Monday, July 14, 2008


More from my recent visit to Bishops Castle, because I wanted to record some of the other graves we found in the churchyard there. We had the good fortune of being shown round by Peter Norton, who as well as being the Church Warden, has just published an excellent walking guide to the area and knows everything there is to know about the place. He took us first of all to see the grave of the African. This was given Grade II listing last year as part of the bicentary year of the abolition of the slave trade, but the origins of the 'I.D' buried there are still a mystery. Also as to why it's facing away from the other graves and into this dark corner:

This is what I've managed to find on-line:

The Grave of an Unknown African 'I.D.' in St John the Baptist Church, Bishops Castle

The headstone on this highly unusual grave has an inscription which reads: 'Here lieth the Body of I.D./A Native of Africa/who died in ths (sic) Town/Sept 9th 1801/God hath made of one Blood, all nations of Men. Act 17 ch. ver. 26'. Nothing is known for sure about who this 'native of Africa' could be, though there is a record in the burial register of the internment of a John Davies on 12th September.

The lack of information about this individual is an evocative reminder of the human impact of the slave trade. The likelihood is that he came to Bishop's Castle as a servant in one the local country houses. But the quality of the headstone, with its elegant decoration and inscription, indicates that the person had achieved some status but the time he died. The quote is also one that the abolitionists used, suggesting that it was erected by someone with sympathies to the movement. In addition, the position of the grave is very curious, turned away from the others in the area with the inscription hidden from general view.

Overall, the historic importance of the grave is as a rare contemporary reminder of the stories of the many millions of unidentified individuals who were taken from their indigenous lands during the slave trade.

But if anyone else has anything else to add, I'd be really interested.

Another grave had resonance because of a conversation we'd had at breakfast. I'd been talking about a discussion I'd been involved in about a grave inscription: 'She'd done her best'. Was that a good thing, or a bad thing to say? Our views were divided down the middle - half thinking it was condescending, and half considering it a compliment. So it was interesting to see this inscription - if you can't read them, the words at the bottom say, 'She hath done what she could' - which carried a similar sentiment.

That is until we looked at the date and saw it was Christmas Day - maybe she'd only managed to put the sprouts on before giving up!

And it is the lack of gravestones in this spot which is probably the most poignant. This was where the bodies of people from the old workhouse in the town were buried. It's kept clear now as a sign of respect, but Peter reckoned there were probably more bodies buried here than in the rest of the graveyard.

In fact, I could probably write something about every grave there - what's the significance of this cat, for instance?

It made me want to read all over again the manuscript for Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book which I've been lucky enough to have in my sticky hands before publication. It's a great book, and it has a real feel of a classic. Not least because I've been walking round every graveyard I've visited since reading it expecting to see little Bod, the book's hero who lives amongst graves and keeps one foot in the land of the living and one foot in the land of the dead. There's just the right mix of humour, and scariness, and the shiver you can't help but have that these are real people you're walking over. And they might just jump up and hold onto your ankle if you don't show enough respect. I can't wait for it to come out because I suspect, looking at Neil's record, that the hype is going to be lots and lots of fun.


Nik's Blog said...

What a top post. You know, the grave being turned away from the rest sounds a lot like a compromise to me. I guess we'll never know though, which, although frustrating, is also kind of fitting in these situations, I think.

Ramble, ramble, hobble.


Anonymous said...

Re: she did her best. Definitely derogatory I'd say. Husband and I were having a meal in a local restaurant talking about how we wished we had seen Neil Young in concert recently. Tall Amazonian young waitress said she had seen him and, although he was old, "he'd done his best"... Enough said.

Sarah Salway said...

Yes, Nik. I like what you say. It's as if people should rest. Apparently they tried to get the stone turned round, but it was refused on historical grounds. Hope you're better, btw.

My view was derogatory too, anon, although that waitress's comment is a little close to home for me - 'although he was old...' Made me laugh. 'You've done your best' is what I say to the kids though, re their exams etc, and I mean to be the opposite of derogatory. And of being condescending. It's all in the context.

Nik's Blog said...

Thanks. Getting there.

I just found this link to 'funny epitaphs' I was sent a while ago:

I'm not sure what I make of them.


Anonymous Bosch said...

Your Blog is alway fasinating.
Thanks for sharing it =)

Sarah Salway said...

Oh thanks, anon. I enjoy keeping it up so much (and following other people's blogs too) that it feels indulgent somehow so I'm really pleased that others might like my ramblings!

Will look at that site, Nik, and tell you what I make of them!

Anonymous Bosch said...

Sarah Salway said...

I found most of those surprisingly moving, Nik. It's the need to write something meaningful about the person -which is probably why I get so obsessed with bench memorials too. This one for a gardener really touched me - On a gardener:

To the Green Memory of

William Hawkings


Planted Here

With Love and Care

By His

Grieving Colleagues


Sarah Salway said...

Oh A.B, that site is just brilliant. Have you seen them in action? (ps what DO I call you!)

Nik's Blog said...

Do you know, I thought you'd like that one! It was my favourite as well.

I think the ones that bothered me were the bitchy ones about dead spouses; they (the messages - can't pass comment on the spouses!) left things a bit sour.

Fascinating stuff though, innit? I like the idea that something's not properly dead if it's remembered; gone doesn't mean lost.