About Me

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Bristol , United Kingdom
I am co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy, which provides advice for poets on writing, editing and publishing, as well as qualified counselling support for those exploring personal issues in their work - https://theleapingword.com. My fifth poetry collection, Learning Finity, is now available from Indigo Dreams or directly from me.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Strangers' Burial Ground and Birdcage Walk

If there's something of a funereal feeling to some of these posts lately, well, it is winter. Also, as previously mentioned, my fellow IsamBards and I are engaged in a new project, namely writing for our forthcoming poetry walks around Arnos Vale. And this is all the excuse I need to get stuck into visiting some of the smaller graveyards and cemeteries around Bristol as well. (Which I've always loved doing, to be honest, but how I have Permission.)

One obscure burial ground I was unaware of until very recently is the Strangers' Burial Ground in Cliftonwood, so called because it was much used by visitors to the Bristol Hotwell, which was viewed in the late 18th century as the last resort of the incurable (but now known to have been so polluted as to be toxic). I even struggled to work out where it is online. 

However, compared with the arduousness of finding a parking place in Clifton, locating the site on foot was a doddle. (It's on Lower Clifton Hill, opposite the junction with Bellevue.) This is its impressive side wall. 
But - and here's the Disappointment - if my photos are all a bit long distance and crap, it's because the gate was locked. 

Must try to find out when it opens to the public.

A few minutes' walk away is the much better known Birdcage Walk, a pathway lined with pleached limes that leads through the churchyard of St Andrew's, which was Clifton's parish church until it was bombed on the first night of the Bristol Blitz, 24th November 1940. 

All that remains of St Andrew's

First, though, a mission, which was to locate the grave of Bristol poet, Anne Yearsley, a local milkwoman who turned out to have a gift for writing poetry, and who was patronised by Hannah More (until they fell out). Thanks to a tip-off on Twitter as to its approximate location - to the south of the ruined Church, in the right hand corner, near the road - this took all of five minutes.

Anne died in 1806. She's perhaps best remembered for her 1788 Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave-Trade. 
Near Anne Yearsley's was the first of several gravestones that caught my attention. Well, a pair, in fact. 

It's dedicated to William Bridges (baptized 1717), his son, John, who was a soap boiler on Hotwells Road and who died in 1830, aged 70, and John's wife Sarah, who predeceased him in 1820, aged 53.

Adjacent is the gravestone commemorating their children:

Sarah, dd 1794, aged 1
John, dd 1803, aged 10
William, dd 1809, aged 14
Sarah, dd 1815, aged 11
Elizabeth, dd 1816, aged 12
James, dd  Feb 1817, aged 19
Maryann, dd June 1817, aged 10
William, dd 1824, aged 15
Thomas, dd 1828, aged 29
William and Sarah each lost the child named after them ... twice. 

I headed for the more picturesque part of the graveyard, which is in an interesting state of maintenance - ie part clipped and cared for, part wild and overgrown - and thus providing a variety of habitats for wildlife
I like the overgrown parts best, although it does make reading or even spotting the gravestones difficult. 

Down the far (tidier) end, I found some more sad stories. 

This is the gravestone of Margaret Rogers and two of the young children she had with her husband, James, in the 1830s; also, James and his second wife, Mary, and two of their children, all of whom died in the 1840s. I think the fact that the children's ages are counted in years, months, and even weeks in one case, gives the lie to the notion that the death of a child was somehow easier to bear in earlier centuries, when death in infancy and childhood was more common than it is now.

The grave of Selena Theodosia, who died in 1803, aged three months. Let's hope that the lack of companions on her headstone means that her parents were able to rebuild their lives elsewhere. 

Sacred to the memory of Ann, daughter of William and Ann Waters, who died Oct 10th 1833, aged 9 years.

Also of Keturah, sixth daughter of the above, who died March 14th 1847, aged 3 years

Also of Robert, eldest son of the aforesaid who was accidentally drowned at Chepstow, August 19th 1850, aged 20 years

Also of George, their third son, who was accidentally drowned near Shirehampton, the 19th of April 1864, aged 29 years

After a long and painfull illness, the aforesaid Ann Waters died 26th January 1868, aged 67 years

William himself died in Shirehampton in 1877, aged 77 years

Some of the gravestones are lettered in moss ... 

... others so weathered they look like barely started jigsaw puzzles ...

... whose stories won't last another winter. 

By now I was immersed in the past and being reminded of some of the wonderful books of my childhood, by authors such as Leon Garfield and Joan Aiken ... 

...  in no small part, I think, due to the yellow foliage of the limes, which was bright even in the failing afternoon light.


  1. Fascinating places, and so full of stories and heartbreak. The strangers burial ground may only be open on application, I seem to recall. If you can get in, can I come too?

    1. Ooh, yes, that would be lovely. I must try to find out the body applications should be made to.

  2. On the ease with which earlier folk accepted the deaths of their children I remember a Roman memorial to a daughter, described as ‘the hope of’ her parents. Was it in Bristol museum or Caerleon? Darned if I can recall, but that awful sense of loss is there

    1. It must have been unbearable to lose one after the other.