The Narrow Cells

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade,
         Where heaves the turf in many a mould’ring heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
         The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.
Elegy in a Country Churchyard – Thomas Gray

I was at Crowland Abbey earlier last week (as you may have noticed) and took a few shots of gravestones with interesting names. We didn’t have a lot of time so I didn’t do a lot of searching, just took a few pictures of stones with names I thought I could look up in the census results.

The first one was a stone that was laid flat at the end of the south aisle (the one with no roof) to form a pavement. It seems a poor way to treat a memorial but I suppose if you believe that only the skull and thighbones are needed for resurrection the grave marker is irrelevant.

It looks like it’s the stone of Sarah, wife of William Hewson. William is listed in the 1861 Census for Crowland, a widowed 71 year old farmer and cattle dealer. If only the moss had grown more. Unfortunately I can’t narrow it down more than that, or find any mention of Sarah.

A few yards further on, just outside the walls, is a stone to  William Blood and his wife Mary Ann. William was a farmer, who ended up with 143 acres. and eventually left property valued at “under £100” in 1877. Mary went to live with her daughter and Robert, the eldest son, became a general dealer, married two women called Mary (one after the other) and died in 1914.

Conspiracy theorists might deplore the state collecting all this information, but it does make family history easier (unless people marry identically named wives).

A few yards away is a stone to Drusilla, wife of Augustus Blood, who died in 1876. She had a difficult, and short, life. In the 1841 census she is months old and the daughter of an Ironmonger but in 1851 she is living with her grandmother and mother (both widows). By 1861 she is living with an an aunt and uncle and listed as a dressmaker. Finally, in the 1871 census she has a daughter and is married to Augustus Blood, an unemployed butcher.

By 1881 Augustu was working as a butcher in Oundle, Northamptonshire. He had 4 daughters between the ages of 5 and 10 (no wonder poor Drusilla died young). His brother Henry was working with him (though he also has a housekeeper). In 1891 he is living in Whittlesey, Cambs, with a new wife Ann, and three young children between 4 and 8, all born in Oundle. Ann died in 1901 and left effects worth £42 8s 9d to Eleanor Frost, spinster.

By 1911 (the last census to be released) Augustus was living near  Salford, Lancashire and working as a Chapel Keeper. At the age of 68 he was living with his 44 year old wife (having remarried in 1904), two stepchildren and his brother Henry, who was a self-employed confectionary hawker. He died in 1915 and left £32  4s 9d.


It’s amazing what stories you can find in a churchyard.

23 thoughts on “The Narrow Cells

  1. Pingback: The Faces of Crowland Abbey | quercuscommunity

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  3. Laurie Graves

    Oh, yes! Such stories And such hard lives. But that is what they knew. Still, even though death was never far away, I’m sure there was much grieving that went on as children, wives, and husbands died much too young.

      1. Laurie Graves

        Again, what a story! People did grieve. It’s a shame there are only a few crosses left, although given the age, not surprising.

  4. arlingwoman

    This is fascinating stuff. It’s hard to imagine people’s lives. I’ve been in grave yards where it became obvious that a couple lost a whole slew of children, often in the winter, or where you realize that childbirth was a very dangerous and deadly business. And then there are the leavings, which don’t seem like much, do they? But I bet the spinster was glad for Anne’s things.

    1. quercuscommunity

      The value of money has changed so much over the years it’s hard to tell how much it meant. Wages were probably around £1 a week at that time. As for childbirth – it seems like a lottery for both mother and baby.

  5. clarepooley33

    I find your research very interesting. What hard lives people lived! The grave stones and markers are all quite distinctive; I like the ones with plants and flowers engraved on them.

    1. quercuscommunity

      There are some amazing stones, which must have cost a fortune compared to the income of the people commemorated. I can’t imagine life without NHS, electricity and central heating.


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