CHURCH OF ST MARY THE VIRGIN, WALNEY ISLAND, CUMBRIA, UK: MONUMENTAL INSCRIPTIONS

[Homepage] [Introduction] [Surnames alphabetically] [Monumental inscriptions] [Overall plan: key to the section letters]

[Enlarged plan of NW area: monument numbers in sections B, C, C2, E, F, G, H, I, J and small upper part of section A]

[Enlarged plan of NE area: monument numbers in section K; also top portion of section D]

[Enlarged plan of  SW area: monument numbers in lower parts of sections A]

[Enlarged plan of SE area: monument numbers in the greater part of section D (oldest area)]

[Pie chart: residences] [Pie chart: occupations] [Graveyard curiosities] [Links]

 

INTRODUCTION TO WEBSITE VERSION (supplied by the Webmaster)

followed by Extracts from the AUTHOR'S ORIGINAL INTRODUCTION

 

This website is largely based on a study made by Susan Sleep in 2000-2002 as part of an archaeology course at the Lancaster Adult Education College.  It is presented here with her kind permission.  Further details of the original study are shown below in the Extracts section, which is followed by a list of Locations [Distribution List] holding a full original copy, and a brief Summary of the types of information which have been excluded from the online version.

 

The website aims to include transcripts of all the monumental inscriptions which at the time of writing were still extant within the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin, Walney Island, lying within the Borough of Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria.  The island of Walney was technically within the ancient parish of Dalton-in-Furness (at that time administratively in Lancashire) until the latter half of the 19th century.  However the difficulties of transport across the Walney channel meant that the island community at that time was relatively self-contained, being chiefly based around the two hamlets of Biggar and North Scale.  Access was achieved either by using the fords at low tide or by using the ferries, right up until the opening of the Jubilee Bridge in 1908.  The bridge thereafter provided easier access to the relatively new town of Barrow-in-Furness.  The previous few years had seen rapid growth in the island's population, with the building of the new Vickerstown estates.

 

With regard to the local churchyard on Walney, for many centuries St Mary's was the only settled place of worship. It would have been the most obvious place of burial for all island residents, particularly when considering the transportation difficulties otherwise.  The population increase meant that the churchyard had to be extended several times during the 20th century, until finally it was officially closed during the 1980s.  Less obvious alternatives included the churchyard at Dalton (since Barrow and Walney technically lay within the ancient parish); Dalton Cemetery (opened 1862) and Barrow Cemetery (from 1873 onwards).  In actual fact Walney churchyard and Barrow cemetery were almost the only burial grounds lying inside the pre-1974 Borough of Barrow - the only exception being Rampside churchyard, situated on the eastern outskirts.

 

Monumental inscriptions often give much information (for example concerning family relationships) which would not be easily accessible from any other source.  But many persons interred at Walney would, of course, never have had any memorial, and the only reference to such interments would generally have been in the church burial registers.  These survive amongst the older parish records,  now deposited with the Cumbria Archive Service.  The Walney burial entries from 1813 onwards have  previously been indexed on behalf of the Furness Family History Society, initially for sale on microfiche, and then subsequently for submission to the National Burial Index.  Burials within the newer extensions generally include a plot number (regardless of whether or not there is an actual memorial).  Interments within the ancient portion of the churchyard were, however, never allocated plot numbers, and generally speaking it is now virtually impossible to identify such graves unless there is a surviving memorial on top. 

 

Initially the present website will carry only a limited number of photographs showing the original memorials.  More photos will be added as time allows, and some priority will be given to any which have been specifically requested.  (Alternatively, many further examples will be found in the Graves Section of the older www.Walney-Island.com website.) All such requests, together with the inevitable comments, corrections, additional information and reports of faulty links will be gratefully received by the Webmaster, who will endeavour to follow them up as soon as possible.

 

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 EXTRACTS FROM AUTHOR'S ORIGINAL INTRODUCTION (by Susan Sleep)  [Return to top of page]

I decided to undertake this project to gain practical experience in recording, surveying and researching a site.  Prior to carrying out the work I completed a stage B Archaeology course with the Open College at Lancaster Adult Education College.  While this course was mainly concerned with the theoretical aspects of archaeology, it did include a small amount of practical work.  I decided that I would like to develop these practical skills and utilise some of the techniques that I had studied the theory for. 

 

The survey I carried out was a non-intrusive recording based exercise.  The data was collated into a database and a series of overlaying plans of the graveyard produced.  This was then followed up with a desk based exercise in which the information I had gathered was compared to the historical record and subjected to statistical analysis.

 

Summary of information and aims.

 

The aims of the project were set out in a proposal document prior to the survey being carried out, (see appendix 01).  Through surveying the layout of the graves within the graveyard and their inscriptions I hoped to achieve the following:

 

 

I will review each of these aims individually to see if the goals I originally set were met. 

 

Locate the position of earlier phases of building within the churchyard.

 

I hoped to achieve this aim by plotting the sequence of burial within the graveyard.  The churchyard was sub divided into several smaller areas to aid recording.  A plan showing these areas is included in this study.  Within each of these areas the memorials were assigned a row number, a column number and a unique identifier.  This information was used to produce a rough plan of the churchyard.  The earliest recorded date of death for each memorial was used to group the graves into periods.  This information was then used to produce a series of acetate overlays.  The use of these overlays clearly shows a rectangular block and a linear feature surrounded by earlier burials.  These features were then in filled during the 1928 – 1939 period.  This would suggest an earlier structure and path were located here.

 

A leaflet produced by the church titled “A short history of the Parish Church of Walney Island” includes details of the phases of building on the site. The earliest reference to a church building on the island is shown on Saxtons map of Lancashire dated 1577.  In 1856 Walney Chapel was first mentioned as a Church.  The earliest chapel is recorded to have had a thatched roof supported by walls of cobble stone with a floor of earth bedded with bent grass from the sand hills.  Records show that this chapel was demolished in June 1852 and the new chapel was opened in 1853.  What is not clear from the records is whether the new chapel was rebuilt on the site of the old.  The fact that the demolition occurred before the new building would suggest the old site was reused.  In 1907 work on the new Church was begun to meet the demands of the rapidly increasing population of Walney Island.  Messer’s Vickers Ltd gifted the church a plot of land adjoining the old church.  The old chapel continued to be used for the solemnisation of marriages, Sunday school and other parochial purposes.  When it was demolished in around 1930, four corner stones were left in the churchyard to mark the place where it had stood for 77 years.  The rectangular area identified using the overlay plans is within these sandstone corner blocks.

 

Compare the data from the graveyard with the known historical occupation periods of the island to find out if the graveyard chronology reflects that of the occupation of the island.

 

At face value the evidence from the churchyard would suggest the following occupation patterns;

 

How does this compare with the historical record?

 

There is limited evidence for occupation prior to the historical period, some of which comes from within the churchyard.  A letter from Mr D Walkden, a local gravedigger, which is stored in the Dock Museum, asks if the polished stone Celt he handed in on 2nd May 1967 ties in with the 1920s finds.  The object he mentions is a polished stone hand-axe from the Neolithic period and dates to approximately 3000bc.  Other artefacts from around the island indicate the land was utilised by people from the Mesolithic right through to the Iron-age.  Further details can be found in “A Study of the Prehistory of Walney Island” by Susan Sleep (May 2000), copies of which are held by the Dock Museum, Barrow and the Sites and Monuments office, Kendal.  Place name evidence suggests occupation throughout the Viking period, for example the names Earnse Bay and North Scale are both Viking in origin.

 

The earliest historical record for a settlement site on Walney Island is in the Domesday Book, the village of Biggar is mentioned but not Northscale. Amongst the records of Furness Abbey mention is made of two primary villages, Biggar and Northscale, and two farming communities at North End and South End on the Isle of Walney.  These records establish that the island has been occupied for almost 1000 years.  The two farms are no longer in existence but until the early 1900’s the villages were both thriving working communities surrounded by agricultural land.  In the late 19th century the central area between the villages was developed to provide housing for the work force of the nearby town of Barrow-in-Furness.  This change of land use increased the population of the island from approximately 400 to over 2,000 in the space of a few years.  The population of the island continued to rise rapidly and reached approximately 17,000 during the 1970’s.  The island is heavily populated today with new housing estates being built. 

 

The data provided by the survey does not provide an accurate representation of the occupation of the island or the use of the churchyard.  As I mentioned above the first church recorded on the island is in 1577, this would suggest a population large enough to warrant its own chapel / church.  This is not reflected in the data recorded from the churchyard, there are at least two reasons for this.  The first is that Walney Island remained under the jurisdiction of Dalton parish; this may have meant that burials, weddings and christenings were performed at Dalton.  The second reason that no early burials were found could be due to the reuse of burial plots.  Until the 19th century it was standard practice to reuse an area of land for burials once the wooden markers had decayed and the people buried there had fallen from memory, especially during the lower social classes.  The majority of the memorials remaining in the churchyard from the 18th and early 19th centuries are substantial stone structures with reasonably clear inscriptions.   The large increase in burial numbers from 1921 rising to a peak during 1941 – 1960 does reflect the increase of population on the island.  However the gradual reduction in the number of burials after 1960 does not reflect the population numbers of the island.  There are several factors which will have impacted on the number of burials taking place.  The most obvious and simple explanation is that the churchyard is full.  The large number of people who moved onto the island in the early 1900’s would have been of working age, this generation probably account for the increase in burials during the 1941 – 1960 period, during which the majority of the churchyard was filled.  This left very little space for the next generation to be buried in new plots within the churchyard.  Any recent burials are probably either the final burial in family plots or the insertion of cremated remains.  The majority of modern day burials / cremations take place at Barrow cemetery.

 

Gain practical experience of recording techniques and interpretation of data.

 

I successfully recorded all the memorials present in the graveyard up to and including the 30th September 2002.  Since this date several new memorials have been erected, these memorials have been recorded and are included as an appendix to the main text.  The detail provided by them has not been used in the statistics or in the interpretation of the data.  I encountered several problems during this study and have learnt a great deal.  If I was to carryout another survey of a churchyard I would make some changes as to how I performed the task. 

 

The main error I made during this project was to underestimate how long the task would take me.  The churchyard contained more memorials than I originally thought.  In total I have recorded memorials from 1013 plots, however due to multiple memorials on a grave the total number of memorials recorded was 1092.  Several different factors made the recording of the memorials difficult and slowed down the data collection process.  They are listed below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to the three main aims mentioned above I also compared the information obtained from the memorials with the information held in the Parish Register for burials at St Mary’s, Walney Island.  This proved to be a very interesting and frustrating exercise.  I encountered several problems during this work.  The main problem I encountered was reading the handwriting in some of the registers, the earlier ones in particular.  Another problem encountered was the fact that some people had their full Christian name recorded in the register but had their known name on the memorial, for example Margaret / Peggy, William / Billy, Elizabeth / Betty .  Unless the date of death and the age of deceased matched on both records I did not cross reference the entry.  Another problem I encountered was that some of the people I had on the same memorial were, according to the registers, in different graves.  The exercise highlighted several transcription errors I had made.  The most common error was to confuse the figures 3, 5 and 8 particularly on memorials with poor quality inscriptions.  All errors I noted were checked against the memorial and corrected if necessary.  The information I gathered was subjected to some basic statistical analysis.  The results of these are presented in a separate section and include a brief summary of the information shown.

 

Conclusion

 

If I was to undertake a survey of this magnitude again I would make several changes to how I carried out the work.  Firstly I would double my original estimate of how long the project would take.  I would also make more use of modern technology.  Recording the churchyard would have been much easier if I had taken digital photographs of each memorial as I carried out the work.  This would have enabled me to carry out the transcription checks without returning to the churchyard.  Having struggled with plotting the older area of the churchyard I now have a better understanding of how to record areas that are sloped and not uniform in shape and hopefully would find it easier next time.

 

Throughout this project I was constantly refining the way I was working.  As I became more familiar with the recording sheet it was possible to fill it in without referring to the code sheet constantly, (see appendix 02).  The majority of the memorials used only a fraction of the options available on the code; if I was to carry out another survey I would alter the record sheet to make it simpler and more relevant.

 

Maps, plans and photographs are by the author.  Photographs were taken using an Olympus AF-1N Twin camera and Kodachrome 200 ASA film or a Canon Power shot A70. [Note: the additional photographs used in this website version were very often obtained from other sources.]

 

I believe that the project was successful because it fulfilled the aims from the proposal document. 

 

Distribution list (original version)  [Return to top of page]

Copy number 1 – Susan Sleep.

Copy number 2 – St Mary’s Church, Walney Island.

Copy number 3 – Sites and Monuments Record, Kendal [now Cumbria Historic Environment Service].

Copy number 4 – Cumbria Record Office & Local Studies Library, 140 Duke Street, Barrow – in-Furness.

 

Copyright.

Copyright on original text and illustrations are retained by the author. The original text and illustrations within this study maybe freely used for personal use and research.  Partial reproduction of this information for profit is allowed, however a donation to St Mary’s Church, Walney Island would be appreciated.  Any errors or omissions I claim as my own.   All referenced material data is subject to pre-existing copyright. 

 

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Summary of additional details in the original version

 

Copies of the full original [see Locations] include the following columns for each individual memorial, based on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet:

 

Column, Section, Memorial Number, Surname, Forenames, Month died, Year died, Age at Death, Month Born, Year Born, Gender, Comments, Relationship stated for the deceased, Relationship inferred for the deceased, [Person] Related to, Church Register [i.e. covering years for volume]; Register Entry Number and Grave [Plot] Number.

 

The following headings were similarly used on the main transcripts spreadsheet:

 

Row, Column, Section, Memorial Number, Inscription [i.e. the main text as transcribed from the memorial], Condition of Stone, Condition of Inscription, Memorial type, Technique of Inscription, Decorative Motifs, Languages, Comments, Mason, Materials, Orientation.

 

The 'Statistical Analysis' sections in the originals include additional tables and spreadsheets for:

 

1 Deaths recorded on monuments against deaths [burials] recorded in registers (including genders)

2 Genders of Individuals recorded on monuments

3 Locations of residence or place of interment

4 Occupations of deceased (where stated)

5 Numbers of Deaths per 20 Year period (showing genders)

6 Number of Deaths per Month

7 Number of Deaths per Age Group

8 Age at Death in Years

 

Table 1 includes the following additional comments:

 

From the information in the table we can see that only 37% of burials recorded in the Parish register were also recorded from memorials. The percentage recovered increases with the more recent burials, there are several explanations for this:
▪ Many of the older memorials have been affected by weathering and general deterioration of the fabric of the stone, this has made them difficult to read.
▪ Some memorials may of been made out of non permanent materials, for example wood.
▪ Changes in social and economic conditions may also of affected the type of memorial raised or whether one was raised at all. The percentage of people recorded on memorials decreases considerably for people who were cremated rather than buried during the same period.

There are 277 people commemorated on memorials within the graveyard that are not attributed to any of the periods covered by the parish registers. Again there are several explanations for this:
▪ either there was insufficient information to match the memorial to the register.
▪ the burial is dated before 1764.
▪ some individuals may appear on the memorials but not in the parish register because they are interred elsewhere.
Alternatively in the case of people who died serving their country their bodies my never have been recovered or identified.
▪ the individual is recorded in the Dalton parish register.

 

 

The original versions also include some additional general information within the Introduction (including acknowledgments), together with further commentary accompanying the spreadsheets.

 

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