The people's playgrounds
A whole book may be written on the peculiar views of the living in regard to the dead, it was only in the reign of George 1V that the law was repealed which made it necessary to bury a suicide at cross roads at midnight with a stake through the heart. Now, a suicide is buried without a funeral service, in the unconsecrated part of a churchyard, between 9 and 12 at night, but even that is being forgotten by those whose hearts are not ruled by superstition of acts of parliament.
Our city graveyards have long borne witness to the gloomy horror which has been part of our national belief in regard to the places of sepulture, and the small boy who dare not cross a cemetery in the dark or the man who whistles to keep up his courage in such a walk, still bears witness to our superstitions.
St Peter's Churchyard has been turned from a mouldering ill-smelling horror into a place of beauty and joy, where the weary living may rest over the bones of the silent dead, where flowers, grass and shrubs have taken the place of mildewed old tombstones.. The dead no worse for the change, the living, the better. We have widened the line of docks by taking away a piece of St Nicholas Churchyard, and now our city fathers are actually making the old churchyard into a garden. The churchyard garden in Church St is closed on Sundays and in the evenings when it might be of most service to the people, and it looks as if the Old Churchyard would be treated in the same way even though it is the ratepayerâ€™s money which is being used to make the garden. In a few years we shall probably make our churchyards into playgrounds for the poor, but at present only dare to make them into pretty gardens enclosed by stone walls and iron railings. The modern churchyard, the cemetery of recent years is a totally different place from what the ancient burial grounds used to be, a walk to Anfield cemetery on a fine Sunday is a treat. No better illustration can one have anywhere of the change in our ideas in regard to the dead than is exhibited there.
About 70acres of fertile land is laid out as a garden and burial place, there are about 7miles of roads and walks into the beautiful place, here city dwellers find their pleasure on a fine Sunday. Here grow, the privet, the willow, the thorn, the holly, the sycamore, the rhododendron, and myriads of beautiful flowers. Cenotaphs to men who died in far lands, costly tombs to tell of the virtues of quiet sleepers. On finely carved tombs sit young men and bonnie English lasses and the "£old, old story" is told over again amid the flower decked graves of the peaceful dead. Here promenade thousand of laughing and frivolous people, who come to the cemetery, the sleeping place, to spend a few happy hours on Sunday in this mighty garden, where lie over 100,000 Liverpool dead. Little do the promenaders care for the long rows of tombstones, little do they think of the lessons the grass grown graves are supposed to teach. Life is cold and hard to them, here the brick walls of the town and the dreary round of life are forgotten, passers by laugh merrily, knowing not, nor caring not that they will one day come to a like place and sleep quietly while the world jogs on.
The gravestones are a study, full of odd conceits, curious reflections and strange sayings. We find gentle words, broken hearted survivors have graven there, we sorrow for the sorrowful ones left desolate. Then we find some story in stone, some wild, poetic outburst, supposed to have been written by the dead one as a warning, or as a message to the living one, and we smile. Here is one that come bubbling up as a melody that may not be drowned even by the solemn associations of such a place as Anfield Cemetery :-
Now let me say a gentle word,
And tell you what I know.
For then, I'm sure, you will not think
Of staying long below.
My home above is one delight,
One long eternal joy;
If you could see, I think you'd come-
If least I know you'd try.
In a city like Liverpool we are divided into sects and we oppose each other with a sincerity which is inversely proportional to our education and we express this in our funerals. The sects may not sleep together and the divisions in life are emphasised in death. We have three churches built in the great cemetery, the centre one the largest because it is Church of England, built of red sandstone with a spire of 100ft in height and accommodation for 40 funerals and 400 attendants. On the left of that church at a considerable distance is the Roman Catholic Church, built in the Gothic style, of the early English period with a spire of the same height and the same colour. It has room for 25 funerals and 259 attendants. Opposite it in equal distance as the central Church of England stands the Nonconformists Church, it is the same as the others in appearance, but has room for only 20 funerals and 200 attendants. As the ground was not level when bought and as it would not do to have one church nearer to heaven than another, the designer made great ornamental hollows in the cemetery, and took the rubble from the hollows to level out the sites for the churches. Practically this was a bad idea for in the hollows the sandstone is near the surface and graves have to be dug out of the solid rock.
The parishioners of Liverpool have the first claim to be buried here, so the paupers and strangers are carried to other cemeteries. Wealthy people can buy graves here and be buried here in good style, but the poor have a bad time of it. In the latter case a deep grave is dug, and the poor person deposited in, then covered with a thin layer of rubble, and waits until another poor person is deposited on top, then another, and another, until the grave is full, four or five lay together all strangers, the grave is filled and marked. Tombstones cannot be placed as the grave is mixed, the Burial Board, in order to meet the difficulty, has several cenotaphs placed around the grounds were with one payment of a small sum the name and virtues of the deceased can be placed. One of these cenotaphs stands in the midst of a large, grass grown space and is much like the others. It is 6ft high and 7 or 8ft in length, built in the native sandstone. On it are three tablets bearing the records of a few of the sleepers in the nameless graves.
All the hideous fashions of evil days are perpetuated in such a place. There are catacombs where the proud and haughty relatives can have the sleeper entombed in an aristocratic way at a great cost, but these are not a success, for as the cemetery was only opened in 1863, the sandstone angels have lost their chins and noses and the catacombs cry in vain for tenants. Then there are acres of brick graves where the sleeper is kept from the touch of common earth, and nature's processes are interfered with as much as possible. Under the graves in the sandstone are drains which lead to the public sewers and the putrid remains of Liverpool's citizens are thus carried off to injure the living.
Thousands of our fellow citizens spend their pleasant Sundays in such a place, amid the beautiful flowers, forgetting the evil odours that must arise from the dead who are laid away under such conditions. But the poor have little choice in their recreation grounds. From some rising points in the cemetery one can see other places of a like nature, where the regiments of the dead are laid day by day. Here are Fazakerley, Rice Lane, Kirkdale and West Derby cemeteries all within sight and these will make glorious resorts for the people in the good days that are coming.
The future of Liverpool Crematorium, 1907
Graves in Anfield cemetery acquired compulsorily for widening Walton Lane 1936
Interment of Blitz victims Anfield 1941
Copyright 2002 / To date