ELHAS Meeting Report - November 2013

Meeting Report November 2013

A record audience of 57 members and guests assembled this month to hear the final talk of this year. Our guest speaker was former teacher and Leeds Guide Alun Pugh. Alun is also the chair of the Friends of Beckett Street Cemetery and that was the subject of his lecture. The story of Victorian Leeds told by the people buried there. Alun is a popular speaker who has visited us on several occasions, so we were looking forward to the evening. However it appeared our enjoyment might be short lived when Alun confessed he had left the slides to accompany his talk at home on the kitchen table. But, being the true professional he is, Alun saved the day by delivering an interesting and informative talk using leaflets about the cemetery as his only visual aid.

He began his lecture by explaining that the Friends group had been set up in the eighties when the cemetery, no longer accepting new interments, was scheduled for closure by the council in order to make way for the Supertram, The group managed to persuade the council to keep it open, and now help to keep the cemetery an attractive place to visit by planting bulbs, erecting bird boxes and litter picking. They have also recently paid for new signage to be made and put in place.

Alun described how the cemetery, originally called the Leeds Burial Ground, was opened in 1845. One of the oldest public cemeteries in Britain, it is the final resting place for over 180,000 souls. He explained that the grounds are split into two - one half for Anglicans and the other for Dissenters (that is all others). Each half has its own chapel and lodges. Alun pointed out that this cemetery was for the poorer population of the city, wealthier people being buried in St Georges Field in more prosperous Headingley.

He advised us that the only really prominent person buried there is John Barran the clothing magnet and former Leeds mayor. He was at a loss to understand why he should be buried there instead of St Georges Field. In fact he explained that a large number of graves there are 'Guinea Graves'. These are common graves with anything up to 40 occupants which could be purchased for a guinea (one pound five pence). Only the occupant's names and date of death are recorded on the gravestone, many of which are engraved on the reverse side as well as the front. Alun also told us about the number of Commonwealth war graves , explaining that whilst there are 70 officially designated ones, there are many more private graves for war dead bringing the total to nearer 200. The oldest war graves in the cemetery date back to the Crimean War.

In spite of the subject Alun had made his talk entertaining by his friendly style of delivery and throwaway quips and anecdotes. So much so that a member of the audience told him that the slides were not missed, a sentiment echoed by many there. He ended his talk by urging us to visit the cemetery and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere and see the work being undertaken by the Friends.

The evening ended with hot drinks and mince pies in celebration of the forthcoming festive season.

Image courtesy of Leodis, Leeds Libraries

The next meeting on Monday 27th January 2014 will be a talk by Pat Osborne entitled "The Secret Life of Charles Dickens."