Nottingham Road Cemetery.
Are we dying to get in?
Since before we were fully human we have buried our dead and paid homage to them. The fine Neanderthal skeletons that we unearth are the result of this burial. We now know that Homo Sapiens Neanderthalis buried their dead in the foetal position (knees up against the chest) and covered the body with flowers, we have found the pollen remains on the bones to prove it. All this happened over one hundred thousand years ago.
Burial is the most obvious form of disposal of the dead but not all societies have practiced it. The Parsees of India place their dead on towers just as their Zoroastrian ancestors did in Persia 2,500 years ago. Vultures then consume these bodies. Their Hindu neighbours cremate their dead and scatter the ashes in the Indus. The Ancient Egyptians preserved the body by embalming and some New Guinea tribes eat parts of their dead relatives as a mark of respect. However burial is the commonest form of disposal of the dead throughout the world though cremation is now catching up.
Municipal Cemeteries existed in Roman Britain. On Derby Racecourse libation amphora, the urn in which the cremated remains were buried have been discovered. They would often have a small wine jar above for visitors to pour in wine for the deceased. Sometimes, for the less well off a large two handled amphora was used as a cremation urn with a stopper above, this would be unstopped and the wine poured in. The Romans also buried without cremation but would often behead to prevent the dead from walking; in addition they would have a coin to pay Charon. Charon the Ferryman rowed the dead across the river Styx to the underworld but he had to be paid. The Roman Cemetery was always outside the city boundary and not attached to any religious establishment. Only infants were allowed to be buried within the city. The early Christians tended to protect the body for eventual resurrection which was considered imminent and that is why the Catacombs of Rome were used. By the time of Constantine (AD324-337) burial had become a Christian act. God was no longer going to resurrect our earthly form but we were going to be in Heaven alongside him. If the body decayed it did not matter so gradually the idea of Municipal Cemeteries was replaced by church graveyards. The Parish System that developed in England after the Saxon occupation ensured that each person was baptised in his parish church and buried in the church graveyard. Sometimes this created problems. It has been suggested that at the height of the Black Death in 1349 that St. Peters Church Yard was so full that corpses had to be buried vertically. Think of this when you next walk to the Derby Heritage Centre, you may be walking over hundreds of corpses standing to attention. It soon became obvious as towns and cities grew that urban graveyards were no longer big enough. Unlike their rural cousins they could not extend as they were now surrounded by buildings. The idea of the Municipal Cemetery was contemplated again. These were to be on open ground outside the urban confines. It was not just the crowded church graveyards in early Victorian England that led to Municipal Cemeteries but also various health measures passed by an increasingly enlightened parliament. London had one of the first of these established in Highgate. Derby’s first was on Uttoxeter New Road and was opened in 1843 with access of the turnpike which had been pitched in 1819. The previous road, Uttoxeter Old Road was on the line of Rykneld Street the old Roman Road.
The turnpike went from Dayson Lane (now Curzon Street) to just past the junction at the Rowditch. The Lodge and now demolished Chapel were designed by Hadfield. Joseph Barlow Robinson who had a yard on Uttoxeter New Road sculptured a great deal of the monuments and gravestones.
Nottingham Road Cemetery.
I first became aware of Nottingham Road Cemetery when taken there by my mother to visit my grandparent’s grave. My grandfather had died before I was born and my grandmother had died when I was four. So in the late 1940’s and 1950’s I visited this scene of peace and quiet about twice a month. It was a magic place for someone living in Abbey Street, open spaces, grass, trees and birds singing. Later when I was about tenI would accompany Billy Boden and his dad when they went to mow the grass at the cemetery. Billy’s dad kept large horses opposite our house in Abbey Street. He also had a triple gang mower that could be pulled by one horse for mowing. The gang mower would be loaded on to the cart with Billy and I holding on either side and off we went up Nottingham Road. We would help to unload at the other end, but the highlight for us was catching the frogs. Whilst the mower was pulled at two or three miles per hour frogs would jump ahead to escape being killed by the blades. These we would each catch and load into a wooden barrel. At the end of the evening we would help load the mower and the barrel and traipse back to Abbey Street. Billy’s dad would stop off at the Nottingham Castle Public House on St. Michael’s Lane where Billy and I would share a bag of crisps. The next morning we would pick the best frogs out for ourselves to keep as pets and sell all the others to our school chums at 5 for a penny. Interestingly Billy’s great grandfather was also buried at Nottingham Road Cemetery. ( Warren Able Boden 19th Sept 1921). He worked on the railway and there is an interesting poem on his tombstone that I suggest that you look at.
So when did Nottingham Road Cemetery open? In 1855 the borough allowed thirty two acres to be set aside for burial. The land was sandwiched between the new Nottingham Road and the Canal. Within this area was consecrated and non consecrated ground, the latter for Catholics, dissenters and suicides.
One of the first burials was Charles Thorold who was killed in the Crimea. His burial on the 20th of July 1855 was paid for by his colleagues and a large monument erected, sculptured by that same Joseph Barlow Robinson who did so much work at Uttoxeter New Road Cemetery. Unfortunately inadequate foundations for the obelisk were put in and the top had to be removed for safety reasons quite recently.
Another early incumbent was John Whitehurst III, a family that we have spoken of quite often. This one was the great nephew of the famous john Whitehouse FRS the founder of the Instrument Factory and he was also buried in 1855.
1865 saw the burial of Edward Foster, the famous silhouettist who depicted Wellington, Scott and Byron amongst many others including royalty. He had a studio in Windsor Castle and was given the By Royal Appointment title. The position of his grave is known but he has no memorial and the reason for this is probably poverty. He was born in 1762 so was over 102 years old when he died. He outlasted four of his five wives and sixteen of his seventeen children.
One of the most interesting burials is that of PC Joseph Moss who was killed in 1879. He was the only recorded police officer to be killed on active duty in Derbyshire. Gerald Mainwaring from Whitmoor Hall was visiting Derby and staying at the Royal Hotel. He was drunk when he killed PC Moss, he was arrested at the Travellers Rest and the jury was to decide whether it was murder or manslaughter. Because Mainwaring was considered a ‘Gent’ it was a split jury and they had to draw lots to decide his guilt. He was acquitted of murder but sentenced to 14 years for manslaughter.
J B Robinson.
1883 saw the death of Joseph Barlow Robinson the man who so created monumental grave sculpure. He, alongside the rest of his family are buried at Nottingham Road Cemetery. He was born in South Wingfield in 1821 and trained as a sculpture and monumental mason. He worked on the Houses of Parliament for Barry and Pugin (who we have dealt with earlier) before returning to Derby to set up his own business. His pattern books contained ornamental stonework in marble, granite, and stone for garden pedestals for fountains and sundials as well as animals, vases and figures. Also carvings in wood for pulpits, fonts and lecterns and arms chests, reredos, communion rails, tables, military and naval carving are detailed. As well as throughout this work and Uttoxeter New Road Cemetery you can also see his work at Locko Park (the stairs), Chatsworth (the lions), Nottingham Arboretum (statue of Fergus O’Connor) and Elvaston Castle (east staircase). I can well remember passing his house at No.11 Uttoxeter New Road in the early fifties when it was full of left over statuary from his business, sadly it is now demolished and the site is an unused office block for Trent Buses. What became of the statuary? Perhaps the same as what became of the numerous shop fronts that he did in Derby, they have gone.
Many of Derby’s Mayors and Aldermen are buried in Nottingham Road Cemetery. George Holme who was buried in 1896 was a successful businessman who became mayor. His motto throughout his life was ‘a maximum of work and a minimum of words’. Exactly the opposite of my motto! He was famous for saving Herbert Spencer from drowning when in 1832 Spenser fell into the Derwent at the age of nine whilst fishing at the Long Bridge. (most will remember it as the wooden bridge that crossed the Derwent north of the weir). The water is fast there and Spencer was immediately in trouble. Holme dived in and held on to Spencer until they could be rescued by ropes before the weir. Anyone who has fished off that weir knows that the water moves very fast. One fished off the weir in the past because it created extra oxygen in the water and the abattoir waste provided food for the fish.
George Offiler was buried in Nottingham Road Cemetery in 1899. He was founder of Derby’s last surviving brewery before the current trend of Public House Breweries. My recollection was it was the worst beer ever brewed, and I for one was glad when it was taken over by Bass. However I do remember going with my wooden barrow to their brewery just off Normanton Road to collect spent hops for my Dads allotment.
Various local publicans are also buried in Nottingham Road Cemetery and they include Alice baker who kept the White Horse on The Morledge and her husband who was publican at the Royal Standard. Together with the rest of their family they occupy a large family plot that includes her parents. Regulars at the Royal Standard paid for the monument. Interestingly Alice was sister to Reg Parnell the famous racing driver who had a garage at Findern.
By 1880 the cemetery had acquired a further 18 acres and spanned both sides of the road. It now covers over 100 acres with over 250,000 burials. This is almost the same as the entire population of Derby.
The Socialist Revolution.
An unusual grave that does not mention the departed is that of Alice Wheeldon as she is buried in her aunts grave. Mrs Wheeldon was buried on the 26th February 1919 and a report of her funeral ended up in secret Home Office files. So what had she done? The story goes that Alice was extremely radical with a fiery temper and colourful turn of phrase. As a fifty year old mother of four she ran a second hand shop in Pear Tree Road near the Normanton Hotel. The whole family were conscientious objectors and in the middle of the First Word War, on 26th December 1916, they were approached by William Rickard an MI5 agent, who used the alias Alec Gorden, and other secret agents who were all posing as fellow conscientious objectors. Rickard, alias Gorden, made enquiries at the Clarion Club in The Wardwick about a safe house for conscientious objectors and was directed to Alice. The details that have since emerged from the Home Office papers are almost farcical. Secret Home Office papers on the Wheeldon case released in November 1997 does not conclusively prove the theory that MI5 framed the family. While there is no document that explicitly admits a set up they do show all the cracks in the case.
In his report Rickard claimed Mrs Wheeldon said at there first meeting, “I have been waiting for a man with sufficient pluck and brains to come along to help smash up the bloody swines who started this war and are keeping it going.” According to the reports made by these secret agents posing as conscientious objectors, Alice had only known one of them for a day before she asked him to poison the Prime Minister and another cabinet minister, Arthur Henderson. Yet within 10 days she had supplied the poison curare which an air gun pettet could be dipped in and fired at Lloyd George as he played golf. The agent also stated that Mrs Wheeldon had put a message inside a mince pie asking for poison to be supplied to her so she could parcel it to London.
In order to facilitate this parcel of poison Rickard introduced the Wheeldons to Comrade Bert who was also another secret agent named Herbert Booth. Booth and a Major Melville Lee organised a search of all Railway Parcels, Mail and Telegrams thereby gathering the evidence. This showed that the poison was being supplied by Mrs Wheeldons daughter Winnie and her husband Alfred Mason who was a chemists assistant living in Southampton. Eventually on 31st January 1917 the Wheeldons and Alfred Mason appeared before Derby Magistrates Court. At the trial at the Old Bailey in March of 1917 Alice, her daughters Harriet (27), Winnie (30) and Alfred Mason were all charged with conspiring to murder Lloyd George and Henderson. Their defence was that the poison was to kill guard dogs to enable the conscientious objectors to be freed from government camps. They would then get help to smuggle William who was Alice’s son and also a conscientious objector, and avoiding capture, into the USA.
They were all found guilty except Harriet who was acquitted. Alice was sentenced to 10 years, Winnie to 5 and Alfred to 7. On 21st December 1917 in Aylesbury Prison Buckinghamshire, Alice went on hunger strike. She was transferred to Holloway Prison London but still maintained her hunger strike. The prison authorities asked her three daughters to intervene, including Nellie who had not been implicated in the plot. A letter from Winnie dated 30th December1917 reads, “ Oh mam, you musn’t die, this fight is not worth your death.” The prison governor sent a series of reports to the Home Office saying release was not an option as she was a very foulmouthed and dangerous prisoner with a violent uncontrollable temper. However a report to the Home Office from the Matron where she was in prison hospital stated, ”it would be a danger to her life if she was force fed through a tube as she would struggle violently.” Lloyd George felt that on no account should she be allowed to die in prison, so on his personal instruction she was released into the care of Harriet (known in the family as Hetty) on December 30th 1917. She lived with Hetty at 907 London Road but not for long, she died in February 1919 and was buried on Wednesday 26th February 1919. The Derby Daily Express of that date states, ”Sensational simplicity, devoid of all Christian ceremony, and an even more sensational graveside address characterised the funeral of Mrs Wheeldon, the conspirator against Mr Lloyd George, which took place at Nottingham Road Cemetery this afternoon.” The newspaper report also said, “Those present witnessed a son of the deceased extract from his pocket a red flag about three and a half feet square and fluttering in the wind place it impressively and amid an oppressive silence upon what held the mortal remains of his mother. It was the red flag of socialism and it was laid by Willie Wheeldon, the conscientious objector.” Then Mr John S Clark delivered a funeral oration in which he praised her and sneered at the living who oppressed her to her death, “whose name I shall not insult the dead by mentioning.” (Lloyd George)
So what became of the family, Alfred and Winnie were released for the funeral but did not attend it and they stayed out of prison afterwards. Willie emigrated to the USSR not long afterwards where he was executed as a capitalist agent in 1927. Hetty married Arthur McManus, but she died in childbirth in 1920. McManus became the first chairman of the British Communist Party and is one of only two westerners to be buried in Red Square as a Hero of the Soviet Union. Winnie and Alfred moved back to Southampton and were eventually divorced. Their son eventually emigrated to Australia but no body is sure as to what happened to Nellie after she married socialist leader Tom Bell. One story is that like her brother she moved to the USSR and another is that she moved to the USA.
A double drowning involved a bet between Fred Hunt aged 19 and Fred Pilton aged 21. They chose to run along the parapet of St Mary’s Bridge. Needless to say neither made it and they were buried in 1929. The funeral attracted so many that graves were trampled, monuments damaged and flowers scattered despite the presence of mounted police.
The death of Steve Bloomer on Saturday 16th April 1938 provided another spectacle of a funeral. Steve had been born in Cradley in Worcestershire in 1874 and moved to Derby with his parents in 1879. They first lived in Yates Street in Normanton where Steve attended the school in St James’s Road. From youth he was mad keen on football even against the opposition of his father Caleb Bloomer who felt that such activities would damage his sons lightweight frame. In 1892 at the age of 18 Steve Bloomer turned professional having played for the County in the junior league. His wage was 7s 6d a week, a far cry from what Michael Owen gets now.
Over the next 22 years Steve scored 332 first class goals in 525 games for Derby and 62 first class goals for Middlesborough in 130 games. In addition there were 28 goals in 23 England games.
In 1896 Steve Bloomer married Sarah Walker, the daughter of Bert Walker a local cobbler. They had two daughters Violet and Pat. Steve was a lightweight standing only 5ft 8 ins tall with a very pale complexion but he dominated Derby County’s early years. In 1905 at the age of 31 he went to Middlesborough, returning to Derby five years later at the age of 36. In July 1914 aged 40 he retired from playing and went to Germany to instruct Berlin Britannia FC. This was excellent timing, for three weeks later Britain declared war on Germany and Steve was interned on a converted racecourse near Berlin where he remained until November 1918. One particularly cruel act that took place during his interment was the notification of his daughter Violets death, he thought he was being called to the Commandants Office to be told of his intended release.
Upon his return from Germany he took charge of Derby County Reserves and then became the first team coach. A specialist first team coach was a luxury that derby County could not afford in 1923 so sentiment was put aside and they released their greatest star. He then took employment as manager at Real Irun a small amtuer club near Bilbao in the Basque Country. Here he managed them so well that they won the Kings Cup beating Seville, Barcelona and finaly Real Madrid 7-0 on their own ground. When he returned in 1925 he coached and wrote about junior football for the next 10 years, he even played a little. His last known game was in 1931 when at the age of 57 he played for Belper British Legion against the boys of Herbert Strutt School. In 1937 he fell ill with bronchial trouble and Derby County responded magnificently by sending him on a luxury cruise to Australia and New Zealand. He stayed in Sydney for a month with Frank Ballington a relative of Derby County director Bob Robshaw. He returned in late March of 1938 looking tanned and fit but he died on Saturday 6th April 1938 aged 64. Wednesday the 20th saw people lining the streets for his funeral and today Jim Smiths lads enter Pride Park to the singing of Steve Bloomers watching you.
There is a large memorial covering the steps leading to the vault where Unetti Hamer Queen of the Gypsies lies with her family. However, scattered throughout the cemetery are other gypsy graves, usually with highly ornate sculptures with flowers and angels on them. One should look for memorials with unusual names and often the word traveller on them. The reason for so many gypsy burials here is because of its central position in England and no residence rules for burial.
This is the text version of an original article written by the late Mr Richard Wood.
Richard was one of the Trustees of the Derby Heritage Development Trust and the other members are:
In transcribing this text I have tried to adhere to the original words and format wherever possible and I have not changed any of the original content. My thanks go to Richard’s family who have allowed me to use his work in our archives and on our website.
Andrew J Bailey.