I am out of the closet (or should that be the crypt?) as a self-proclaimed taphophile. Graveyards have long held a fascination for me and many hours over my fifty plus years have been spent in cemeteries both here in the United Kingdom and across Europe.

On occasion, on my forays into these tranquil spaces, a particular grave will pique my curiosity. This may be for a variety of reasons, an association with local history, an intriguing epitaph or a family connection.... it doesn't take much. The online availability of censuses, official registries and newspaper archives have in recent years made it possible to learn something more about the lives lived by those remembered only as fading names carved in stone. These resources provide an opportunity to put 'flesh on old bones' as the turn of phrase goes, hence the title of this blog 'Beyond the Grave'.

If anyone reading these posts has anything to add please feel free to contact me at adrianandrews@myyahoo.com.

Wednesday 27 January 2021

The Angel in the Old Cemetery


The Laugher Monument
Bishops Stortford Old Cemetery
9th January 2021

It is 9.05 a.m. on Sunday 24th January 2021. Unusually, I am still in bed. Generally, I am an early riser, especially on a Saturday or Sunday when I am reluctant to lose any precious weekend hours. But weekends are very different now and as I lie here the measured tones of the Radio 4 newsreader convey mostly bad news, predictions of extended restrictions and vaccine production issues. For the coming months it seems that we will need to exist in a No Man’s Land between injection and infection. So be it, we must all do what we need to do, follow the rules and conquer COVID-19. But how to fill those long free hours under lockdown restrictions. The answer, or at least my answer……..make for the cemetery, after all where else can you social distance in three dimensions!

A couple of weeks ago on an early morning excursion into Bishops Stortford Old Cemetery, I took a photograph of an angel. After playing with some of the filters that iphone have to offer I posted the moody shot on Facebook and it was well received, looking like it does as a cover of a lost Joy Division album. On this Sunday morning, I decided to pay her another visit.

One thing that I always notice about aged cemeteries is the wonderful way in which they change with the weather. Take the shelved Joy Division photo for example. The fog was such that the expanse of the cemetery seemed much reduced as all but those stones within 15 metres or so of where you were standing were indistinct to unseen. The angel was also slow to reveal herself as I approached and only up close was the detail of the sculpture visible with any clarity. This morning was very different. My weather app told me that it was 0°C and the ground frost under my Dr Marten’s confirmed what I didn’t really need a Smartphone to tell me!

Bishops Stortford Old Cemetery
24th January 2021

The greatest contrast to the white tipped grass was the profusion of greens on show in this old graveyard. From the shades offered by the mix of deciduous and evergreen trees to the various lichens that almost illuminate the monuments. The mottling revealed on the angel’s robes is beautiful (at least to my eyes) but unfortunately beyond my limited photographic skills.

Clearly this angelic statue has for some reason resonated with me, so it seemed quite natural to see whether I could glean any further information on the names adorning three out of four faces of the plinth. The proud Victorians in whose eternal memory this monument was raised must have a story to tell.

The clarity of the inscriptions is varied and several of the lead letters have been lost, but all dedications can be fully deciphered.

Front face:




Right face:


MARCH 16 –1899 AGED 60 YEARS


Left face:



DEC 6 – 1926 AGED 53 YEARS


Beyond the tachophilic appeal of the monument, I was curious about what lay beyond the lead lettering.

It would only be right and respectful to start this inquiry with Mr Henry Laugher, the man ultimately responsible for the raising of such an impressive memorial to his extended family.

Henry Laugher was born in Studley in Warwickshire in 1847. I am picking up what I can of his story from the 1881 census onwards where Henry is recorded as the head of the household at 125 Market Square, Bishops Stortford. At that time he was listed as a merchant tailor employing two clothiers assistants and a general servant. Ten years later his residence is recorded as 36 Potter Street where, at the age of 44, he is a clothier and outfitter married to Sophia Elizabeth Laugher (neé Ashwell) eight years his senior. The couple wed in 1872. The property is shared with their 17 year old daughter, Florence, a Bishops Stortford born girl who features later in this narrative, two boarders employed to assist in Henry’s shop and again a general servant.

Henry’ wife Sophia Elizabeth Ashwell was born in Eaton Bray in Bedfordshire in 1839. She first appears in the 1841 census as the third child to her farming parents, James Amos and Hannah Ashwell, both of whom were 25 years old at the time that the census was taken.

It is evident from the 1851 census that Mr and Mrs Ashwell took pleasure in each other’s company as the family was much expanded within the passing of the decade. James and Hannah were the parents of Louis (15), Prisella (13), Hannah (10), Thomas (8), Alfred (5), Jeffrey (1) and Leanora (4 months). Sophia was absent from this list as on the day of the census she was visiting 71 year old Elizabeth Ashwell also of Eaton Bray, who I am guessing (without checking) to be her paternal Grandmother.  

The 1851 census reveals that James Amos was a farmer responsible for 120 acres with 10 labourers in his employ. At some point between 1851 and 1855, James upped sticks and relocated his large family from Bedfordshire to Bishops Stortford where he took up a position as a farmer of Bishops/Stortford Park Farm, located on the Great Hadham Road. His prospects had improved it seems as he was now managing a significantly increased acreage of 306 acres with an increase in farm hands as well. 

So, it is clear that Henry was an established local retailer and businessman. In addition, Henry, Sophia and their son-in-law to be, Mr. F. J. Murrell were stalwarts of the Methodist (Wesleyan) community. Their charitable activities within the Church were regularly reported in the local press. Henry himself was an occasional Minister. Whilst Sophia’s name was often repeated in the Bishops Stortford news column in our regional newspapers as the genial host of Wesleyan charitable events. These were strictly tea rather than wine evenings unfortunately.  Henry crops up from time to time in his own right. Occasional shop-listing accounts from his Potter Street premises made it into the news and invariably resulted in a sentence of hard labour for the convicted thief! Several column inches in the first months 1894 were taken up with the Collis vs Laugher court case. John Collis, a draper, operated out of the premises adjacent to Henry’s tailors shop. Mr Collis contended that Henry had willfully erected obstructions to ‘ancient lights’ on the premise owned by Mr Collis. Sadly, in the records I cannot see whom the court ultimately ruled in favour of.

On a more personal level, 21st April 1923 the Essex Newsman reported a serious accident that befell Henry late in life.

“TRADESMAN’S SERIOUS ACCIDENT – Mr. Henry Laugher, of the Clothing Hall, Potter Street, is lying in a serious condition as a result of a fall. He was standing at the top of a flight of steps leading into the garden, when the railing gave way, and he fell nearly 20 feet. He sustained a broken leg and collarbone, and a fracture of the skull. Mr. Laugher who is 75 years of age and one of the oldest tradesmen, is a prominent Wesleyan and a local preacher.”

Remarkably, Henry was still working at the age of 75, but the impact of this traumatic accident upon Henry can only be guessed at, as the only later mention of him in the press is a report of his funeral, as reported in the Chelmsford Chronicle of 30th December 1927.

“THE FUNERAL of Mr. Henry Laugher, clothier, Potter Street, one of Stortford’s oldest traders, who died in his 81st year, took place on Friday in the Cemetery, after a service in the Wesleyan Chapel. The Rev. P. Porri officiated. There was a wreath from the officers and members of the Wesleyan Chapel, to which Mr. Laugher had been a great benefactor.”

Henry’s wife Sophie had died many year’s before in 1899. Originally reported in the the Essex Newsman, I found a correction piece in their edition of 8th April 1899.

“CORRECTION – It was stated in a paragraph which recently appeared in this paper that the deaths had recently occurred of two sisters – Mrs. Henry Laugher, of Potter Street, and Mrs. Parkes of Carlton Cottage, Apton Road. The statement was true as far as Mrs. Laugher is concerned but we are happy to be informed that Mrs. Parkes is still alive. We regret the pain which the mistaken announcement must have caused to the relatives of Mrs. Parkes.”

Mrs. Parkes was Sophia’s older sister, Prisella, who was alive and well for a few years yet in Apton Road, the road in which I live.

Having looked into the pious and temperate lives of the Laugher’s of Bishops Stortford, I turned my attention to the man commemorated on the left hand side face of the plinth. What I discovered was quite shocking and tragic.

Mr. Frederick John Murrell was Wesleyan Minister in the town. His name usually appeared in the local press alongside that of Sophia’s in connection with charitable events organised by the Church. Sophia was the lady who was to become his mother-in-law, for it would seem that Fred had designs on the Laugher’s only daughter, Florence. 

As a well-respected minister of the Church he was an established preacher on the Wesleyan circuit across the South East and South West of England in the first 20 years of the 20th century. Reports of his death in November 1920 in the highly syndicated press of the day remembered him as a well-received circuit minister in both the Kettering area from 1912, where he acted as a Non-conformist chaplain to troops during the Great War, and in the Canterbury area during and in the immediate aftermath of the First World War.

In July 1919, Frederick took up ministry in the Dartmouth and Brixham area and here his life appeared to unravel. 

In early July 1919, changes to the Wesleyan ministerial circuit, as decided at the Wesleyan Methodist Conference in Hull were published in the press. Thus was Frederick’s ministry in the Brixham and Dartmouth area announced. Early reports of his engagement with his new West Country parishioners included his involvement in the celebration of the 108th anniversary of the Penryn Wesleyan Sunday School.

However, Frederick’s ministerial activities in the area appear to have ceased in August 1919 subsequent to some manner of nervous breakdown.

The tragedy that shortly after befell the small Murrell family is most fully described in the coroner’s inquest report that was published in the Western Morning News of 23rd November 1920.

A painful tragedy, which has caused a deep sensation in Brixham and Dartmouth, was investigated by Mr. Sidney Hacker, coroner, yesterday when he conducted an enquiry concerning the death on Saturday night of Rev. Fredk J. Murrell, superintendent of the Dartmouth and Brixham Wesleyan Circuit. 

Deceased was in Canterbury during the war, and came to Brixham last year. Owing largely to his strenuous work in the large camps around Canterbury, his health was much impoverished, and he had been under the medical care of Dr. Falconer for some time.


Deceased’s son, Henry Murrell age 17, said he left his father’s room at 8.30 p.m. on Saturday for supper. Returning there, he found his father on the bed, bleeding. He screamed for his mother, who came and took a razor from his father’s hand and sent witness for Dr. Falconer. 

Mrs, Murrell said deceased came to Brixham in September 1919, as superintendent minister. Latterly he had been in failing health, and the last time he did duty was during the first week of August last. He had an idea that he was not going to recover. A short time ago he asked her to take his razor out of his room, and she did so, giving it back to him only when he required it for shaving. When she heard her son scream, she ran upstairs and found her husband kneeling or sitting with his head over the bed bleeding. She took a razor from him and heard him whisper, “I cannot die”. She was very much frightened, and screamed for her son to fetch Dr. Falconer.


Dr. Falconer stated that when he arrived at the manse he found the deceased lying on the bedroom floor with his throat cut. He was still alive, and just able to whisper. Witness tried to get him into bed, but could not manage it single-handed and, as it would have caused him extreme pain, he attended him on the floor. Having made the deceased as comfortable as he could, he asked “Why did you do this?” Deceased whispered: “It has been in my mind all day.” Witness was convinced deceased would not have committed the act if he had been in his right mind. He was a nervous, highly-strung man.


The Coroner recalled Mrs Murrell and her son. – Replying to him, Mrs. Murrell said that when her son went for the doctor, no one else was left in the house. She remained in the bedroom, some while, and after her husband had fallen on the floor she waited outside the door until the doctor came. Both she and her son were afraid to go into the room.

The Coroner: Then you left your husband on the floor bleeding to death. You did not staunch the wound, but waited outside the door with your husband a dying man.

Witness: I waited outside until the doctor came.

Mrs. Murrell here broke down in grief and was not asked further questions.

The son, recalled, also said he and his mother were afraid to go into the room, he put a piece of rope on the handle of the door as he was afraid to open it and afraid of what his father would do in such a condition, and he personally did not know what to do.

The Coroner recorded a verdict that the deceased committed suicide while of unsound mind. He said he was not pleased with the evidence given by the son, who should have played a more manly part and not left his father bleeding to death."

Frederick’s funeral was reported in the Western Morning News edition of Saturday 27th November 1920.


The funeral of Rev. F.J. Murrell, superintendent minister of Brixham and Dartmouth Wesleyan Circuit, was at Brixham on Thursday. At a service in Brixham Wesleyan Chapel Rev. W.A. Chettle, Chairman of the Plymouth and Devonport District, spoke of Mr. Murrell’s faithful service, his zeal and enthusiasm. "

Frederick lies in the churchyard of St Mary's in Brixham.

At some point after the death of her husband, Florence returned with their son, Henry, to Bishops Stortford, where in December 1926 she passed away when living at 40 Grange Road in the town. Her estate was passed on to Henry who was working as an outfitter’s assistant, presumably to his Grandfather.

This then is very fragmented story of three families united in faith and the teachings of John Wesley, families who seemed to have devoted a large part of their lives to those less fortunate than themselves in Bishops Stortford and beyond. And yet, their family history is touched by tragedy. 

For me this is part of the appeal of cemeteries, that even after the passage of a century or more, if you look behind the inscriptions, you can be part of a drama unfolding. Real people, with real people’s loves and losses, triumphs and tragedies.

And what of Frederick Murrell, a devout man who took his own life, an action in contravention of both his deep held religions convictions and the law of the land at that time. The deed of suicide, or of self-murder, as it was often termed by religious organisations was illegal until The Suicide Act of 1961 decriminalised the taking of one’s own life under English Law. This being the case, makes what Frederick did all the more desperate.

As a prolific preacher of the Wesleyan message, Frederick may well have been familiar with founder John Wesley’s uncompromising position on the ‘act of self-murder.

In a letter dated 8th April 1790, Wesley committed his thoughts on suicide to paper.

“It is a melancholy consideration, that there is no country in Europe, or perhaps in the habitable world, where the horrid crime of self-murder is so common as it is in England!  One reason of this may be, that the English in general are more ungodly and more impatient than other nations.  Indeed we have laws against it, and officers with juries are appointed to inquire into every fact of the kind.  And these are to give in their verdict upon oath, whether the self-murderer was sane or insane.  If he is brought in insane, he is excused, and the law does not affect him.  By this means it is totally eluded; for the juries constantly bring him in insane.  So the law is not of the least effect, though the farce of a trial still continues.

This morning I asked a Coroner, “Sir, did you ever know a jury bring in the deceased felo de se?”  He answered, “No, Sir; and it is a pity they should.”  What then is the law good for?  If all self-murderers are mad, what need of any trial concerning them?

But it is plain our ancestors did not think so, or those laws had never been made.  It is true, every self-murderer is mad in some sense, but not in that sense which the law intends.  This fact does not prove him mad in the eye of the law: The question is, Was he mad in other respects?  If not, every juror is perjured who does not bring him in felo de se.

But how can this vile abuse of the law be prevented, and this execrable crime effectually discouraged?

By a very easy method.  We read in ancient history, that, at a certain period, many of the women in Sparta murdered themselves.  This fury increasing, a law was made, that the body of every woman that killed herself should be exposed naked in the streets.  The fury ceased at once.

Only let a law be made and rigorously executed, that the body of every self-murderer, Lord or peasant, shall be hanged in chains, and the English fury will cease at once.

Liverpool,  April 8, 1790.                                                                 JOHN WESLEY."

Indeed, the Coroner’s verdict in Frederick inquest recorded that ‘the deceased committed suicide while of unsound mind’. In arriving at this verdict, the dead man was cleared of committing a crime and the inheritance could pass down to his surviving relatives. So, in this respect Wesley had a point when stating that suicide as a crime on the statute book was a poor deterrent of ‘the English fury’.

Was Frederick always a ‘nervous, highly-strung man’, or had his experiences as a chaplain to the troops in the UK during The Great War contributed to his mental instability, culminating in a nervous breakdown in August 1919 that ended his ministering. I guess we shall never know.

Finally, I read the Coroner’s closing statements from the inquest with interest. It is true that the behaviour of Henry and Florence whilst waiting for the arrival of Dr Falconer was rather unusual. Tying a door shut out of fear of what a man, who was lying on the bedroom floor with his life ebbing away, may do, would probably not be my first reaction to the situation. Then again, what 17 year old teenager would be equipped to deal with such a terrible and shocking scene in the more ‘manly’ manner expected from the Coroner. The situation may have been different had Henry been a few years older, a veteran of the threnches perhaps and one hardened to the sight of blood and horrific injury. The calamity for the family echoes down the years when reading the inquest account.

There is no doubt that from now on when on my frequent forays into the Old Cemetery I will regard that angel and the names associated with her a little differently than before.

Thursday 7 January 2021

A Morning Spent In Paris’ Citadel Of The Dead - Père Lachaise Cemetery


It was a few years ago now, whilst on a trip to Paris to see The Stranglers at the Cigale in late November 2017. The gig was great, as was the company, and much wine and beer flowed during the course of the day of the show. Despite the late night my wife, Gunta, and I were due to return to the UK on the Eurostar in the late afternoon of the following day, so a lie in was considered to be a shameful waste of time when one could see something new of Paris.

What better possible way could there be to blow away the cobwebs of the night before, so to speak, than to spend a couple of hours within the walls of the Père Lachaise Cemetery.

The Père Lachaise Cemetery was opened in 1804, the year in which Napoleon proclaimed that "Every citizen has the right to be buried regardless of race or religion". A considerable distance at that time from central Paris, the uptake was limited and funerals were few until a piece of macabre marketing bolstered the popularity of the site. The remains of the celebrated French poets, Jean de La Fontaine and Molière, were uprooted and relocated at Père Lachaise. From a position of ‘If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me’, the grounds of the cemetery began to fill.

Now containing over one million burials and countless other persons cremated and housed in the Columbarium, an 1894 addition to the cemetery, Père Lachaise stakes the claim to be the most visited necropolis in the world (something that the Valley of The Kings could contest perhaps?).

An especially macabre feature in this veritable theatre of the macabre is the Communards’ Wall in front of which 147 Communards were executed by shooting on 28th May 1871. This was the day that ended so called ‘Bloody Week’ and saw the crushing of the Paris Commune, a radical, revolutionary government that very briefly ruled Paris in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war.

With a map in hand upon which the locations of the graves of famed singers, writers, poets and politicians were marked we entered the largest graveyard in Paris. Within 10 minutes we were comfortably lost amongst the irregular criss-cross lay out of the garden’s many avenues. Any systematic attempts to locate a famous interment were soon abandoned as it became clear that Paris’ best cartographer must have been ‘en vacance’ when the map was produced. Furthermore, beyond the mausoleum lined avenues the burials are placed over the land in a pretty random fashion, adding greatly to the difficultly in locating a particular tomb. It is also a consideration that the still present effects of Kronenburg 1664 and red wine did nothing to enhance our powers of detection!

Truely they could claim that their next door neighbours were 'Bigots'

The weather was fine and bright, if cold, the perfect winter conditions for a cemetery saunter. So, it was no hardship just to walk and take in the sites of all that we saw and to hell with celebrity status! The main thoroughfares are lined family memorials that could well be described as ‘gothic greenhouses’ or ‘Bauhaus beach huts’, that would be the ‘80’s band of ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ fame rather than the Weimar Art School of course! Some of these structures are fabulously decayed as if the elements and the fauna have conspired to bring the masonry down in a concerted effort of reclaimation. 

My highlight of the trip was seeing the tomb below. Judging by the effigy that topped his grave, resplendent in death in a frock coat, waist coat and top hat, in life he may have been something of a dandy and perhaps a bit of a ladies man. A reputation retained in death? Over the years his image in bronze has oxidised to beautiful and uniform verdigris…..well almost uniform. There is a tradition that touching statues can convey good luck to the passer by (compare with the bronze sculpture of Winston Churchill in the Houses of Parliament whose highly polished (and now protected from the caressing hands of the public) foot was for many years at stark visual odds with the rest of him! So it is for Monsieur Amour (not his real name) whose manhood would likewise appear to be lucky to some visitors if its shine were any kind of proof!

It was entirely in keeping too that our path within the depths of the cemetery should cross that of a living resident of the area, a rook or a crow, sporting an iridescent black plumage of which Queen Victoria herself would have been envious.

With apologies to Jim, Oscar, Marcel and all of the other illustrious residents of Père Lachaise, we located but one plot which, in company with the above,  attracts so many visitors to the cemetery and who could be more apt when in Paris to pay our respects to than France’s ‘Little Sparrow’, Edith Piaf.

If in Paris, a visit to this tranquil space is more than deserving of a couple of hours of your time.

Friday 1 January 2021

Hellmans Cross - A Poignant Corner Of Rural Essex

 Back in August 2020 the family decided to take a drive out of Bishops Stortford for a drink and something to eat in a country pub. At the time pubs in the area were under what became the Tier 1 restrictions. In the event, a farm shop intervened and I didn't get my pint, but we did pay a visit to somewhere new that has made a grisly contribution to the County of Essex's history.

A friend had recently mentioned the existence of stocks and a whipping post in the area of Helmans Cross. Lying at a junction in the road, Hellmans Cross is at the centre of the Parish of Great Canfield in Essex. By virtue of its central location and I dare say visibility to people passing through the area, it was the site for those common tools of corporal punishment and public humiliation for those breaking the laws of the day, the stocks and the whipping post.

The Stocks and Whipping Post
Hellmans Cross, Great Canfield in Essex (August 2020)

As indicated by a sign fixed on the railings enclosing these grim reminders of our past, the replicas were returned to the site by the Parish Council to mark the millenium.

However, of more interest to me was the second piece of information imparted by the plaque which stated that this was also the site at which a local woman of Hellmans, one Elizabeth Abbot, suffered the horrendous fate of being burned at the stake in 1683, having been convicted of practising witchcraft.

Witch trials in Essex had been common place, peaking at the time of the English Civil War. Poor unfortunate women (in the vast majority) were brought before County Assizes by Matthew Hopkins and his assistant John Stearn. Hopkins, the self-proclaimed 'Witchfinder General' and his team of 'investigators' were responsible for the conviction and execution by hanging of an estimated 100 'witches', many having been resident in the towns and villages of Essex.

Witch trials petered out in the middle of the 17th Century with the restoration of the monarchy, so in this respect Elizabeth Abbot's conviction and punishment would have been one of the last in the area. Another peculiarity of Abbot's case is the means employed for her execution. Under English law the penalty for witchcraft was death by hanging and not by being burned at the stake. It may be the case that after the sentence had been carried out Elizabeth's remains were burned in order to destroy the body, an act born out of fear perhaps? Of course this is just speculation on my part but this could explain how this manner of execution has passed down through the last 350 years.

Woodcut depicting the execution by hanging of 'witches' on Newcastle Town Moor in August 1650

Internet based efforts to learn more of Elizabeth Abbot's case have come to nothing as far as I can see which is rather sad.