Todmorden Antiquarians: Past funeral customs of Calderdale

Lister Lane Cemetery in Halifax
Lister Lane Cemetery in Halifax

David Glover, Halifax historian and writer, aided by Mike Brook, presented interesting and amusing tales of deaths to Todmorden Antiquarians from his vast research into local records and churchyards.

He explained that his talk was mainly historically based, with touches of humour from grave jokes.

David has studied parish records, churchwarden’s reports, newspapers, family archives and diaries.

It was almost obligatory to be buried in a churchyard or church during medieval times and those who wanted to ensure quick progress through purgatory paid extra for Chapel prayers, candles lit or poor men to accompany their coffin.

David quoted statistics for burial numbers in Halifax Church graveyard during certain 16th century years when burials cost just a few shillings.

Criminals whose heads were guillotined at Gibbet Street, Halifax until mid 17th century were granted burials in Church grounds, yet suicides were not permitted and often buried at cross-roads.

Near the traffic-lighted junction by the People’s Park was probably one such location, known as Goldsmith’s Grave.

In 1812 the Halifax mill-cropper and Luddite who was killed during attacks on Rawfolds Mill was permitted a burial, but no Church Service. Quakers could be buried in their own land and Brighouse Quakers, Jonathan Walsh and his wife, did just that in 1823.

David told of one shocking record in Halifax in 1770, when grave robbers suddenly saw Mary Haigh sit upright in a vault where her body had earlier been placed. She walked to her Shaw Hill home in her funereal clothes, where she was warmly welcomed by her grieve-stricken husband and even gave birth to another child in subsequent years!

In Victorian times elaborate funerals were statements of wealth.

Associated businesses profited from sales including mourning rings, black clothing, besides the sombre carriages and services like the professional mourners known as ‘mutes’.

We heard of the lavish funeral arrangements for Joseph Lister in 1817 with itemized hand-written accounts.

Later when James Lister died in 1826, his funeral was accurately described in Ann Lister’s diaries.

Amongst these details included Ann sending to London for her black mourning outfit, all their servants were given black gloves and the Vicar charged £4.11s.6d. The Lister Vault is in Holdsworth Chapel within Halifax Minster.

The 3acre non-denominational Lister Lane Cemetery dates from 1841 and is now Grade 2 Listed with its architectural Victorian gothic-spires and obelisk-shaped gravestones.

Stoney Royd large municipal cemetery opened in 1861.

Nowadays many cemeteries have dedicated ‘Friends Groups’ who record gravestone inscriptions and related stories.

David told of one Lister Lane story about Ben Rushton, a renowned local Chartist, whose funeral was said to have been attended by 10,000 mourners.!