Stories are everywhere!17 Apr 2018
Many years ago a good friend (hi Fin) introduced me to the joys of a walk around a graveyard. And what an introduction it was! She took me to the remarkable Grade II listed Undercliffe Cemetery in Bradford. This burial place was first developed in the mid-1800’s. The site is terraced and has panoramic views over the town of Bradford and the hills and valleys beyond. It was created at a time of huge industrial development in the local area and the ‘best’ plots soon became sought after by the newly wealthy industrialists and people of stature of the local towns. Some of the extravagant crypts reflect the social history of the time – for example, passion for all things Egyptian following Carter’s excavation of the tomb of King Tutankhamun. Others have ever higher obelisk needles each seeming to reach out to the heavens just that little bit higher than its neighbours. Not all of the tombs are so grand. In fact, there have been approximately twenty-four thousand burials in the cemetery to date. Relatively humble headstones mark the factory workers such as Benjamin and Agnes Boldy, brother and sister aged 16 and 12 when they died, or the coal merchant William Chadwick (age 37) whilst the Surveyor Joseph Smith has one of the high columns reaching to the skies.
The hills overlooking Bradford, Shipley and towards Leeds can be moody at the best of times, the caw of crows and the crunch of gravel underfoot adds to the slightly eerie but also peaceful ambience of the environment. We spent literally hours reading the memorial stones and wondering about the lives of those interred. So much history, and of course, so many stories. Neither of us can now remember where we subsequently saw the epitaph ‘she was not fair of face, but she was a good mother’ but that particular one gave us a fun evening involving wine and the construction of own own possible epitaphs.
Recently on a warm early spring day, I found myself ambling again around a local village graveyard. The squirrels were chirruping and warding away competitors with their funny little barks. I made my way to a quiet bench away from the grave marking the internment of a racing pigeon celebrated for the money it won for some villagers. Amongst the graves of the well known, Enid Bagnold, Gary Moore, and the less well know. Although different in scale and significantly more ‘understated’ than Undercliffe this site too has its stories. The tributes to airmen, sailors and brothers lost in battle during each of the World Wars; dynasties of Viscounts and Baronets and Lords with fancy graves spanning several plots. I ponder on the stories of the Catholic Priest buried in a Church of England site and of the lifelong household servants given impressive stones by their employers. The village apparently has been blessed with a great many artists, writers, musicians and actors and just as importantly mothers, aunts, uncles and granddads, many of whom still have lovingly tended plots with fresh flowers. The stones invite reflection. For a writer, this inevitably leads to wondering – who they were, what their stories are. Graveyards are a place of significant inspiration for a writer and I think the dead would be OK with that.
Take a walk around a graveyard. Be inspired.