On this page you will find some fascinating stories of people who lie in local graveyards. We will keep adding to it, and welcome stories from your local graveyard in the Garstang Rural District to add to it too.

The Rothwell Family Tragedies

At 8.30am on the 30th of May 1872, John Rothwell, aged 41, a local Garstang farmer left home to go to Garstang railway station to meet his brother in law.

He had been suffering with a bad cold and chest pain when he coughed, for which he had been given a bottle of medicine by his doctor, but on this morning he seemed to be pretty well and had eaten his breakfast.

Nobody saw Mr Rothwell arrive at the station, but a short time after a goods train passed through the station heading south.  The booking clerk, James Alston saw Mr Rothwell lying at the north end of the platform, being held by another man, Luke Higginson.

Alston went to the men and saw that Mr Rothwell was dead.  He also saw a small mark of blood on the southbound line, about two inches from the rail on the platform side.

The station master, William Sanderson told an inquest into the death that he was present when the body was examined.  He said there were no marks on the body except for one on the cheekbone. This was not very deep, and it had bled a little onto the ballast on the southbound line. He said there was nothing to suggest he had been run over by the goods train, and that from the position of the blood the goods train would have been nowhere near where Mr Rothwell fell.  The bruise appeared to have been made when Mr Rothwell fell.  An open verdict was returned, and Mr Rothwell was buried in the graveyard of St. Thomas’s church in Garstang.

This was not the end of the tragedies of the Rothwell family however, as their daughter Martha was shot dead on the 16th of August 1879 at her place of employment at Higher Hood House in Burnley.

Martha, who was 19, had been employed as a domestic servant for the previous six months.

Around 7.00pm on the 16th of August 1897 William Baker, the butler at Higher Hood House shot a rat in the pig-sty.  He then returned to the house, reloaded the gun, and went into the butler’s pantry, and began cleaning it. Martha was in the yard outside the window with two other girls, and began chatting with William, who called out “Look out Martha” then the gun went off.  The shot passed through Martha’s neck and killed her instantly.

Baker told the inquest into Martha’s death that he had shot a rat in the pigsty, reloaded the gun and returned to the house to clean it.  He had cleaned the top part with salad oil and was cleaning the lock when the gun went off.  He said he knew the gun was loaded, as he kept it loaded all night, hung over the fireplace.

He said he had called out “Look out Martha” because he didn’t like the girls standing in front of the window when he was cleaning his gun.  He said the other two girls had stepped to one side, and he had called out because he wanted her to do so too.

The jury returned a verdict of accidental shooting, and Martha was buried with her father in the graveyard at St. Thomas’s.

The Rothwell grave

St. Paul’s church, Shireshead

In the churchyard of St. Paul’s Church at Shireshead is a gravestone bearing the inscription:

“Mabella, wife of Rev. W. Studdert-Kennedy (incumbent of this parish)and only child of John Russell of Belcamp House, County Dublin, died July 1st 1867 aged 27 years. Also John Russell Kennedy died Tokyo January 16th 1928 aged 67 years”.

Mabella Jane Kennedy (nee Russell) was the first wife of Reverend William Studdert-Kennedy. The couple had married in St. Doolagh’s Dublin on 24th September 1857. The family then moved to Shireshead where William took over the parish on 30th May 1865.

Following Mabella’s death in 1867, William married Jeanette (Jane) Kerr Anketell in Ireland in 1868. The family left Shireshead for a parish in Leeds in 1879. William and Jane went on to have 10 children, one of whom was Geoffrey Anketell Studdert-Kennedy who was born in Leeds in 1883. He followed his father and became a vicar in Leeds.

Geoffrey volunteered as a chaplain to the Army on the Western Front and went on to become famous as ‘Woodbine Willie’.

Records from the First World War show that he often went unarmed into No Man’s Land to give dying troops one final smoke of a Woodbine cigarette and support through prayer. He ran through ‘murderous machine gun fire’ to deliver morphine to men screaming in agony. Woodbine cigarettes, which were strong and unfiltered, were not generally available to soldiers. They were like gold dust in the trenches and word soon spread of the Army Chaplain in his 30s who was giving them away. He was soon affectionately named ‘Woodbine Willie’ by the soldiers.

Biographer, Dr Linda Parker, estimates that Woodbine Willie gave away 865,000 cigarettes at his own expense. Over the course of nearly three years, from December 1915 to September 1918, he used every spare penny of his salary from the Ministry of Defence to help his fellow soldiers.

Geoffrey was awarded the Military Cross following his actions during the battle of Messines, and his citation in the London Gazette dated 16th August 1917 reads:

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He showed the greatest courage and disregard for his own safety in attending to the wounded under heavy fire. He searched shell holes for our own and enemy wounded, assisting them to the dressing station, and his cheerfulness and endurance had a splendid effect among all the ranks in the front-line trenches which he constantly visited”.

After the war he became a socialist and a pacifist, speaking out against war. He died in 1929 in Liverpool aged 45, because of overwork and pneumonia. When he died King George V sent a telegram of condolence. More than 1,700 people filed past his coffin in a single day as it lay in a Liverpool church. And, touchingly, former servicemen sent a wreath with a packet of Woodbines at its heart.

(Extracts from Dr Linda Parker, A Seeker After Truths: The Life and Times of GA Studdert Kennedy (‘Woodbine Willie’), 1883-1929, published by Helion and Company).

Geoffrey also wrote poems about the horrors of war, one of which is called “The Secret” – two verses of it are below, and sum up the need for cigarettes as the thing that keeps the troops smiling:

Quarters kids us it’s the rations, and the dinners as we gets,

But I knows what keeps us smilin’ – it’s the Woodbine cigarettes.

For the daytime seems more dreary, and the night time seems to drag

To eternity of darkness, when ye haven’t got a fag”.

A tenuous connection to Shireshead but also an interesting one!

The Crompton family from Calder Bridge Cottages

John and Ann Crompton (nee Miller) had 9 children altogether, and 5 died in infancy – all are buried together in this grave in the churchyard of St. Thomas’s in Garstang.

Twins Richard and Thomas Miller Crompton were born on 16th of June 1886. Richard only survived for 15 hours, and died the same day. Thomas lived for 9 months and died on the 28th of March 1887.

The couple had another son called Thomas Miller Crompton on the 19th of March 1890, but sadly he only survived for 9 days and died on the 28th of March 1890 – the aniversary of the death of the first Thomas Miller Crompton.

Twins John and Ellen Miller Crompton were born on the 13th of April 1891. John survived for 8 months, and died on the 17th of December 1891. Ellen lived for 11 months and died on the 1st of February 1892.

So much tragedy for one family.

The Crompton children grave

St. Luke’s Church, Winmarleigh – the first burial

In the graveyard at the church is a grave which records the name of Hannah Bilsborough, who was the first person to be buried there.

Hannah was born in late 1870, and was baptised on 29th January 1871 at St. Michael’s church at Cockerham. She was the sixth child of Thomas Bilsborough, an agricultural labourer and his wife Hannah ( nee Greaves).

Hannah was only five years old when she died, and the cause of her death was scarletina anginosa, which she had suffered from for four days before she died on the 19th of November 1876.

Scarletina anginosa was a common contagious disease in Victorian England, and there were several epidemics of it from time to time. It affected more girls than boys, and was often fatal in the first five years of life.

It is thought that one of the common causes of the infection was contaminated cow’s milk, taken from cows with infections of their teats.

Symptoms of scarletina anginosa would include a red rash, and a sore throat which rapidly became ulcerated and infected and in Hannah’s case proved fatal.

She was buried in St. Luke’s churchyard on the 21st of November 1876, and her parents Thomas and Hannah would later be buried with her.

A sad story, but unfortunately all too common in Victorian England.