top of page

The Angels of Newcastle-under-Lyme

It is a chilly spring day at the beginning of April, the fitful sunshine interrupted from time to time by brief squalls of hail which, thankfully, disperse almost as quickly as they arrive. We are at Newcastle under Lyme cemetery, which has occupied a sloping site on the outskirts of town since 1866 and is the last resting place of thousands of the town’s inhabitants.

As might be expected, the older parts of the cemetery contain very many memorials long unvisited or cared for, yet amongst the crooked and leaning stones are occasional signs of more recent activity ; one uneven plot still bears a bright Christmas wreath, its glittering tinsel looking oddly out of place among the muted greens and greys that form its background. Another grave is carpeted with a dense cloud of bluebell-like flowers in a precise rectangle, even though the marble edging stones have lost their position and lie in disarray.

There is a wide range of styles of memorialisation here, with the most recent interments marked by neat rows of fairly uniform stones on the western slopes of the site. Most of them are decorated with an array of flowers and colourful plants, kept in order by frequent visits, in contrast to the older parts of the cemetery. Many of the older memorials are distinctly imposing, but inevitably subject to the destructive forces of time, neglect and vandalism.

Today we are looking for examples of one of the most enduring symbols used to memorialise the deceased, the angel. The first we encounter is not strictly an angel, lacking the necessary wings, but a memorial of such poignancy that it would be a shame not to include it, representing a little girl kneeling, with hands in a postion of prayer. She kneels on the grass, having been removed from her plinth, and was placed here in memory of Marjorie Irene Adams, “a beloved and only child”, who died in February 1911 aged eight. I can only hope that it offered at least some small measure of comfort to her parents.

Nearby, a child-like angel watches over the last resting place of Elsie May Matthews, who died in 1932, aged 18. She carries a posy of flowers and has downcast eyes, with a demeanour of sadness.

A little further away there stands a memorial to Ida Ruth Amos, who died in 1927, aged 34 : her angel stands proud and triumphant with wings aloft, with one foot confidently forward as if she might take flight at any moment. Her right hand is raised, perhaps in blessing, although some of her fingers appear to be missing, giving her the appearance of punching the air in a victorious salute.

Several of the figures mentioned have a distinct similarity, and would appear to have been the work of the same skilled monumental mason. Not so much the angel watching over the grave of one Ralph Malkin, J.P., which dates from an earlier period and has been grievously and deliberately damaged.

Perhaps Mr. Malkin’s role as a Justice of the Peace attracted negative attention from individuals he may have encountered in life who sought to redress the balance after his death ; the one-time finely carved book carrying angel has not only been decapitated, but is missing her right arm and one of a pair of rather magnificent wings. Although the damage does not appear to be recent, the angel must at one time been the focus of a concerted effort to shatter so much stone, perhaps in a misguided and belated act of revenge.

Sarah Mear, who died in 1910, has an impressive angel watching over her, who has lost one hand completely, but is still beautiful, with the sculptor having given her a natural-looking pose, with the hem of her robe falling in folds over the edge of the plinth, and one leg stepping forward as if she is about to launch herself up to Heaven, perhaps accompanying the soul of the aforementioned Sarah Mear.

And lastly, not an angel, but a lovely figure carved in a pose of eternal relaxation as she leans her head against the memorial stone of Florence Mary Cheadle, who died in 1929. She looks as if she has just closed her eyes for a moment, and might wake up at any time.

These are just a very few examples of the funereal statuary depicting angels that we saw today. More remain to be discovered and will no doubt feature in future posts on here. My fascination with cemeteries lies not in ghoulishness or prurience , but an appreciation of the history and the individual stories of the deceased. Quite apart from the beauty of the surroundings, the haven for nature and wildlife and the sense of being a place apart, they are part museum, part library and contain thousands of individual stories of interest and historical relevance.

I will be adding more soon.

You Might Also Like:
bottom of page