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Trish Burgess and husband Dougie visit Holbeach Cemetery Chapels


By Spalding Today Columnist


Samuel was only eight years old when he died. He was a chimney sweep.

Samuel is buried in Holbeach Cemetery. I learned of his untimely death at an open day organised by Holbeach Cemetery Chapels Trust. It was fascinating to learn about the project to restore the Gothic chapels to their former glory and hear accounts of the lives and deaths of former residents of the town.

The Grade II-listed chapels, one Church of England and one Non-Conformist, were built in 1854. In partnership with Heritage Lincolnshire, the trustees were awarded £49,000 in April 2016 to undertake a Stage One/Development Phase with an aim to preserve the heritage value of the chapels and secure a sustainable use for their future use.

The trust has also attracted funding from the Architectural Heritage Fund, Lincolnshire County Council and Co-op Community Grant.

During the open day, visitors were invited to look at the plan for the project. This involves restoration of the chapels, including a new roof and internal repairs. The plan shows a kitchenette, toilet and flexible space for community groups in the North Chapel and an area for musical performances and wedding ceremonies in the South Chapel.

The trustees have used the lottery funds to raise awareness of the project and devised a programme of workshops and activities to highlight how the chapels could be used in the future.

They have also set up the Holbeach Cemetery Research Group. The team is working to produce an accurate ground plan of the cemetery and a biographical study to create a genealogical resource.

Co-ordinating this is Linden Secker, whose engaging cemetery trail was the highlight of the open day for Dougie and me. Assisted by trustee Mike Brett, Linden shared his passion for social history with his audience. He told the personal stories of despair and poverty which led to murders, accidents and suicides.

The unsanitary conditions in Holbeach, linked to the river - nicknamed 'The Stinker' - meant that life expectancy of residents in the 1850s was six years less than in neighbouring towns. It was safer to drink beer than the water.

Before vaccinations and antibiotics, infant death was very common. One couple buried three of their children on the same day in February 1858.

Unplanned pregnancies, prostitution and opium dependency were all features of the poorer strata of society. Their harrowing stories are essential to our understanding of the past, as are the lives of the farmers, manufacturers and notable families of the area.

You can discover some of these stories yourself by following three cemetery trails. There is a map at the cemetery and you can download the trails from the trust's website www.holbeachcemeterychapels.org.uk

If you wish to be involved in the project as a volunteer or friend, check out the website and Facebook page for details. For more tales relating to Holbeach Cemetery, keep an eye out for a book, written by Linden Secker, which he hopes to publish later this year.

You can read Trish's blog at www.mumsgoneto.co.uk



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