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Sutherland Mausoleum, Trentham

By the side of the busy A34 at Trentham stands a most unusual building, the Sutherland Mausoleum, a monolithic memorial for the immensely wealthy Dukes of Sutherland, who formerly resided at the now-demolished Trentham Hall. It is hugely solid looking affair, built in 1808 of huge blocks of stone, and topped with what looks like the afterthought of an oddly-shaped cross. Its unusual Egyptian-influenced neo-classical style looks less sinister than it used to, as its former blackened appearance caused by over 200 years of proximity to the industries of Stoke on Trent has been cleaned up in recent years. The remains of just 10 people lie within its walls, but it is surrounded by the graves of many lesser mortals, whose memorials lie abandoned in varying states of decay, while the land to the rear is being gradually reclaimed by nature. All around lie stone slabs in disarray, green with moss and lichens, many broken by the intrusion of tree roots forcing their way up through the ground. Under the shade of yew trees, holly and brambles are beginning to form spiky thickets over and around the crumbling stones, which commemorate people from the early 19th century onwards, graves whose abandonment must go back at least a century. Nature is taking back the site a little more year by year.

Many of the graves’ inscriptions are too weathered to make out, but here lie Sarah and Ann, the two wives of John Hall, from 1826 and 1828, who died in their early 20’s, leaving him a widower twice within two years. The pitifully small coffin-shaped stone of little William Robert, aged 8 years and 9 months, records him as having “gone to his heavenly Father”, in sharp contrast to the handsome memorial to William Buchanan, Woodranger to the Duke of Sutherland, who reached the impressive age of 93. The slabs lie tilted this way and that, as the slow but inexorable progress of new tree growth undermines even the weightiest stones ; in one corner they lie crammed together like so many unmade beds, scattered with the fallen branches of many seasons, gradually sinking down into the earth. There is a sadness about the place in spite of the bright autumn sunshine, these forlorn and forgotten resting places lying in the shadow of the Mausoleum. There must be dozens of people laid to rest in this oldest part of the cemetery, tidied away so as not to detract from the magnificence of a grandiose memorial to the wealthy. How unjust, now as then.

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