Finding London Ancestors’ Death Records- Spar Field Burial Ground

I mentioned in a former blog that I have been researching my London ancestors in recent months and found most of them were not buried in churchyards, but in the many private burial grounds scattered throughout London.

One branch of my family was buried in the Spar Fields Burial Ground at Islington. I found putting together a history of this burial ground has helped to not only understand the history of this family but has given me clues, where to search for other records to move my research on.

The Spar Field Burial Ground

Originally part of the fen and moorlands at Clerkenwell Fields, Islington, the area has an interesting history. It is the termination point of the New River which was built to bring fresh drinking water to the city in the early 17th Century.

The New River is an artificial waterway opened in 1613 to supply fresh drinking water to London. Water was taken from the River Lee in Hertfordshire and supplemented from springs and wells along its course to Clerkenwell, Islington, (near where Sadler Wells Theatre is today).

The design and construction of the New River were first proposed in 1602 by Edmund Colhurst and he was able to obtain a charter from King James I in 1604 to begin the construction. After surveying the route and excavating the first two miles of canal, Colhurst found himself in financial difficulties. There was some delay before the work was carried on by Sir Hugh Myddleton, and the project was completed in 1613 with a grand official opening ceremony on 29th September. The King himself invested heavily in the project as the river crossed the King’s estate of Theobalds Park in Hertfordshire. In order to give the project a firmer financial and legal structure, the New River Company was incorporated in 1619 by Royal Charter. With the involvement of Sir John Backhouse, the Company’s first reservoir was built on his land at Islington.

There were a great expense and engineering challenges with the project as it relied on gravity to allow the water to flow. The project also faced opposition from many landowners who were concerned that it would reduce their land value because of flooding and the creation of marshy areas that would trap stock. However, with the strong support of the King, the project was completed.

In the countryside, the canal was above ground,  with sections being carried across valleys in wooden aqueducts lined with lead, supported by brick piers. Improvements in canal construction in the 18th Century led to many of these sections being replaced by clay banked canals. In some areas, the New River went through underground tunnels.

New laws were passed making it an offense to throw rubbish or carrion into the river, while anyone washing clothes, planting sallow, willow or elm trees within five yards of the canal would incur the ‘King’s displeasure’.

Part of the canal tunnel emptied into a reservoir on Sir John Backhouse’s estate and it wasn’t long before it attracted much bird life and in fact, it soon became known for the summer sport of duck-hunting.

A public entertainment house called the Pantheon was erected nearby in Exmouth Street, for the popular sports of bull-baiting and prizefighting.

By the early 18th Century the New River Company had become a significant landowner in the Clerkenwell and Islington and had laid out streets and squares which took their name from people and other associations with the Company. They are still there today as is the New River.

Spar Fields Cemetery and Enviroments

This area of Georgian London was growing at a rapid rate and all the churchyards were full, and the Bunhill Burial Ground was some distance away.

The house and gardens of the Pantheon were sold to the New River Company and was closed.

It was re-opened as a chapel of the ever-growing parish of St James, Clerkenwell. When the new St James Burial Ground opened this chapel was sold to the Countess of Huntingdon, who turned it into a Dissenting Chapel in 1779.

Shortly afterward a group of private speculators led by the Marquess of Northampton leased two acres of the gardens behind the chapel for a cemetery.

Originally this private cemetery was designed to hold approximately three thousand bodies, but the call for burial space in London was great, and it wasn’t long before the Spar Field Burial Ground was taking more than a thousand bodies a year. Since it was not in the financial interest of the speculators to stop the burials, it soon became notorious for its overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.

Many of the early burial services were held in the Countess of Huntingdon Chapel.

Lady Selina Shirley, the second daughter of Washington Shirley, the 2nd Earl Ferrers, was born 24 August 1707 in Leicestershire. She married Theophilus Hastings, 9th Earl of Huntingdon on 3 June 1728. In 1739 she joined the first Methodist Society in London and then in 1746, after the death of her husband she became involved in the Calvinistic movement with John Wesley and George Whitfield. Under the influence of these two men, she founded sixty-four chapels throughout England including several in London, one being at Spar Field, Clerkenwell.

This chapel was demolished in the late 19th Century and the Church of our Most Holy Redeemer was built on the site in 1888. This church is still there today near the London Metropolitan Archives. The cemetery has been converted to a park.

Spar Fields Today

I found several members of my family had their burial service in the Countess of Huntingdon Chapel and were buried in the nearby Spar Field Burial Ground.

The burial registers of Spar Fields Chapel of the Countess of Huntingdon Connexion are held at the London Metropolitan Archives. They have been digitized and can be found online through the websites of The Genealogist, Findmypast and Deceased Online. There are some 114,000 records in cramped and ink splattered handwriting but well worth the search to find the final resting place of one’s ancestors and related families in this part of London.

Good ancestor hunting to you all.

 

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Finding London Ancestors’ Death Records – Bunhill Fields Burial Ground

Over the last year, I have spent a lot of time researching our ancestors who were connected in some way with London. Some migrated there from the counties for economic reasons, but some others made that vast city their home for several generations. I have had many fascinating hours as I traced these ancestors through all kinds of records from ‘the cradle to the grave.’

As family historians, we look for clues for three events in an ancestors life– birth, marriage, and death. Not everyone married, but everyone was born and died.

I found with research in London I could usually find a baptism through church records, but I often couldn’t find a burial record in the area where the family lived. Looking further afield in place and type of records researched was the answer.

In the 14th- 16th Centuries people continued to be buried in the churchyard adjacent to the churches or in the churches themselves. In the larger churches such as St Paul’s Cathedral, the bones were stacked in charnel houses.

In London with plagues sweeping the city came the removal of charnel houses. However many of the ancient churches graveyards were already overcrowded with burials. The rise in non-conformist religions meant if people were not of a particular parish church they were not given permission to be buried in the churchyard anyway.

This led to the rise of ‘burial grounds’ both municipal and private. These were of varying sizes and were scattered throughout the city. I found over the years our families were buried in a number of these burial grounds rather than their parish churchyard.

I always try to find out the history of a record and why it was created. This helps not only to put my ancestor in time and place but often helps me with further clues for research.

I have prepared short histories of many these burial grounds in London to help me with my family research. I hope they help others who are struggling with death and burials in London.

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Bunhill Fields: Image from londongardensonline.org.uk retrieved 8 March 2019

Bunhill Fields

Originally the area known as the Bunhill Fields Burial Ground in Islington, London was part of the Manor of Finsbury, which was outside the city walls. It was part of what was known as the ‘prebend’ of Halliwell and Findsbury, which belonged to St Paul’s Cathedral and was established in 1104. (A ‘prebend’ is a stipend or sum of money or goods granted to a canon of a cathedral or collegiate church out of its revenue. It can also refer to the land or tithe yielding this.) In Medieval times it included a large area of fen or moorland stretching from the city wall to the rural village of Hoxton. Later this land was granted to Robert Baldock. In 1315 he passed it to the Mayor and citizens of London. Remember at this time only The Crown could ‘own’ and ‘grant’ land, although you might pass the use of such land to others.

In 1498 part of this otherwise open country was enclosed for military exercises particularly archers and later for guns. It became known as the ‘Artillery Ground” by which it is still known today. It belongs to the Honourable Artillery Company whose headquarters Armoury House, overlooks the grounds.

Nearby is the Bunhill Burial Ground. The name is believed to have derived from ‘Bone Hill’ which is possibly a reference to the area having been used by the St Paul’s charnel house. This is a building where skeletal remains are stored and is often associated with large churches and cathedrals. In 1549 the charnel house was demolished and the deposited remains said to have been more than a thousand cart-loads was moved to the fields outside London near their former estate, and were deposited on the moorlands and covered with a layer of soil. This built up a ‘hill’ across a marshy flat fen.

In keeping with such a tradition in 1665 the City of London Corporation the then ‘owners’ of part of these lands decided to use a portion as a common burial ground for those who had died of the plague and could not be buried in the London churchyards. As time went on the London churchyards were generally running of room for further burials and Bunhill became the preferred place of burials. The Corporation enclosed the ground with a wall although the area was never consecrated for burial use. A Mr. Tindal then leased the land and he allowed, for a fee, burials of any person of any Christian faith, so it became very popular for non-conformists, including Wesleyan. It appeared on a 1746 map of London as ‘Tindall’s Burying Ground’.

In 1769 an Act of Parliament gave the city of London Corporation the right to take out a 99 years lease on the property and they decided to continue to use it as a burial ground. Although they originally leased it to Tindal, in 1781 they decided to take over the management themselves.

In 1854 the Bunhill Burial Ground was closed, by which date, it was estimated that some 123,000 burials had taken place there.

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Bunhill Fields: Image from londongardensonline.org.uk retrieved 8 March 2019

Many had headstones and vaults erected over their graves. It is believed, tens of thousands were erected.  Many of these have been lost due to the ravages of time, however, some two thousand remain today in various states of preservation. Many famous people are buried here.

The Burial Ground registers from 1713-1854 are held by the National Archives at Kew, while other records, such as Interment Order Books (1779-1854) are held at the London Metropolitan Archives. These institutions have now digitized many of their records including the Bunhill Fields Burial Records. They have made these available online through partnerships with The Genealogist and Findmypast.

By using these records I have been able to find the final resting place of many of our 18th and 19th Century London ancestors.

 

Baxter Cousins’ Day

Last Sunday was our ‘Baxter Cousin’s annual get-together at Murwillumbah, in Northern NSW. Although there were many of the regular attendees, there were a few new faces and some who had not attended for several years, due to employment commitments. Now recently retired they were happy to reconnect with their cousins in this way.

Sadly for various reasons, there were many who could not join us on this occasion. Ill health was on top of the list.

However, those who did attend remarked how much they always enjoyed these get-togethers and hoped I would continue to organize them in the future.

James and Elizabeth Baxter (nee Dixon) was this year’s ancestral couple, whose lives were researched and shared with the cousins.

A few of us chuckled about some of the children’s comments about no Ipads, TV and other gadgets. They couldn’t believe most people walked everywhere, sometimes great distances.

All were glad, even the adults, that they were not apprenticed at five to seven years of age to certain trades. Nor were they keen on the discipline expected of children in the Georgian Age in England.

We are hopeful everyone continues to be appreciative of the lives we are able to live in this Modern Age and the opportunities available to us.

Below: Original image from CafePress, retrieved from Google Images and used  4 March 2019
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The venue has already been booked for 1st March 2020 in the expectation everyone will continue to make the effort to meet yet again, to catch up on family news and share more research and information on our Baxter ancestral families.

Annual Cousin’s Day for Baxter Family

Last weekend was the first weekend in March. For several years now the ‘cousins’ connected to my mother’s paternal family of Baxter, have gathered at Murwillumbah for their annual reunion.

Last year’s blog about this special day is here.

Baxter Family Reunion

 

Although it was an unseasonably hot day, and many could not come due to ill health and work commitments, it was still a very successful day. There were close to 40 attendees present, spread over four generations. The oldest aged 97 years, and the youngest, 2 years. The 97 year old lady has attended all our gatherings, and so has the 2 year old, although on different branches of the family.

We were also treated to a lovely impromptu recital on the mouth-organ from a well-loved aunt, who delighted us all with some of the most popular World War II songs of her youth. Some of us (with her family’s permission) videoed her playing. It will be great for the family archives, especially when she is no longer with us.

We know that the homeward journey is always quiet as we talk and laugh so much, we have not only ‘lost our voices’, we all have plenty to think about, having caught up on all the family news.

The ancestral couple featured this year was “Thomas and Harriet Mary Baxter (nee Mather).

Thomas Baxter was a sixteen-year-old convict who arrived in Sydney in 1834. Some of his story is told in former blogs- Convict Cousins in my Baxter Family, posted 11 November 2015, found here and Lost in the City of London-the Baxter Family, posted on 7 May 2012, found here.

Although our next gathering is nearly a whole year away on 3 March 2019, planning has already begun.

The Annual Family Get-Together “Cousin’s Day”

When I was a child growing up at Kunghur, a rural district in northern New South Wales, I was one of some twenty odd first cousins on my mother’s side, who lived near our maternal grandparents farm. We all went to the same small school, and had nearly daily contact with each other, even in the holidays.

Baxter Home Grandparents Home (2011)

However, in the 1950’s most of the families left the district as the fathers sort employment. Soon the families were spread throughout Queensland and New South Wales. For some years all the families made the supreme effort to return ‘home’ for Christmas. We all looked forward to this special family gathering.

As the years passed it was not always possible for everyone to ‘go home for Christmas’ and many of the families drifted apart. The only time anyone went ‘home’ or got together was for funerals and occasionally weddings.

Then in 2011 we had several family funerals, not only of my mother’s generation, but also of my generation.

We loved meeting up again after so many years, but were very aware of the fact, although funerals afforded us the opportunity to meet with each other, we also found it difficult in the sad circumstances.

Several of us made the decision to try and visit or at least meet more often. Thus our ‘Cousin’s Day’ was established. Now the first Sunday in March we meet at Murwillumbah for a few hours together.

Due to family situations and health issues not everyone can make it every year. However, it is such a happy occasion and has become so ‘special’ to us all, we do make every effort to be there if we possibly can.

The first Sunday in March was a couple of weeks ago and we had a most successful gathering of four generations of ‘cousins’ on our maternal side.

I must say one of the drawcards each year is the material I gather together on a particular ancestral couple and share with the cousins. Last year it was our Great-Grandparents James and Margaret Baxter (nee Kennedy) and this year it was our Great-Great-Grandparents George and Sarah Bell (nee Sargent).

As I introduce more than names and dates of our ancestors lives, the younger generations have become most interested in our family history, and are keen to share with their children. This is one way I am planning to save our ‘family history’ for and with family, for the future generations.

As I only share with family members, this material has become ‘valuable’ to the family and I have no doubt it will be handed on down throughout the generations and our history will continue to be enjoyed by ‘the family ‘for many years to come. .

Family Heirloom – The Chain-mail Purse

My mother, the fifth child and fourth daughter of Arthur and Harriet May Baxter was to be named ‘Margaret Alice’ in honour of her two grandmothers. Arthur’s mother had been, ‘Margaret Jane’, born 1858 to Gilbert and Ann Kennedy, and Harriet May’s mother ‘Alice’, was born in 1854 to Robert and Margaretta Sherwood.

 However, when my grandmother, Harriet May went to register the birth of her new daughter, at the Murwillumbah Court House, she gave her the name ‘Margaret Nola’.

 Having grown up with the story of how my mother was to be named for her grandmothers, but only received the name of her paternal grandmother, I asked my grandmother, Harriet May, why the change?

 She explained to me that she and Arthur had originally decided to name their fourth daughter after the grandmothers because although by this time Arthur’s mother had eight granddaughters, only one had been given the first name ‘Margaret’ and that granddaughter had died in an accident as an infant. One other had Margaret, as a second name.

 Harriet May’s mother had eleven granddaughters by this time. Only one had been given the name ‘Alice’, but it was used as a second name. The maternal grandmother wanted the ‘new’ grandchild given the name ‘Alice’ as an only name, like herself. However, my grandparents had privately decided to use it as a second name.

 My grandmother called at the Murwillumbah Court house to register her new daughter, shortly after being released from the Newbrae Private Hospital. However, when it came to the actual registration my grandmother used ‘Nola’ as the second name. My grandmother had two nieces, one on each side of the family named ‘Nola’, and she liked the name.

 I asked my grandmother, Harriet May, again, why the change?

Her reply was that she and Arthur had been engaged shortly before her seventeenth birthday, but her mother was set against the marriage and would never give her consent and blessings.

Arthur and Harriet May were married a week after ‘Harriet May’s’ twenty-first birthday.

Although her relationship with her mother was quite cordial in most ways, she could never quite forgive her for withholding consent and blessings for the marriage.

 My mother first met her grandparents in 1928 when she, her mother and baby sister, Joan, travelled by train to Sydney for Harriet May’s parents’ Golden Wedding Anniversary at Thirroul, on the South Coast of New South Wales.

Afterward, they went to Picton to visit Arthur’s parents, who had also celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary earlier in the year.

fhp000333 Left: My mother ‘Margaret Nola’ (left) with her Aunt Milly and cousins Phyllis and Heather, in the front garden of her paternal grandparent’s home, at Picton, October 1928

 

It was on this visit that Arthur’s mother,’ Margaret Jane’ gave her namesake granddaughter, ‘Margaret Nola’ a gift, in honour of the name. This was a small Victorian chain-mail purse, ‘to take her pennies to church in’. It was always one of my most mother’s prized possessions, and my sisters and I, when children, were never allowed to use it to carry our pennies to Sunday School and Church.

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My mother didn’t know if her grandmother Margaret, had purchased it as a special gift, or if it had originally been her prized possession as a child. I have not been able to solve this question either.

 By the way, there are thirty grandchildren on my maternal side. Seventeen are female and not one was named ‘Margaret’ or ‘Alice’, which was most unusual for the time.

PS: The ‘sixpences’ in the above photograph were used by my family for many years as the ‘pudding’ money at Christmas. They were kept in a little cigarette tin and wrapped in the calico cloth used to make the ‘boiled’ pudding for Christmas Day.

Oh! The funny stories and laughter those coins evoke each time I look at them.

 

 

Convict Cousins in My Baxter Family

I have already blogged about, my ancestor, Thomas George Baxter, who arrived in Sydney as a convict on board the Roslin Castle in 1834. However, he was not the first in our Baxter family to be transported as a convict. William Shipman Baxter, his first cousin, was transported in 1829.

William Shipman Baxter, the eldest son of John Baxter and Sarah Shipman was born in London in 1806. He was baptised at St Botolph Without Aldersgate, London, which is the same church his first cousin, Thomas George Baxter was baptised in some nine years later.

St Botolph's, Aldersgate Street2

[St Botolph Without Aldersgate, London, Google Earth, 2014]

Although they were both born and raised in London, and even baptised in the same church some years apart, due to a family quarrel, they are not likely to have met, or had knowledge of each other.

John Baxter, William’s father , inherited half the family business along with his mother,Elizabeth, when his father, James, died in 1802.

John Baxter married Sarah Shipman in 1806 at St Botolph Without Aldersgate, London. They had three sons; William Shipman, 1806; Charles, 1808 and Frederick John, 1810,all of whom were baptised in the above mentioned church.

John Baxter died suddenly in January 1810, a few weeks before his youngest son was born. He was only 29 years of age and died without a Will. His mother, Elizabeth took the family business over herself, including John’s apprentices. It appears she declined to assist John’s young widow and infant family, and is said to have turned them out into the street.

Sarah Baxter with her three young sons moved to the poorer area of Shoreditch, where she worked as a laundress and charwoman.

She stated in a letter to the Home Office in 1828, that she apprenticed her sons to a trade at a young age, but I have not been able to find any apprenticeship nor guild records for these Baxter boys. As she was very poor, perhaps it was a more casual arrangement.

William Shipman Baxter was reported to have been apprenticed to a silk weaver. However, he didn’t finish his apprenticeship as the silk weaving trade fell into rapid decline and there was very little employment. He then found work on the waterfront moving cargo. Work was piecemeal and wages very low and William struggled to make a living. He was also the sole support of his mother and aged maternal grandmother.

William Shipman Baxter, known as William Baxter was tempted, along with many others, to steal goods from his employer and sell them to make ends meet. He was caught and sentenced to transportation for life. He was sent to NSW on board the convict transport, Waterloo, under Captain Addison, in 1829. On arrival he was assigned to the McArthur family at Camden. Later he was sent to their properties near Goulburn.

William Baxter married Ann Rankin in 1846 at Goulburn, and they had nine children, before William died from injuries after a fall from a horse in 1868.

Meanwhile his cousin, Thomas George Baxter, was not faring well either. When his father died in 1829, and his mother remarried, he was left to find his own way on the streets of London. Early in 1832 he was arrested and indicted at the Old Bailey for stealing a cap. He was sentenced to one month imprisonment in the nearby Newgate Prison.

The following year, he was again arrested and charged with picking pockets. The sitting Justices of the Peace at the Middlesex Session in September did not treat him so lightly this time, as he was considered a habitual petty thief, and was sentenced to seven years transportation. He was held in Newgate until transferred to the Euryalus prison hulk for boys, which was anchored off Chatham in the Medway River in Kent.

Thomas Baxter was in the Euryalus for eight months, when he was transferred to the Roslin Castle to be transported to New South Wales.

When we were in Kent last year I was able to visit an interesting mock-up of a ‘hulk prison ship’ at Rochester. This gave me some idea what it was like on board these vessels.

When Thomas Baxter arrived in Sydney in 1834, he too was assigned to the Camden area, in the employment of George Brown.

In the 1837 Convict Muster, Thomas Baxter is listed as working for George Brown at Camden.Two years later, Thomas Baxter is recorded as receiving a Ticket of Leave, which allowed him to hire out to work for himself as long as he remained in the Camden area. His residence was shown as ‘Stonequarry,’ which is now ‘Picton’. He was granted his Certificate of Freedom in 1842 having completed his sentence.He married Harriet Mary Mather in 1850, and they had a family of nine before Thomas died in 1889.

In the 1837 Convict Muster, William Baxter is recorded as working on the McArthur property at Goulburn.

Although both cousins were in the Camden area for a time, it is very unlikely that they ever met. Even if they had, they would not have known they were related.

Some years later, these convict cousins, both had sons born within a few months of each other, whom they named “John.” When Thomas George Baxter’s son “John” (born 1860), married Mary Ann Davis at Stonequarry (Picton) in 1885, they moved to Taralga near Goulburn, where they raised their family.

Meanwhile William Baxter’s son ‘John” (born 1859), married Mary Ann McLean at Taralga in 1902.

Believe it or not the old cemetery at Taralga, where many of the Baxter families are buried is referred to as ‘Stonequarry’. Similiarly, the old cemetery (St Mark’s Churchyard) at Picton, formerly known as ‘Stonequarry’ is also the resting place of many of the our Baxter families too. These two cemeteries are about 168 kilometres or over 100 miles apart.

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[Above: St Mark’s Anglican church and churchyard, Picton, Chalmers Family Private Collection, 2014]

There lay the ground work for much confusion between not only these two ‘convict cousins’ Baxter families, but several other Baxter families in and around Goulburn.

What wonderful puzzles there are in our family histories just waiting for us to sort them out.