St Michael’s Cemetery, Bath, UK

Reading up on St Michael’s Cemetery on Bath recently, I came across the term ‘non-conformist burials’.

St Michael’s Cemetery was laid out circa 1862, with areas for Anglican and non-conformist burials, each of which was provided with a cemetery chapel.

Curious to know more, I read that non-conformist is the category into which anyone not conforming with the teachings of the Church of England were lumped. Had I been living in Bath back in the day, and living near St Michael’s, I’d have been classed a non-conformist as a Roman Catholic. Isn’t it funny how we see the world as if looking out through the window of our church watching all those not inside and seeing them as others, those not conforming to what we believe?

Anglican Cemetery Chapel, St Michaels. Bath

Anglican cemetery chapel

This cemetery chapel dates back to the 1860s and was built in what’s known as a Gothic-Revival style by architect George Phillips Manners. It must have been one of the last projects he worked on as he retired in 1862 and died some four years later. He also worked on the gaol in Bath and the Bluecoat School (so named because their students, Anglican girls and boys from poor families, wore blue coats).

Non-conformist cemetery chapel, St Michael's Bath

Non-conformist cemetery chapel

Bath Archives has published an interview with gravedigger/cemetery superintendent William Roles from 1910 in which he recounts his time at the cemetery. By then, he’d buried 1704 people ranging in age from 2 hours to 99 years. The first burial, a woman who had died the day after the cemetery was consecrated, was further complicated by her son committing suicide the day after she was interred.

It’s been a while since I was there but I remember there being something that fascinated me about the place. It wasn’t the edited tombstone or the war graves. It was something else.

I went back through my photographs trying to figure out what it was.

I detest the use of the referential above/below in a text. I can’t explain why. It’s not like either word has ever taken issue with me, so I was highly amused to note the use of above on this gravestone. But that wasn’t it either.

It was my first time to read Psalm 139:16, the interpretation of which has been subject to much debate and consideration depending on which source is used. I couldn’t find out anything about the resident, Timothy Carl Pemberton, but it wasn’t the memory of this fate-laden epitaph that had stuck in my mind.

The final words on the gravestone of Private A. R. Woods speaks of the Home Guard and how they gave all their young unfinished lives. He was 19. Beside him, the gravestone of Private F. J. Park reads ‘Went the day well? England, we died for you.’ Both young lads were killed…

…during an attack on the City of Bath designed to demoralize Britain-the famous Baedeker Blitz or Baedeker raids, a series of Vergeltungsangriffe (“retaliatory raids”) by the German air force on English cities in response to the bombing of the erstwhile Hanseatic League city of Lübeck during the night from 28 to 29 March 1942 during World War II.

But theirs wasn’t the story that had lodged in my brain.

 

What I was trying to remember was the story of Charles and Mabel Wakefield. He was a Master-at-Arms in the Royal Navy on the HMS TItania. He lived with his wife Mabel at No. 6, St Saviours Terrace in Bath and died from an illness in Blyth, Northumberland, where his ship was based with the 6th Flotilla. Curiosity had me follow the Titania from when she was first commissioned in 1915 till she was decommissioned in 1949. Unusually for a depot ship, she saw both wars.

Charles was 35 when he died leaving his widow, Dorothy behind. They’d been married in 1928. Widowed after 11 years, Mabel would live to see 100 and no doubt get her telegram from the Queen. Although she died in Birmingham, she made her way back to Bath where she was laid to rest at the foot of her husband’s grave. He was born in 1903, she in 1905. It would be more than 65 years before they’d be united. That’s a helluva wait. Theirs was the story that had stuck in my head.

That day in Bath came flooding back. I remember standing by the grave for the longest time, marvelling at the strength of love and marriage, the power of faith, and the happiness I felt that they were together in the hereafter.

I love cemeteries, their residents, their stories, and all the lessons they can teach us if we just take the time to look and listen.

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