by 2025, as well as building a heritage and visitor centre whilst remaining mindful of the fact it is a working cemetery.

Second Lieutenant Iorwerth Ap Roland Owen

Second Lieutenant Iowerth Ap Roland Owen, Anfield Cemetery, Liverpool

Second Lieutenant Iowerth Ap Roland Owen, Anfield Cemetery, Liverpool

This impressive and unusual memorial in Anfield Cemetery bears a touching picture of Iorwerth Ap Owen on the side and was erected in his memory by his parents after his death on May 7th 1917.

Iorwerth Ap Roland Owen was born on July 22nd 1896 to Dr Roland and Mrs Margaret Owen. His father hailed from Anglesey, but the family lived in Seaforth. Iorwerth began his military career at Mill Hill School, joining the Officer Training Corps. He matriculated at London University in 1915 intending to become a doctor, but put his studies on hold to join the Inns of Court OTC. He pursued a boyhood interest in aviation by applying for a commission in the Royal Flying Corps and transferring to 17th Squadron at Croydon, received his ‘wings’ just six months into training in 1917.

Ten days later, Owen was sent to France. He died within the month.

“He will be an awful loss to the Squadron as he was such a good fellow and had made a particularly good beginning…”- Major Powell, commander of Owen’s squadron, writing to his parents

Second Lieutenant Iowerth Ap Roland Owen, Anfield Cemetery, Liverpool

Second Lieutenant Iowerth Ap Roland Owen, Anfield Cemetery, Liverpool

Second Lieutenant Owen and his observer AMII (Air Mechanic Class II) Reginald Hickling set out from Savy aerodrome at around 10:40am on 7th May 1917 on a photographic reconnaissance mission. Within the hour, they were flying above Arras when their plane was set upon by five enemy planes. By all accounts, Hickling died instantly; while Owen, shot in the head and chest, remained conscious enough to land his plane without accident, a skill he had been particularly proud of during training. He died soon after in a field ambulance without ever regaining consciousness and was buried in St Catherine’s British Military Cemetery, Arras.

Ironically, the German pilot credited with the kill, Lieutenant Karl Allmenröder, had also been destined for a career in medicine before war broke out. In Allmenröder’s highly successful but brief career, Owen’s was the tenth of 30 planes he shot down before his own death on 26 June 1917. He was aged just 21 at the time.

Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.