Bath Chronicle of 10th May 1855
BATHWICK CEMETERY by NT Carrington. May 10th 1855
Those who have been accustomed to walk on the Claverton side of Bath may have noticed that many of the trees have been cut down on the hollow of the ravine, dividing Bathwick Hill from Widcombe Hill.
The object of this has been to prepare a site for the Bathwick Cemetery, and instead of the eye resting on the quiet dreamy wood, it is somewhat offended by stiff, straight staring stone walls, mutilated stumps and the unpicturesque signs of building operations.
Many years ago, the increase of the population of Bathwick rendered it evident that the necessity must soon arise for the enlargement of the old burial ground, or the formation of a new one. The late Parliamentary enactment relating to burial, left the parishioners no choice but to adopt the latter course. The ground chosen lies on the side of the hill on the edge of Smallcombe Wood, a beautiful spot, commanding a fine view of the city, backed by the Lansdown Hills. What is better, the soil is adapted for the purpose of burial, the situation is secluded and even picturesque and the ground has been obtained on very easy terms through the liberality of the Lord of the Manor of Bathwick.
The parishioners, as it happens, have not commenced operations too soon, for scarcely had the site been approved by the central sanitary authorities and the ground enclosed, than an order was issued by the Home Secretary forbidding burials in the churchyards within the city.
Yesterday morning the corner stone of a mortuary chapel was laid in pursuance of ancient custom – a custom almost hallowed in our minds by the imagery of Scripture. The clergy, the churchwardens, the schoolchildren, and a body of gentlemen residing in the parish, assembled at St Mary’s Church and walked in procession to the Cemetery. There a large number of persons had already assembled, attracted by the proceedings of the morning, the fineness of the weather, and the pleasantness of a walk through green fields, and the place of death looked gay, filled as it was by the colours and grouping of life. The youngsters as they ever will, mounted the high ground of the slope, and on looking on the crowd – on the fine healthy schoolboys, and on the fair forms and beautiful faces assembled on the occasion, one could not help feeling with Xerces that a century hence even these would become clods of the valley; one could not help asking who would be the first to be laid there – the old, white-haired man, tottering on his crutches; or the stalwart labourer, now breaking the rock more enduring than himself; or the bright-eyed child, gathering daisies amongst the grass along the pathway to the graveyard! Young’s brief epitome of life rose on the memory:
“What though we wade in wealth or soar in fame, Earth’s highest station ends in ‘Here he lies!’ And ‘Dust to dust’ concludes the noblest son.”
The congregation having arranged themselves round the stone, the Rev. H. M. Scarth, rector of Bathwick, said – “Dearly beloved in the Lord, we are here met as Christian brethren, to lay the Foundation Stone of a Chapel, to be dedicated to the honour of God, and to the solemn purpose of performing the last rites over those brethren who are called out of the miseries of this sinful world. Let us approach this solemn work in a spirit of devout reverence, and let us lift up our hearts and minds to God, and let us implore Him to teach us so number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom, and that the work which we are now commencing, may be begun, continued, and ended, in Him, for Jesus Christ’s sake.”
The rev. gentleman then prayed to God for a blessing on the work, “that the chapel now to be begun at this place, may be built up to Thy honour and glory,” commending the workmen to his care; and besought that the solemn service to be conducted in the edifice “may bring comfort and peace and hope to the afflicted and mourning spirit.” The children of the Sunday Schools then chanted the 119th Psalm, and afterwards the 127th – “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain who build it.” The music of their young voices rose sweetly on the quiet air, ever and anon swelled by the deeper tones of some of the elder part of the congregation, who catching the spirit of the moment, melted into song, while in the pauses, the birds lying in the grass, or resting on the spray, or floating in the air, gladdened by the glory of the day, sang in gushing notes, a pleasant symphony.
The ceremony of laying the corner stone was performed by James Brymer, Esq. a silver trowel having been provided according to the custom of these occasions. A cavity had been prepared beneath the bed of stone, in which a sovereign, shilling and penny were deposited, and it was then covered with a brass plate, bearing the following inscription – “This first stone of the burial chapel was laid May 9 1855 by James Brymer Esq. of Pulteney Street, Bath, the Rev. H.M. Scarth, rector of the parish, Joseph Lansdown and William Thompson, churchwardens. Thomas Fuller, Architect, and George Mann, Builder.” A bed of mortar was then spread, and the ponderous block was slowly lowered into it resting place. On the surface were laid the square and maul, the emblems of the guilds of wandering Lombards, the Freemasons, who were the fathers of Christian architecture. Mr. Brymer then struck the stone at each corner with the maul, and exclaimed – “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the glorious, blessed, undivided Trinity, I fix the stone of this edifice, to be erected for the solemn purpose of a burial chapel, and dedicated to Almighty God.”
Usually, the amateurs perform their part of the ceremony in dumb show, for the most people are greatly afraid of hearing their own voices, when not accustomed to the sound; but Mr Brymer struck the customary blows and uttered the customary words in a manner which seemed to express a belief that if it were worth doing at all, it was worth doing it well. The music more impressive and affecting again broke the stillness of the air – the noblest of English psalmody, the Old Hundredth which can never be heard without moving the heart, and bearing the spirit as on wings to heaven.
Again the assemblage was silent, and the Rev. T. W Fowler, Curate of Bathwick, read the 23rd chapter of Genesis, the affecting narrative of the death of Sarah, while Abraham was a stranger and a sojourner in Canaan, and the buying of the field of Machpelach for a burial place. The chapter finished, the Rev. Rector delivered an appropriate and beautiful address. After stating the circumstances which are detailed above in reference to the necessity for the formation of a new place of burial, he proceeded:-
“Very solemn thoughts must arise upon such and occasion as this. It is one of no ordinary importance, and calculated to make a deep impression on our minds, and one that may be turned to our spiritual advantage. In all human probability our own mortal remains, and the remains of those we have known and valued and loved on earth, will rest in this spot, and many a sorrowing heart will pour out its griefs within these walls, and from within this enclosure, and many an aspiration will ascend to the throne of the Most High, that God will hasten that time when there shall be no more crying and no more pain, and the tears will be wiped from every eye.
“It was from within the precincts of this ground, which will be hallowed by the most touching recollections, that hopes which belong only to the Christian should ascend, for that immortal state which is promised hereafter as the reward of obedience and patient continuance in well-doing, and which state of blessedness all may attain through the merits of their crucified Redeemer, if they endeavour to tread in His blessed footsteps. Here we may learn that blessed truth that death gives us more than Eden lost, and that to the Christian is the gate of life; within the walls of this chapel will be heard that most glorious sound, the assurance of St. Paul, that ‘we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raise incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
“Hence it is that from the earliest ages, the places of Christian sepulture were called Cemeteries, i.e sleeping places, in agreement with the words of our blessed Lord, who said of Lazarus, ‘our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go that I may awaken him out of sleep,’ and even spoke of death as of a sleep from which there will be an awakening. Hence in this secluded valley, it will be good that such thoughts should be called up in our minds, and that we should consider our latter end, and should like wise and holy Christians, prepare to meet it in that calm and tranquillity of spirit which is only granted to the Christians who knows in whom he hath believed and believes that his Saviour hath overcome death, and become the resurrection and the life.”
The reverend gentleman concluded with a seasonable exhortation to the workmen employed in preparing the Cemetery, pointing out that the Temple of Solomon was erected without noise, the stone and timber being prepared where they have been hewn, by which God indicated that he would have all structures built to His honour erected with solemn, holy and chastened feelings.
We are sorry that want of space compels us to curtail this admirable address. A fervent prayer was then offered to Him who is “the chief corner stone, hewn out of the mountain without hands, our immutable foundation,” that He may be “the beginning and the Increase, and the Consummation of this work, which we this day dedicate to Thy honour and glory,” and the service concluded with the Benediction.
Some of the elder parishioners now struck the stone, in the customary form, and amongst them Mr. John Vaughan, who, however, disdaining the holiday maul, wielded the heavy working tool, and struck home with a valiant strength which every one who knows him will hope he may long enjoy. The clergy and many of the parishioners were afterwards entertained at a luncheon by Mr. Brymer, at his residence in Pulteney Street.
The architecture of the chapel is Gothic, of the Early English style, and the edifice, judging from the elevation, will be a little gem in its way. It will be proceeded without delay, and the ground will be covered with sward, and planted during the present year. Perhaps the most impressive ornament of our churchyards are the old yew trees which have more than once survived the churches which have been built near them.
A French writer has expressed some quaint conceits relative to the manner of decorating “God’s acre,” as our Saxon forefathers styled the churchyard. “Let us shadow those of our country,” he says, “with the natural productions which characterise the many diverse tribes of citizens reposing there, let one see grow on the graves of their families those things that have given them bread during their lives; the osiers of the basket maker, the oak of the carpenter, the vine of the vine dresser, let us put there above all, those things always green, which recall the immortal virtue, more useful to a country than trades and talent. “Let the pale violet and the sweet primrose flourish each spring, upon the hillocks of children who have loved their fathers, let the lily display its chaste flowers upon the tombs of beauty always faithful; let the ivy embrace the cypress upon that of couples united until death; let the laurel characterise the virtues of warriors, the olive those of negotiators, finally let the stones grave with inscriptions to the praise of those who have well merited amongst men, be abided by privet, box, juniper, bushes of sombre holly, of odoriferous honeysuckle; and majestic firs.”
We may conclude in the words of another:-
“So should the dead be honoured, so should be
The last resting place by brook and tree,
So should affection sprinkle round the tomb,
As Spirit awakes the loveliest flowers that bloom,
Sun, shower, and breeze should quieten – cherish here –
The freshest, fairest verdure of the year;-
The elm with leaf untouch’d, with bough unriven,
Lift his majestic trunk, and soar to heaven;-
The oak of nameless age, should proudly wave
His hundred hoary arms above the grave
While birds of plaintive voice should the grove
Pour the heart-soothing lay of Pity and Love.
N. T. CARRINGTON