Topics / Graveyard
Following the opening of the Methodist Chapel in 1778, the need for a graveyard soon became apparent. Therefore in 1789 a decision was made to purchase the remainder of the one acre close upon which the Chapel was built for £80.10s. The site included a cottage and its curtilage occupied later by caretakers and so became known as “Caretakers’ Cottage”. The land was later added to by an award made under the 1806 Enclosure Act.
By 1900, the graveyard was almost full so additional land to the north known as Breach Close and the adjoining house and garden on what is now Top Road were purchased but nearly 20 years later the northern portion was found to be surplus to requirements and part was sold off in 1919 along with the site now occupied by Tentas House (believed to be the former Manse) on The Tentas to leave the graveyard as it is today.
As far as we are aware, no old burial records exist and therefore an audit has been carried out for those gravestones that are currently accessible and readable. This audit (click on button below) should prove useful for those researching their ancestors who may be buried here.
Some of the older graves are not maintained and certain areas have become difficult and dangerous to walk around. Therefore, care and respect should naturally be observed by anyone inspecting the gravestones, and should only be done if information on a particular gravestone is sort. This will minimise further damage to the graveyard. Some of the gravestones situated on land in close proximity to the Chapel will be moved to an alternative area as the land belongs to the new owners of the Chapel which is now a private residence. A small number of gravestones currently situated behind a safety fence at the rear of the Chapel could not be audited properly, but reference to these has been made.
The older part of Griffydam Wesleyan Methodist Chapel Cemetery is of significant historical importance. Burials took place here from a wide area, such as Coleorton, Peggs Green, Breedon, Lount, Swannington, Worthington, Stordon Grange and Newbold as well as Griffydam.
Amongst the buried lie well known local Methodist sons and daughters including Mary Knight the earliest known Griffydam Methodist born in 1742; John Massey hired by local squire George Beaumont to disrupt Wesley’s preaching nearby but instead was converted by Wesley, who died in 1819 aged 87; Elizabeth Stokes, the minister’s wife, who died in 1829 aged 26; and Ann Burton, founder of the Wesleyan Juvenile Missionary Association who died in 1832 aged 62. The marker for the grave of Elizabeth Stokes was in an unusual position being fixed on an interior wall of the Chapel.
Other burials remind us of the coal mining past and the loss of life that occurred such as that of John Lakin and his sons William and George all killed by choke damp (a choking or suffocating gas, typically carbon dioxide found in mines and other underground spaces) whilst attempting to re-open Staunton Harold colliery in 1886. They were aged 60, 30 and 35 respectively. Also William Davies who tragically lost his life in the Whitwick Colliery fire of 1898 aged 29.
There is also a reminder of the death of so many young men in the First World War in the war grave of Private Shakespeare who died in 1917 aged 22.
The graveyard remains in the ownership of the Methodist Church and is overseen by the Griffydam Management Committee comprising of the Superintendent Minister (Chairman), a Supernumerary Minister (who manages burials), the Circuit Treasurer, an allotment holder, a former member of Griffydam Methodist Church and a Methodist historian (Secretary).
Eric Rowell, the son of Leonard Wesley Rowell who was the Chapel Steward for 40 years from 1939, was a grave-digger for 25 years, and followed his father Wesley into the profession. Eric explained to author Samuel T Stewart, that in those days people needed to be buried quickly after death. A local person would often do the laying out of the body. Due to his father being Chapel Steward, people who had experienced bereavement would knock on their house door in Anchor Lane to request a grave to be dug. Eric relates the story that he would arrive home from his shift at Whitwick Pit, and on occasions, his mother would inform them that a double-grave needed digging as "misses so and so’s husband had died". His work clothes would be ready for him, and he and his father would have their tea, and then go down to dig the grave. He remembers that in the early days they would do this by candle-light. Eric took a great pride in his grave digging, and relates how in those days, the grave was dug to the shape of the coffin, and the coffin must lie exactly horizontally.
Although the Chapel is now closed, the cemetery still remains open for new burials.
Gravestone of A Shakespeare 16637 Private 3rd Btl. Leicester Regiment
Swithland Slate Headstone
A feature of all old graveyards in Leicestershire is the Swithland Slate Headstones. One of the other distinctive features of gravestones is that the front of the stone is completely smoothed, whilst, unlike Welsh slate, the reverse is left rough. This may have something to do with the way Swithland slate was split with a hand saw. The last quarry closed around 1887, competition from cheaper Welsh slate caused the demise of the local material. The headstone carvings are examples of the excellent artistic work of local carvers, and the fine detail of Swithland slate headstones is testament to the skill of both Leicestershire craftsmen. The intricate calligraphy with whirls and flourishes became very extravagant. Note the double headstones for husband and wife, where one space blank indicates no one willing to pay for the final name to be carved.