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.



6th November 2015 is the 150th anniversary of the last act of the American Civil War, when the CSS Shenandoah lowered its flag and surrendered in the River Mersey. Commemorations are taking place in the city, which was the home of the Confederate embassy in Britain during the war and where one of the key players and some servicemen are buried.

Although hostilities had ceased in April, the Shenandoah had continued to target Union ships off the coast of Alaska, the Captain not having known the war had ended. Knowing he faced being tried as a pirate Captain James Waddell sailed for England and on reaching the mouth of the Mersey asked to be taken to a British war vessel. After being escorted by a pilot to the HMS Donegal, where a formal surrender took place and the captain, officers and crew were taken ashore. Despite appeals by the American authorities, the British government refused to extradite any of the Shenandoah crew.


The Shenandoah had originally been called the Sea King and was purchased by James Dunwoody Bulloch in October 1864. The vessel then sailed from London apparently for India, but at Madeira was fitted out as a warship and troops taken aboard. The Union Jack was then lowered, the Stainless Banner raised and the ship then sailed to Melbourne for supplies, before hunting down whaling ships in the North Pacific and Arctic oceans.

In August 1865 Captain Waddell was shown a newspaper confirming that the war had ended by the captain of the Barracouta, a San Francisco bound ship that had sailed from of Liverpool. the flag was lowered, guns stored below deck and the Shenandoah then spent three months evading Union ships on its way to Liverpool. The Confederate flag was raised again for entry to the River Mersey on the orders of the pilot who refused to escort the ship unless it was flying one.

James Dunwoody Bulloch, who arranged the purchase of the Shenadoah, was born in 1823 in Georgia, a southern US state heavily dependent on its cotton-based economy and the slaves on its plantations. He joined the US Navy at the age of 16, but by the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, was commanding a passenger mail ship for the Cromwell Steam Company. Asked to carry Unionist soldiers being sent to the South to crush the Confederacy rebellion, Bulloch resigned his commission and enlisted in the Confederate States Navy.

Bulloch arrived in Liverpool on 4 June 1861, charged with the task of buying or building ships for the Confederate Navy to help in its struggle against the Unionists. This was a sensitive and dangerous mission as English law prohibited the supply of armed war vessels to foreign countries at war. Investigated several times for illegal activity, he managed to stay one step ahead of the authorities. He built a relationship with the shipping firm Fraser & Trenholm and worked from its offices in Rumford Place in Liverpool city centre. His role included arranging for cotton to be smuggled past the Union blockade and providing the Confederacy with its only real source of income throughout the conflict.

In 1862, he commissioned the building of the CSS Alabama from John Laird Sons & Company (Cammell Laird, Birkenhead). This was used successfully for commerce raiding, atJames Dunwoody Bulloch Grave1tacking Union merchant ships and disrupting trade. After the collapse of the Confederacy the US authorities never forgave Bulloch for his role in the Civil War. He chose to remain in Liverpool, living out his days as a successful cotton importer and broker. During the war he had lived in Waterloo but he later moved to Toxteth, living at 30 Sydenham Avenue. He died at his son-in-law’s home at 76 Canning Street in 1901 at the age of 77 and is buried in Toxteth Cemetery.

The sesquicentennial of the Shenandoah surrender is being commemorated in Liverpool, events including a service of remembrance at the Church of Our Lady and St Nicholas on 6th November and a dinner at the Adelphi Hotel on 7th November. On the same say at Anfield Crematorium a service of remembrance is being held, commemorating the three Shenandoah crew members buried in the cemetery there.

Sir James Allanson Picton

Sir James Allanson Picton Portrait

Sir James Allanson Picton

Sir James Allanson Picton’s legacy lives on in the recently-restored Picton Reading Room, part of Liverpool Central Library in William Brown Street, Liverpool. Opened in 1879, this was the first public building in Liverpool to feature electric lighting; and is now a Grade II* listed building. It was named after him in recognition of his services as the first chairman of the Liverpool Libraries Committee, a position he held from 1851 until his death.

Born at Highfield Street on 2 December 1805, Sir James began his working life in his father’s joinery and timber merchant business at the age of 13, but later pursued his ambition to become an architect. He trained with Daniel Stewart, architect and surveyor, eventually taking over his business until he retired in 1866.

Throughout his life, he played an important role in Liverpool’s heritage, including campaigning for a penny levy to provide a free library and museum for the city’s inhabitants. It was in no small part due to his efforts that an Act of Parliament was passed in 1852 and the library became a reality. He also designed several important buildings in Liverpool City Centre, some of which still survive today, such as the impressive Fowler’s Buildings located at 3-9 Victoria Street and 1-3 Temple Lane. Many locals may also be familiar with the Picton Clock Tower in Wavertree, which he erected as a memorial to his wife in 1884. Its inscription reads “Time wasted is existence; used is life.”

Sir James Allanson Picton Memorial, Toxteth Park Cemetery

Sir James Allanson Picton Memorial, Toxteth Park Cemetery

He was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1881 in recognition of his public service. He died on 15 July 1889 at Sandy Knowe, the house he designed for himself and his family in Wavertree, which was by that time a desirable place for the wealthy to build their villas away from the polluted atmosphere of the city centre. The building has now been converted to sheltered flats.

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

Police Monument and Fire Brigade Memorial

Liverpool’s continuing growth in the nineteenth century as a major international commercial and manufacturing centre presented a huge range of fire risks, from packed warehouses full of combustible goods to densely-packed residential areas. The city’s proud firefighting history is a testament to innovation and bravery. Up until World War II, the Liverpool Fire Brigade was part of the police force. The pictured memorial within Toxteth Park Cemetery is therefore known both as the Police Monument and the Fire Brigade Memorial.

For the Fire Bobbies

Police Monument and Fire Brigade Memorial, Toxteth Park Cemetery

Police Monument and Fire Brigade Memorial, Toxteth Park Cemetery

Erected in 1863, it was paid for by subscription by members of the police force and others to commemorate those who died saving lives and property in fires in the performance of their duties.

The princely sum of around 120 pounds was raised and the memorial was designed by a Mr Beard, the manager of the cemetery at that time. The first names to be engraved were those of Inspector John Commelin, Robert Hardaker and Richard Atkinson.

  • Inspector John Commelin was crushed by a falling wall during a fire in 1861 at Messrs Garnock, Bibby & Co on Wavertree Road, a hemp and wire rope making factory. No other lives were lost. John left a wife and young family.
  • PC Hardaker No: 384 was one of two men to die in a fire at the Sailors’ Home in 1860, falling 40 feet from a ladder which broke as he was ascending to break windows to fight the fire with water. The other death was of a steward at the Home. All residents were saved.
  • PC Richard Atkinson No: 259 died in hospital after sustaining injuries when a wall fell on him at a fire in a packing case manufacturer in School Lane in 1863. No other lives were lost. Richard left a wife and three children.

Further names were added to attest to the bravery of other officers killed in the line of duty over the years, the last two added for deaths in 1921. The memorial was restored and rededicated by Tony McGuirk, Merseyside’s Chief Fire Officer, in 2003.

You can find out more about the fascinating history of Liverpool’s ‘fire bobbies’ at the Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service website http://www.merseyfire.gov.uk/Historical/index.htm

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