In the early 1990s, members of the Ilkeston and District Local History Society became aware of the deteriorating state of the Cemetery on Stanton Road, Ilkeston. A number of Society members began clearance of the overgrown vegetation and this revealed more of the interesting memorials to past inhabitants of the town. This web page is an attempt to put our findings before a wider audience and we hope that it will encourage you to explore this fascinating example of a Victorian burial ground, which remained in use until the late 1940s and contains the mortal remains of many interesting and influential Ilkestonians. The cemetery now has its own Cemetery Friends group, who do much good work.
In this country, providing burial space was never a problem until town and city populations outgrew existing churchyards. Ilkeston’s population increased rapidly from the 1860s and there was insufficient burial space available in St Mary’s parish churchyard and in the smaller chapel yards such as the Baptist Church on South Street. Added to this, the growing body of non-conformist and Roman Catholic worshippers in the town were understandably unhappy about the lack of a non-denominational cemetery.
It was Matthew Hobson, miller, grocer and life long non-conformist owner of Field House (now the site of South East Derbyshire College) and much of the land adjoining it, who established the Ilkeston General Cemetery Company in 1863. When his wife Hannah died in 1862, she was interred in the grounds of Field House, rather than St Mary’s churchyard. It was some four years later, in 1866, when the cemetery was fully and securely established that Mrs Hobson’s remains were exhumed one night and re-interred in the cemetery on Stanton Road. The burial records notes simply “night”.
Social class was never far away during the 19th century. In Stanton Road Cemetery, graves might be purchased in three categories – First, Second and Third class. First class graves were on the higher ground at the entrance to the cemetery, where the ground might be bought outright. Many of the larger monuments and family plots are found in this area. Second class graves ranged across the middle section. The cheapest, Third class graves were located at the back of the cemetery. There might be as many as seven or eight internments in these graves before they were recycled, when the grave was cleared and the process begun again.
The cemetery is a fascinating reflection of the changes in taste in monumental architecture and design. Commonly understood symbols were often incorporated into headstone designs. The anchor, and early Christian symbol, signified hope and the obelisk, eternal life. The hourglass, appeared on the headstone of the little Sugg children suggested tempus fugit, whilst the dove is the symbol of the Holy Spirit. Clasped hands are frequently found on the graves of married couples, signifying farewell and the open book represents faith. Many monuments carry carved swags and bunches of flowers – amongst them grapes and vine leaves, ears of wheat signifying fruitfulness harvested, lily of the valley for purity, ivy symbolising immortality and friendship and the rose meaning free of sin. The urn, with its classical associations, appears frequently on the largest monuments and, when draped, symbolises death.
Some monuments are, however, more individual. James Tilson’s cricketing career is memorialised by glove, ball and stumps and Jon Manners’s trade as a stone mason and builder is shown in the trowel, pick and plumb line on his memorial.
More touching is a verse reflecting the closeness of Ann and William Baker, a married couple who died within two weeks of each other.
Support and confidence – the elim and the vine.
They grew together, one their joys and pains.
Death would not sever such love entwined.
One life they led and here one grave contains.
Performers are well represented in the cemetery, though they are rarely in marked graves. Major Mite alias Walter William Fox is buried in an unmarked third class grave, having died of heart failure aged 31 years on 11th September 1896, in his bed at the Harrow Inn (now The Roundhouse) where he and his wife had been working. They were travelling professional midgets, hired by publicans as a novelty act to sing and attract drinkers. On the night he died, Major Mite had eaten a supper of mutton, with a small scotch whiskey. Perhaps his death was the result of unhealthy eating: though he was only 3 feet 7 inches high, he weighed 9 stone 3 pounds.
At 7 feet 6 inches, Samuel Taylor’s great height is shown on his grave by a footstone marked “ST”. The Ilkeston Giant was born at Little Hallam, entering the show business when he was sixteen and marrying a travelling glass blower. In 1869 he visited Ilkeston Statutes (a hiring fair) with his own show which included a Golden Boa Constrictor, a Crying Crocodile and Mrs Taylor Glass Blowing Exhibition. He died in 1875 aged 59, in Manchester Infirmary, having fractured his hip. His body was met at the railway station by the Ilkeston Brass Band, the bells of St Mary’s Church ringing a muffled peal.
Many of the deceased in the cemetery were victims of what these days would be termed industrial accidents; Thomas Smith of Little Hallam Hall, for example, a farmer aged 77, died of blood poisoning as a result of a wound from a rusty nail. John Pollard was a foreman platelayer with the Great Northern Railway when he was killed in September 1902. His responsibility was to check the line between Ilkeston and Awsworth Junction. It was a foggy morning and he did not see or hear the goods train travelling towards him until it was too late. He was decapitated.
As might be expected the colliery industry is represented in the Cemetery. Eighteen year old Elijah Jackson was called by the Coroner to give evidence at the inquest into the death of his father at the Manners Colliery in June 1885. Jacob Jackson was an engineer employed to maintain the pumps, which were lodged at the bottom of a narrow shaft. He was regularly let down the shaft on a horse, a seat handing in chains, in order to do his work. This was a hazardous process because the shaft was narrow in places and also because Jackson insisted that the pumps be kept working. He was found at the bottom of the shaft on the scaffold, where there were indications that he had fallen or been knocked out of the horse, perhaps by the pump rods, and had fallen to his death.
Children, sadly make up the largest proportion of those buried in the cemetery, reminding us of the fragility of the young in the days before widespread preventative medicine, or even the very basics in accident prevention. Little Hannah Lee was four years old, and living in appalling conditions in Kensington (a settlement on Nottingham Road), when she died of convulsions in December 1881. A combination of unsanitary housing and considerable neglect had contributed to her death. She is buried, like most children, in an unmarked grave.
Many members of the leading families in Ilkeston lie in Stanton Road Cemetery. When Herbert Tatham died in London, his remains were brought to the warehouse of the Belper Street needle factory where he was a partner. His coffin was then carried to the cemetery by his employees. Buried in an adjacent grave is Dr John Tobin who was Ilkeston’s Medical Officer of Health. Charles Wooliscroft had requested that his funeral procession pass his Bath Street drapers and outfitters shop when he died, aged 80 in 1910. A magistrate and local Wesleyan preacher, he was well respected and the Mayor, Francis Sudbury, followed the procession to the cemetery with employees. The grave had been lined with ivy and flowers, including violets, snowdrops and hyacinths from Wooliscroft’s house Inglewood, on West End Drive. Only 37 years old when he died, Ilkeston solicitor Abbot Thurman had only recently finished building his home, The Pines, which stands next door to the Cemetery.
All cemeteries have their special gravestones. In Stanton Road Cemetery it is that of the Frenchman, Leon Trouselle who died aged only 28 at Shipley Hall in November 1879. He was employed as a cook at the Hall. His mother had the gravestone erected and it is sad to think of him dying in the cold of an English autumn so far from his home and family.
We believe that Stanton Road Cemetery is a special place: peaceful, despite the nearby traffic’s roar, and is fascinating in its history, monuments and wildlife. We hope you enjoy your visit.
For anyone looking for information regarding burials within the Stanton Road Cemetery, a search of the burial records can be made on request for a donation to the Friends of Stanton Road Cemetery.