St James, Toxteth Park

St Jame's Church 1823, courtesy Liverpool Records Office

Alleged desecration in St James Churchyard, Toxteth Park


Alleged desecration in St James Churchyard, Toxteth Park

Liverpool Mercury, Feb 24th, 1862

Alleged desecration in St James churchyard

On Saturday last a long investigation took place before Dr HOLLAND the government inspector under the Burial Act in the Chancery Court, St George's Hall, the object being to inquire into the truth of certain allegations made to the health committee by a woman named JAMES, who represented that a grave in St James churchyard, Toxteth Park, in which five of her children were interred, had been opened, and the coffins and bodies opened up and destroyed, to make room for the body of an adult.

Mr MC GOWAN appeared for the health committee and Mr COPEMAN of the firm of SNOWBALL and COPEMAN, solicitors, represented Rev F. L. THOMAS, the incumbent and Messers J. BAKER and L. E. PEMBERTON the churchwardens of St James who were present during the inquiry. Dr DUNCAN the M.O.D and Mr HIGGINS, inspector of nuisances were also in attendance.

Mr MC GOWAN opened the proceedings and said the inquiry was founded on the complaint of Mrs JAMES who had an interest in a family grave in St James and that she had stated the grave had been almost cleaned out and made into a new one, the remains of her children having been destroyed after the grave was full, to make room for another body. The health committee had made inquiries and had reason to believe that this was true, and as this might not be the only case, thought it right for the Government inspector to make an investigation. On the 22nd Oct 1856 an order in council was made in reference to the churchyard, the effect of which was that interments should be discontinued there except as to common graves, in which one body only should be interred in each, and as to family graves now existing, for the burial of members of the same family, such graves not being less than 5ft deep and can be opened without the exposure of remains, and in now existing vaults and brick graves which can be opened without the disturbance of the soil that has been buried, in which each coffin shall be imbedded in powdered charcoal, and separately entombed in an airtight manner.

Now, according to the statements laid before the health committee this order had been broken by a burial in a grave less than 5ft deep and in respect to the conditions that remains shall not be exposed. The health committee if they had thought fit might have taken the parties connected to these proceedings before the magistrates for penalties, but it appeared that course would be an imperfect remedy, the better plan would be to apply to the Government inspector to shut up this burial place altogether on the grounds of it being full. The Health Committee would be glad if any explanation could be offered as to what had taken place so that the persons who made the complaint should turn out a mistake or delusion. Mr MC GOWAN stated he had heard that the incumbent and churchwardens entirely disavowed any knowledge of what had taken place and irrespective of their statements, he believed that these gentlemen, from their positions in life knew nothing of the matter. He was not there to charge any person for having done wrong, but, he was there to ask the inspector if these statements were proved and to issue an order that interments be prohibited in the churchyard in future.

Mrs Elizabeth JAMES wife of Henry Foster JAMES, who is at present in Australia, said she had five children interred in her husband's family grave in the burial ground attached to St James Church, Toxteth Park. The first child on 25th Feb, 1845, 2nd on 21st July 1854, 3rd on the 28th Sept 1854, 4th on the 25th Sept 1858 and the 5th in January last. Other family members had been previously buried in the grave and the witness was present at the interment of each child. She could identify the position of the grave by a tree and boundary stone. In 1858 the top coffin was nearly 5ft from the surface and the gravedigger informed her there was only room for one more coffin.

About 6wks ago she had a child dead and went to Mr CALLERY, the clerk and sexton, to see about its interment, the Thursday following was fixed for the funeral. Mr CALLERY called on her and said he thought she was mistaken about the grave as there were no children in it, he said a gentleman from Woodside had been interred in it 7mths previously and he was present at the opening of the grave when it was, "cleared out" She asked him where the remains of her children were and asked Mr CALLERY to open the grave, she was positive the grave which was opened was the one in which her children were buried, it was suggested to her that the grave had sunk. When the grave was opened Mr CALLERY and the gravedigger got an iron rod and after trying with this rod said the grave was 6ft deep to the large coffin. She asked what had become of her children's bodies, when Mr CALLERY said to her, "What need you care for their bodies? - their souls are in heaven" Amongst the earth that was thrown up she observed a skull and some bones, the skull seemed that of a child, she supposed it was that of one of her children. She persisted in ascertaining where the bodies of her children were, when Mr CALLERY and the gravedigger said ,"under the large coffin" The man from Woodside was in the large coffin and was her husband's uncle, but, she was not aware of it at the time of the interment.

Mr COPEMAN said the original owner of the grave was John JAMES, who had left a will, some of his children were living, so they could have a prior claim to the grave.

Mr MCGOWAN said he was not asking for any conviction under the order, but, what he was inquiring into was the manner of dealing with the bodies which were in the ground.

Witness in cross examination by Mr COPEMAN said, that when the first three children were interred Mrs SNELSON officiated as sexton, and in 1858 Mr CARLINGBOLD was sexton, in that year the grave was sounded by Mr CARLINGBOLD and last month by Mr CALLERY sexton and Mr ROBERTS gravedigger. Before the interment in 1858 she was told the grave was full, but room was made for another body. She complained to the sexton at the funeral that the child was buried in the wrong grave, on the following Monday the body was disinterred and put in the proper grave. She went to the grave in January last to see the grave opened, half the ground was thrown up and the gravedigger said if the children where there they must be under the large coffin. The bones of the small skull came from the soil on top of the large coffin, the gravedigger said they were not human. She said it was the skull of one of her children and the gravedigger covered it up. She subsequently complained to Rev Mr THOMAS who said a full inquiry should be made, and he gave her a note to Mr BAKER one of the churchwardens.

In reply to Mr MCGOWAN witness said, "whatever changes there might be in the sexton there was no change in the gravedigger, Mr ROBERTS having buried all her children." She was led to suppose the bones had been thrown over the church wall and with such force that they had sunk 6ft below the surface.

Dr HOLLAND, "We may, I suppose put that down to the score of pious frauds"

Mrs Esther IRVING sister to Mrs JAMES, stated seven years ago when the gravedigger was in the grave his head and shoulders were above the surface, at the funeral in January last their appeared to be a depth of about 6ft to the large coffin. Mr CALLERY called at her mother's house and said they must be mistaken as to the grave for he was present when it was prepared for Mr LORRIMAN, the gentleman from Woodside, and he could swear by the Holy Evangelists that there was not a child in the grave. Subsequently she spoke to the gravedigger on the subject and he became excited, and said, "God knows, I'm only a poor old man, I only did what I was ordered, I was ordered to make room." He said she might rest assured the remains of the children were in that grave, the last interred being under the large coffin. She afterwards spoke to Mr CALLERY, who said to her, "I hope you will circulate among your friends that the children are in the grave." Elizabeth GRAHAM, a widow, said that her grandfather and her father and mother had been successively sextons at St James, she assisted her mother and knew the graveyard well. She witnessed one of the interments that took place in the grave about 7yrs ago. It was then five and a half feet deep and full except for another child, she saw the same grave open in January last for the last child. There was then no child but the coffin of a man and the grave was about 6ft deep. Mr CALLERY brought Mrs JOHNSON [Mrs JAME'S mother] to her house in order that she might identify the family, he said he had reason to believe they were impostors as he stood by the grave when it was open and there were no children in it.

Witness replied, "We will sum it up in a few words, if there are no children in the grave , there ought to be"

Mr CALLERY afterwards said, it was all her fault that such a fuss had been made, and he ordered her out of the churchyard and called her a, "palpable liar" and an "infamous woman"

Mr MC GOWAN then asked the woman had she seen human bones thrown out of the grave, she refused to answer the question at first saying she thought she was brought to speak about Mr JAMES'S case. She admitted having said to Mr CALLERY that things had been done there that ought not to be done, she had seen human bones thrown out on one occasion., but only once. Before Mr CALLERY'S time a great number of funerals were refused for want of room. There was a flat stone on top of Mrs JAMES'S grave. Here Mr CALLERY remarked there was considerable difficulty in finding out the graves, Mrs GRAHAM replied. "there was no difficulty when the name was given."

Richard SMITH inspector of graveyards, said, that three weeks ago he had a conversation with ROBERTS the gravedigger at St James Churchyard, who told him that 7 or 8mths ago he was told by Mr CALLERY to make all the room he could in the grave in question. In opening the grave the digger found four small coffins and two larger ones. He crushed up three small coffins and two large ones, but, one of the small coffins was so "fresh" that it was placed under the large coffin last interred. The shortest period for decomposition was about 10 or 11yrs. The yard was full and in 1861 he had to interfere in an interment in a family grave, the grave was opened and the body and mourners there, Mr CALLERY was then present. Rather than send the relatives away, he ordered the body to be interred temporarily, but, as there was no room in St James burial ground it was subsequently interred in a new grave in St James cemetery.

Ann Jane CORNFORTH, sister-in-law to Mrs JAMES stated, she saw the grave open, some bones and a skull of a child were thrown up with the soil.

These being all the witnesses produced by Mr MC GOWAN.

The Rev Mr THOMAS remarked that he and the churchwardens were anxious to ascertain the whole truth of the matter and if it should turn out from the evidence that there had been unfair dealing, then the parties implicated should be punished. He had good testimonials with Mr CALLERY, who came from Scripture Reader's Society highly recommended, and was as yet on probation. As to the gravedigger he had been 30 to 31 yrs connected with the place, which was proof he was highly esteemed. If however under strict investigation it was proved, it turned out that the sexton and gravedigger had been doing wrong, they would give up the case. In his heart and soul, however, he believed there was no truth on the statement, there was some mistake, and bye-and-bye, he thought he should be able to prove it.

Mr COPEMAN said he appeared for the incumbent and churchwardens, simply to help them arrive at the truth, for is such a thing had been done as was represented, it was a disgrace to a civilised country and he was sure the incumbent and churchwardens would not only be sorry that anything had occurred, but, would be to glad to put a stop to it as soon as possible. Mr COPEMAN then called witnesses.

Mr Edward ROBERTS, gravedigger at St James was called and after being called said he wished not to give evidence, and he was consequently not examined.

The Rev Mr THOMAS observed that ROBERTS had made a statement that completely contradicted the evidence of the previous witnesses. After some conversation the evidence of Richard SMITH, inspector of graveyards was read to ROBERTS the gravedigger, who replied, after being warned that he need not say anything to incriminate himself, that he had no remark to make.

Cornelius CALLERY, who was also told that he need not say anything to incriminate himself, was examined by Mr COPEMAN, and said he was officiating clerk and sexton at St James, and had held the office since April 1861 before that time he had no knowledge of what had taken place at the churchyard. In June last he received instructions to open the grave in question for the interment of a Mr LORRIMAN. The grave was pointed out by a man and woman and the stone taken off and pierced in certain places by a 6ft iron rod and he felt nothing within 6ft. The grave was opened to a depth of 6 to 7ft, he saw no bones, but, a small one which he did not think belonged to a human body. In January last, the grave was again opened at the request of Mrs JAMES and sounded in the usual manner, he told Mrs JAMES there must be a mistake as to the grave as the depth was too great and besides, the name "John JAMES" was not in the grave book. The names were transferred from the old book to the new book and in the latter the names was inserted as "John James COOPER" On examining the book it was found that there was a comma between "James" and "Cooper" the witness was under the impression that the name was "Cooper" and the word had no reference to the trade of John JAMES, Mrs JAMES told him she had several children interred in the grave and insisted on it being opened. He sympathised with her and probed the grave to ascertain whether her children were there. He saw no skull and as far as he remembered Mrs JAMES said nothing to him about a skull. The grave was near the corner of Parliament St and Mill St and quite exposed. He gave the usual orders to the gravedigger in June last to open the grave but, gave no orders to break up the coffins to make room. If he had seen him do such a thing , witness would have been very angry.

By Mr MC GOWAN: was under the impression that the name in the grave book was John James Cooper, and he did not think that cooper had any reference to the trade of the person. The books did not show the number of persons in the grave. There was a family registry book. He emphatically denied having seen the bodies of the children and two adults crushed up, and he believed the gravedigger incapable of doing such an act. Assuming the coffins were in the grave 3 to 4yrs ago he had no way of telling where they were now. When the grave was opened he did not see the coffin of a child, he saw clay at the bottom. He could not tell whether the coffin of a child was under the coffin of Mr LORRIMAN. He did not remember applying the word "impostor" to Mrs JAMES. He had no idea of any coffins or bodies being crushed up, he would not allow it. People generally produced a parchment of receipts of a former interment when they claimed graves.

Some conversation took place concerning the propriety of opening the grave in question, Mr Rev THOMAS said he and the churchwardens wished to save the public from the idea that there was anything wrong going on and, courted, an investigation. He would take it upon himself to ask the Lord Bishop to open the grave and wished this to go forth to the public. If these men had done wrong let them be punished, if not let them be acquitted.

The inspector did not see how the Rev Mr THOMAS or the churchwardens could be implicated. Mr MCGOWAN said he did not wish to charge the Rev Gentleman or the churchwardens, it was impossible for gentlemen of their position and character to have any participation in the matter.

Mrs PENNY daughter of the late Mr LORRIMAN stated, that when she went to the St James churchyard in June last to arrange her father's funeral, the 6ft probe was used and it went to the bottom and the ground appeared hard. She had no parchment, and the grave was found by the name John JAMES being on the stone.

It was then agreed to adjourn the inquiry till Thursday next.

Liverpool Mercury, Feb 28th 1862

Alleged desecration in St James Churchyard

Investigation into the alleged desecration in St James Churchyard, Toxteth Park, by Dr HOLLAND Government Inspector under the Burial Act, Mr Mc GOWAN appeared for the Heath Committee, Mr COPEMAN represented the incumbent Rev F. L. THOMAS, the churchwardens Messers BAKER and PEMBERTON, and Mr Edward HATTON of Seacombe the grave owner, Mr Clarke ASPINALL appeared for Mr CALLERY the sexton and Mr ROBERTS the gravedigger. Dr DUNCAN Medical Officer of Health, and Mr HIGGINS Inspector of Nuisances were also present.

Elizabeth JAMES stated she had five children interred in a family grave in St James churchyard, the last child died in January last and on "sounding" the grave for the purpose of burying the infant it was found that there was a depth of 6-7 ft from the surface, although a man named LORRIMER [a member of the same family] was interred there about 8mths ago, and although the grave was only 5ft deep in 1858, when one of her children was buried. The grave was then opened and Mrs JAMES said that a skull and some bones was thrown up with the soil, she also said that ROBERTS the gravedigger on being spoken to, informed her that he had orders from CALLERY the clerk and sexton, to break up and destroy the coffin's of the children in order to make room for the body of LORRIMER. Mr CALLERY in his evidence denied having given such orders, and expressed his utter ignorance of anything improper having been done to the grave. ROBERTS refused to make any statement.

Yesterday Mr MC GOWAN, to show the irregularities that took place in St James churchyard, said he would call a witness who wished to give some evidence, and as he wished to leave town immediately, would call him first.

Mr George BURGESS of Upton nr Macclesfield was then called, he said, he was the nephew of Hannah Latham GLEN whose father and mother were buried in St James churchyard 50yrs ago. On the stone is the inscription "This is the family of Latham Glen" No other member of the family had been interred in the grave since that time. Funeral arrangements were made for Hannah Latham GLEN to take place on Thursday, and the body was to be brought from Macclesfield to Liverpool, on Wednesday, however, he received a telegraphic message from a gentleman stating on probing the grave it was found to be full. [It was stated by Rev THOMAS the grave had been opened some years ago before his incumbency when Mr SLEDSON was sexton] The churchwardens and Rev THOMAS had met them in a liberal manner and were going to provide him with another grave.

The Rev THOMAS stated that on Wednesday he and Mr BAKER probed twelve graves, and found ten had never been used, and they should make one of them over to Mr BURGESS. The act of interring wrongfully in this case was made 14-15yrs ago.

After some discussion as to the calling of witnesses Mrs JAMES was recalled and examined by Mr ASPINALL. She buried one of her children in the grave in 1858, she pointed out the grave, the funeral took place on a Sunday, and when they got to the yard it was discovered the wrong grave had been opened, the mistake was pointed out by her sister-in-law. She did not say at the time, "whether it be right or wrong, it is the grave in which two of my other children are buried." The re-interment took place on the Monday, the grave was not opened to its full extent, but opened to its full depth. The gravedigger stood on top of a coffin of one of her other children. The fees for opening the grave were 11s-6d.

Ann Jane CORNFORTH [one of the family of the James], said her family claimed exclusive rights to the grave in question. She believed Mrs JAMES'S child was taken out of the wrong grave in which it was placed on the Sunday, and interred in the family grave of the JAMES.

Mr ASPINALL then called Mr CALLERY the sexton, Mr MC GOWAN objected on the grounds that the witness had been previously examined.

Mr ASPINALL then examined Mr ROBERTS, the gravedigger, who, he said wanted to deny, the statement made by Richard SMITH Inspector of graveyards and upon which Mr MCGOWAN wished to condemn him, Mr MCGOWAN again objected reminding the inspector that ROBERTS had previously refused to say anything in reference to the evidence of Mr SMITH, who said that he [ROBERTS] had told him that he was ordered by the sexton to break up the coffins and bodies in the grave to make room for another body - the inspector consented to call the witness.

Edward ROBERTS was then examined by Mr ASPINALL. He said he had been off and on as gravedigger for St James for some 8-10yrs. He did not remember Mrs JAMES'S child being buried in 1858, He knew Mr LORRIMER was buried in Mrs JAMES'S grave, Mrs JAMES'S child was buried in the same grave as LORRIMER on January last, Before burying LORRIMER he probed the grave with an iron probe and found nothing in the way, the grave was up to 6ft deep when he opened it for LORRIMER, in throwing up the soil there were no bones to be seen, he placed Mrs JAMES'S last child at the side near the foot of LORRIMER'S coffin, he was requested to make it large as he was a tall man. He remembered Mr SMITH the inspector of graves calling on him to get the depth of the grave, he never talked to him on the matter, he did not say to SMITH, "eight or nine months ago I was ordered by Mr CALLERY to open the grave and make as much room as I could, that I found 4 small and 2 large coffins, that I crushed up 3 of the small coffins and 2 large and made the grave 7ft deep, but that the other small coffin was so tough I could not break it." He was not present at the interment of the child in 1858. He did not say to one of the female witnesses, "he was only a poor old man" and he was ordered to break up the coffins and bodies to make room for LORRIMER. When the inspector read SMITH'S evidence over to him on Saturday he did not understand it. His custom was to pack the small coffins as closely as possible, this had been the custom for years, since Mr SNELSON'S time.

Mrs IRVING sister-in-law to Mrs JAMES was called and stated, In the conversation on Saturday in the presence of Rev THOMAS, ROBERTS the gravedigger, said to her that the bodies of Mrs JAMES'S children were still in the grave. The Rev THOMAS denied this and said what was stated was exactly the opposite.

Examination of the witness continued, she believed that ROBERTS was present at the interment in 1858. She repeated what he said, "God knows I'm only a poor old man I did what I was ordered."

Mrs JAMES was recalled and stated that ROBERTS was present at the interments of all of her children, ROBERTS told her that the bodies of her children were under the coffin of LORRIMER, when the grave was being dug the last time, she said to ROBERTS that the skull and bones were those of her children.

Mrs DAVIES [a widow] made a statement to the effect that she heard ROBERTS the gravedigger say to Mrs JAMES that he supposed that the bodies of her children who were buried first had rotted away, but that he put the remains of the child buried in 1858 under LORRIMER'S coffin, he had done what he was ordered.

The Rev THOMAS examined by Mr ASPINALL, said that on hearing the statement made by Mrs IRVING that the gravedigger told her that the children were in the grave, he immediately went up to the gravedigger and said, "Do you admit this?" for if so the whole case is over. ROBERT replied, "Certainly not, I deny it altogether." The reverend gentleman admitted that Mrs JAMES informed him that ROBERTS had told her the bodies were smashed up.

Mr COPEMAN here remarked that Rev THOMAS had written to the Bishop for permission to open the grave and he had received a reply from his Lordship complying with the request, as far as the incumbent and churchwardens are concerned, there was no charge against them. The whole charge rested with the sexton and gravedigger.

Mr BAKER churchwarden, made a statement to the effect that he told Mrs JAMES he would render every assistance to arrive at the truth.

Mr ASPINALL addressed the inspector contending that the facts of the case were greatly exaggerated from the circumstances of the two families claiming the one grave. The fact of a gentleman coming to claim a grave after an absence of 50yrs showed the irregularity that exists at the churchyard. He maintained that as a mistake occurred in the burial of one of Mrs JAMES'S children in 1858, it was possible that all the children were interred in the adjoining grave [or GRUNDY'S]. Or it might be that the coffins were pressed down in the grave by the weight of the digger and nature, and are under LORRIMER'S coffin. He thought the GRUNDY'S proposition was the correct one, therefore nothing has been done consistent with propriety and there would be nothing for the Inspector to report on. He contended there was no charge against CALLERY, the sexton and as to ROBERTS the gravedigger, he was so singularly ignorant that if he had done anything improper [which he Mr ASPINALL did not think he had] he had done it through the grossest ignorance. Referring to the state of the churchyard, he said, if it was so full it became a nuisance, then by all means let them close it. There were family graves in the yard, and he urged that the act, or default of one man ought not to deprive the owners and the public of that accommodation they were entitled to.

Mr MC GOWAN said that it had been stated there were 53 unused graves in the churchyard, he would call a witness on the subject.

Mrs GRAHAM daughter of the former sexton, was then called and said, there was not more than 5 unused graves in the churchyard and those were in an objectionable place near the outside wall. She went round with Rev THOMAS when he was appointed incumbent and pointed out to him the unused graves. When she officiated as sexton they were in the habit of sending away as many as nine bodies a fortnight.

This being the whole of the evidence.

Mr COPEMAN addressed the inspector contending that the charges were not of such a character to justify the inspector making a report to close the graveyard and thus affecting the interests of the grave owners. The best course to adopt would be to devise some means of supervision wereby the funerals would be in future looked after by some responsible parties, that the graves should be properly ascertained and assigned, and the order of 1856 should be properly attended to. If the incumbent and churchwardens were not willing to take upon themselves this responsibility, then a committee might be formed to see the orders were carried out.

The inspector, if this order had been fairly observed this inquiry would not have originated.

Mr MC GOWAN then addressed the inspector, urging that Mr ASPINALL and Mr COPEMAN had proven that the order had been violated , and therefore he urged the churchyard be closed entirely. The whole of the difficulties had arose from the irregularity which existed and still prevails in the management of the churchyard. There was no book to show who was buried in any particular grave, and even the plan [not produced] did not prove this. If there were valuable rights to be preserved it was not up to him to say they were to be confiscated, but in the interests of the public he must say that such a state of things could not continue, if any scheme could be devised he was sure the inspector would do the parties justice. Mr MC GOWAN said he did not attack any person he was there to complain of a practise, he was there on public grounds and did not intend to insist on any further proceedings.

The Inspector thought the best plan would be for the incumbent and churchwardens to devise a plan by which the public would be secured from any repetition of the complaint. If not done it would be settled by an order in the council which would be very stringent indeed. He would defer making his report until some plan was submitted by the church authorities which would be satisfactory to the Secretary of State.

Mr MC GOWAN, said the question still remained what was to be done for poor Mrs JAMES.

The Inspector thought it would be more hurtful for her to have the grave re-opened, he was sorry for her, but, could not see what the incumbent and churchwardens could do, it was evident they were ignorant of anything improper having been done, they regretted what had happened, and he hoped the matter was not so bad as it appeared.

The Inspector promised to inspect the churchyard this Friday and the inquiry closed.


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