Thursday, April 04, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 14 - G for Gravestones

In the early days of Quakerism Friends were buried in separate Quaker graveyards in unmarked graves so that there should be no distinction between rich and poor.

An early Quaker gravestone at Paddock, Huddersfield
Of course not everyone found it easy to forswear a memorial for their loved ones and Quaker minute books record the ways in which different meetings dealt with the problem. For example in Norwich the first formal request for a gravestone was made in 1692, when 'the sense of the Meeting was wholly against it and that for the future, none be permitted to set up any'. However the minute goes on to say that Friends will endeavour to persuade those who have set up any to remove them. Some could not be persuaded, such as Anne Byars who set up a table tombstone for her husband's grave. There is a series of minutes from which it is clear that they tried several times, but each time had to report failure. Finally in the 1720s, there is reference to the fact that she now shares the same stone and this minute has a distinct note of resignation. There is at least one other example of a table tomb that I know of, at Farfield in Yorkshire.
Table tombs at Farfield

The question of whether or not to allow gravestones rumbled on until Yearly Meeting of 1850 which agreed that they were permissable so long as they were plain in design and contained only the name of the deceased, his or her age and the date of death. As burial grounds are under the care of each area meeting consistency is only asked for within each graveyard. Sometimes the stones are laid flat, sometimes upright and the lettering can be in a variety of configurations. 
Liverpool burial ground
Undercliff burial ground Bradford

A gravestone from Pales, Powys
I have spent a lot of time in Quaker graveyards up and down the country and I have always found them places of peace and contemplation in which I have felt close to my Quaker foremothers and forefathers. As William G Sewell put it in Quaker Faith & Practice 10.08 'The gravestones speak of the past, of those who also served the meeting, whose lives are woven into ours, as ours will affect those still to come.'

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thankyou, Dear Friend, for your informative treatments which somehow reminds me of my persuasive-type venture on under the heading "Alphabet Soup For Nuts". In particular, you may want to compare this grave subject with my blog post entitled "Kith and Kin".