The entrance to Longton Cemetery is guarded by what were once magnificent iron gates, made at the Coalbrookdale Foundry in Ironbridge, and emblazoned with the civic coat of arms. Years of neglect have made them shabby and in need of conservation, to strip away the peeling layers of paint and rust and restore them to their former gothic-inspired glory. Upon opening in 1877, these gates were ceremonially opened using a key made of 18 carat gold, having a Staffordshire Knot for a handle.
The attractive Victorian Tudoresque house at the side is now a private dwelling, but formerly housed the administrative offices and registrar's office, while straight ahead may be seen the original Mortuary Chapel, built in a similarly attractive style, but sadly unused and suffering from the effects of many years of lack of maintenance.
The central pathway is lined with memorials to the wealthy citizens of Longton, this being the most expensive and desirable part of the cemetery, with several impressive monuments, and one sad case where a once-triumphant life-sized angel now lies sadly fallen, her hand still upraised as if appealing for help. Whether the elements or a more sinister agency caused her downfall is open to speculation.
In many ways, I would imagine that the scene is not much different from hundreds of other municipal cemeteries all over the country, where cutbacks in maintenance and security have been imposed by local authorities, as if cemeteries might somehow look after themselves. The uncut grass and uneven ground caused by the sinking of unmarked graves makes exploring the older and poorer sections of the cemetery a risky enterprise, which is unfortunate as I suspect that these areas are where some of my ancestors on my father's side of the family lie. To be truthful, I hardly expect there to be existing memorials to them, as they spent their lives largely in poorly paid and hazardous employment in the pottery industry and coal mining. And yet I would just like to be able to say that I had found the actual spot where some of the names that have become so familiar to me through family history research now lie ; for example Oswald Starkey, who died in 1909 in his thirties, following an industrial accident that his employers tried their best to disclaim responsibility for, or either of my sets of great-grandparents, who all died in the 1940's. There's Leoline, with her beautiful and unusual name, together with her daughters Polly and Doris, who both died before their early twenties. And also a sad secret, someone I never even knew existed, baby Isaac Horne, named for my great -grandfather, who lived for less than a year in 1915.
However, quite by chance, I have discovered Baby Isaac's whereabouts, and he is not alone. He lies with eleven other young babies, all of whom died in 1915, and occupy a tiny offcut of land which is oddly shaped and too small for an adult grave, where one path adjoins another. There are other, equally unmarked mass graves within the cemetery. I don't know why these tiny boys and girls were buried together, or whether anyone attended any ceremony that might have accompanied their interment. Hopefully their parents knew of it, so that they might have somewhere to come and grieve, even if a permanent memorial was beyond their means.
I give here their names, and hope that they rest in peace beneath the blanket of autumn leaves that is their only tribute ;
Samuel John Brain
Albert Edward Lowe