A walk through Linthorpe Cemetery reveals the secrets of life in Middlesbrough since the town’s foundation in 1830. How did industry, wealth inequality and the forces of nature influence the lives and deaths of its former residents?
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the cemetery may provoke some morbid thoughts but due to its relative isolation it is, ironically, one of the safest places to take your Government-sanctioned exercise. Take a trip through Alli Pyrah’s mind as she revisits history during the 2020 Coronavirus lockdown.
Force of Nature Throughout the cemetery, nature and man-made artifacts coexist and sometimes seem to compete. Over time, nature usually wins. As this tree has grown, its roots have forced the gravestone in front of it to lean at an angle that appears to defy gravity.
Blood out of a stone Sometimes the results of the conflict between the natural and the man-made can be visually striking or even poetic. The way the weather has eroded this headstone since it was erected in 1872 give the impression of blood stains arising from the grave.
The mighty have fallen Even robust memorials, constructed at great expense, sometimes cannot withstand the ravages of time, the forces of gravity or the occasional act of hooliganism.
Reclining It saddens me to see so many broken and neglected gravestones, so I sometimes try to spin a happier narrative instead. I like to think that William Greenwood and his wife Elizabeth are reclining and enjoying the view of the sky in the afterlife.
Circle of life Some man-made artifacts in the cemetery embrace the ravages of nature by incorporating them into their design. From a distance, this object appears to be a stack of tree stumps but move closer and you’ll discover that it’s actually an ingeniously designed gravestone.
The watcher Carved with a chainsaw out of a dying tree, this sculpture by Steve Iredales is another attempt to reconcile the natural and the man-made. It has weathered over time, which makes it feel more at home in its surroundings.
Decay and rejuvenation Nature often consumes itself, as can be seen in this dying tree peppered with termite holes and strangled by flourishing tentacles of ivy.
Changing times Dramatic shifts in architectural fashions can be seen throughout the cemetery. The gravestones on the left and in the centre were erected in 1917 and 1875 respectively. They illustrate a dramatic stylistic shift in those 42 years from the religious themes of the Victorian era and the formal style of the Romanesque revival (centre) to a more secular design which nods to the Arts and Crafts movement (left).
Fin de siecle When I’m walking through the cemetery, I often play a game where I try to guess the year a gravestone was erected by the style it is built in. This distinctive Art Nouvea design makes it easily identifiable as being from the fin de sielce period. Fin de sielce is a French phrase that translates to “end of cycle” and usually refers to the end of the 19th Century and the stylistic and societal changes that took place as the 20th Century dawned.
Founding father Many prominent former residents of Middlesbrough are buried in Linthorpe Cemetery. This memorial stone is dedicated to the family of William Fallows, one of the first land purchasers and residents of the town. After moving to the area from Sleights near Whitby to work for the Stockton & Darlington Railway Company, he and five fellow Quakers purchased the Middlesbrough Farm and its estate, on which they founded the town of Middlesbrough. A section of the cemetery is dedicated to Quaker graves, characterised by their simplicity.
Master Mariner The area’s industrial heritage is reflected in the design of many of the gravestones, such as this elaborate anchor motif in memory of William Stephenson, a Master Mariner of the late Victorian era.
Heart of steel The bold, chiseled lines and black stone of this memorial to Enoch Davies and his family pay tribute to his career as a Late Foreman Blacksmith at Brittania Steel Works, one of Middlesbrough’s main employers until its closure in 1971. The wealth generated by Middlesbrough’s steel and shipbuilding industries fueled the town’s rapid growth during the Victorian era and beyond.
First native Town Clerk of Middlesbrough This memorial to Alfred Sockett, first native Town Clerk of Middlesbrough, also pays tribute to his profession in its design. Sockett went on to become a prominent local politician.
Pillars of society By the time Sir Thomas Gibson Poole died in 1937, the clean lines of Modernism could clearly be seen on the gravestones of Middlesbrough’s most fashionable residents.
Lords Many of the gravestones feature the maker’s mark of Lords, a family business across the road from the cemetery which has been erecting, repairing and restoring memorials since 1860.
Evermore Paper poppies attached to wooden crucifixes surround the base of the the World War I memorial. The tributes were placed there by well-wishers eight months ago, in November, and have begun to show the effects of time and weather.
You mean the world to someone A note attached to one of the wooden crosses reads, “You mean the world to someone.”
For richer These elaborate monuments surrounding the war memorial form an impressive lineup which I like to call “Millionaire’s Row.” They lie alongside the site of the now demolished church and tower above most of the other gravestones. They typically list whole extended families, whose passings are memorialised with eloquent snippets of prose.
For poorer By contrast, the crude design of this gravestone, which is located off the beaten track, features just an initial, a surname and the year of birth and death. We don’t know whether V. Withy was male or female, who their family was or what they did for a living but we do know they died at just 42 years old.
699 and a half days Measuring just 12 inches high, this only text on this tiny headstone reads, “699 1/2 D.” My best guess is that this is an infants’ grave and the number is a record of his or her days on this earth.
The three Corpses It’s difficult to escape the irony that a man named Robert Corpse outlived his first wife Elizabeth, then married a second wife (also named Elizabeth), and outlived her too. At least now the three Corpses are finally reunited in the afterlife.
Last woman standing This gravestone is a sad testimony to a woman called Martha French who lost her both her husband and her only son to the First World War within just over two years. Neither of the bodies were ever returned to her. Her husband Robert was buried at sea while Robert Jr., who was 23 years old when he was killed in action in 1918, was buried in Bertincourt, France. Martha lived until 1932, when she was laid to rest in Linthorpe Cemetery.
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