Newspaper Article: The Management of the Burmantofts Cemetery (8 Feb 1884)

Leeds Mercury – Friday 08 February 1884


Charges of Neglect against the Sexton.

Dr. HOFFMAN, on behalf of the Home Office, held an enquiry at the Burmantofts Cemetery yesterday afternoon with respect to charges of negligence on the part of the Sexton, Wm. BATES.  Mr. PERCY MIDDLETON, barrister (Instructed by Mr. JENKINSON), appeared on behalf of the complainant, Mrs. WRAGG, Duncan-Street, Leeds; and there were present on behalf of the Burials Ground Committee of Leeds Corporation, the Chairman, Ald. NETTLETON, Aldermen BAKER and LOWLEY, and Councillors WAINMAN and KETTLWELL, and Mr. YATES, from the Town Clerk’s Offices.

Mr. MIDDLETON said that had the complaints Mrs. WRAGG made to the Burial Grounds Committee been treated satisfactorily, she would never have brought the matter before the Home Office.  In July, 1881, Mrs. WRAGG’s grandson died, and she visited the cemetery to select a grave-plot.  She made choice of three plots, but on boring them BATES found that each of them was already occupied, although by the register they should have been empty.  She then selected a fourth plot and the funeral was fixed.  On the morning of the funeral, however, Mrs. WRAGG, having her suspicions, went early to the cemetery, and to her astonishment found that instead of having dug out the grave she had chosen, BATES had found that a body had been already interred there, and he had excavated another grave on his own responsibility. That grave she refused to have, and the funeral had to be postponed till the next day.  In March, 1893, Mrs. WRAGG’s son-in-law, Mr. TWEMLEY, died. On going to the cemetery with respect to the interment she was shown three plots, which she was told were empty on the register, and that she could have any of them.  The interment was to take place on the 6th of March, but it was discovered that BATES had again made a mistake, that the register was incorrect, and that the plot chosen had been previously used for burial.  On arriving at the cemetery it was found that BATES had again on his own responsibility prepared a grave elsewhere.  The result that Mrs. TWEMLEY, on visiting the cemetery afterwards, actually went to a grave that was not her husband’s without being aware of it.  A still more striking case was that of a Mr. ELLISON, of Victorian-road, who owned a grave in the cemetery.  In December last a child of Mr. ELLISON’s died, and he went to the cemetery to see BATES about the opening of the grave for the interment.  He gave BATES the certificate of the grave and also the certificate of death, and the sexton copied from the former on to the latter the number of the grave.  On the 31st December.  Mr. ELLISON, his family, and friends, attended for the burial of his child at the cemetery.  The coffin was taken into the chapel, the service partially performed, the procession re-formed, and the grave proceeded to.  On reaching it, it was found that BATES had opened the wrong grave, although supplied with the certificate and number.  The result was that the interment could not take place, that the coffin had to be taken back to the chapel, where it remained all night, and the funeral had to be concluded on the following day.  Mr. ELLISON was therefore not only put to the expense of a double funeral, but suffered an outrage on his feelings.

Ald. NETTLETON objected to the introduction of this case.  The committee were in entire ignorance of such an occurrence; and they were only there to meet the complaints of Mr. WRAGG, for which they had satisfied themselves there was no justification.

Mr. MIDDLETON contended that he was entitled to cite this case in corroboration of the allegations of negligence. 

The Inspector admitted the contention.

Mr. MIDDLETON said there was also another case he could cite, in which a man named PYRAH was in March, 1880, interred in a grave other than the one selected.  He then called Mrs. WRAGG, who gave evidence bearing out the opening statement.  She said that when she complained to BATES about having opened another grave to that she had selected, he replied that there had been an interment in the one she selected, and he thought the one he had opened would be a very nice place.

BATES, in reply, said he told Mrs. WRAGG that the three sites she selected for her grandson’s grave were occupied, and the fourth appeared by the register book to be vacated.  On digging, however, he found it had been used, and he then opened another as near as possible to where Mrs. WRAGG had said she wanted it — viz., near to her father’s grave.

The Inspector – Why did you not know that the ground had been used?

BATES – The ground was vacant according to the register

Ald. NETTLETON explained that BATES had only been sexton about three years.  His predecessor was an old man, who held the office for 28 years.  After his death it was found that he had ommitted to mark off in the register some plots that had been used.

The Inspector – How many interments are there yearly?

Ald. NETTLETON – Upwards of 3,000.

The Inspector (To Mrs. WRAGG) – Well, you will see there are a great many interments.

Mrs. WRAGG – Yes; but it seems strange this should happen twice to myself in so short a time.

Mr. ELLISON was next called, and bore out the statement of Mr. MIDDLETON with regard to his case.  He said, however, that he did not blame BATES, because he considered he had too much to do; and should not be expected to take down particulars in the office, and then rush out to mutter the responses at the graves, and shovel on the earth.  he thought the Corporation of Leeds, with such heavy rates, should make more decent arrangements than they did at the cemetery.

BATES said that in this case he remembered copying the number of the grave from the certificate, and he considered he copied it correctly, but he might have made a mistake.

The Inspector – We are all liable to mistakes, and this is an unfortunate one.  A more important matter, however, is as to the register not tallying with the condition of the graves.  What remedy can we have?

Ald. NETTLETON said only one was to have all the vacant places in the cemetery bored, and that, he undertook, should be done forthwith.

Mrs. WRAGG – That is what I suggested to the committee should be done.

Ald. NETTLETON added that the committee regretted that any mistake should have occurred.

The Inspector – remarked that this was a very satisfactory ending to the matter, and he could not help thinking that if the sexton had a little less to do, and more tome to attend to his duties, they would not have had those complaints.

Mrs. WRAGG – Yes, sir: but when you order a black coat and get a blue one, you send it back and I think we ought to have that body removed.

The Inspector – It won’t occur again now.

Mrs. WRAGG – No ; but a man won’t die twice. (laughter).

The Inspector – I hope you are satisfied now?

Mrs. WRAGG – No ; I wish that body to be removed.

Ald. NETTLETON said the committee would bear the expense of the removal of the coffin of her son-in-law to another grave to the selected by Mrs. WRAGG, and with this understanding, and a vote of thanks to the Inspector, the inquiry terminated. 

From the Burial Registers the following people, relating to the above article, have been found.

James WRAGG, 15 months, was buried 20 July 1881 in Grave 4488.

Benjamin PYRAH, 48 years, was buried 4 April 1880 in grave 3714.

George William TWEMLEY, 32 years, buried 6th March 1883 in grave 6799. Six other people occupy this grave, all with the surname BULLOCK and were buried between 1886 and 1914. There is no mention whether George was exhumed.

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