Category Archives: Grave Encounters

Grave Encounters (5): Alfred and Eliza Collins and their two daughters

As you curve from the perimeter path back into the cemetery, on your right-hand side look out for a couple of adjacent graves. The gravestone in the foreground (Consecrated O 370) marks the resting place of Eliza Ann Collins, wife of Alfred, and their daughter Ethel Lavinia…

“In Loving Memory of Ethel Lavinia, the beloved daughter of Alfred and Eliza Ann Collins, who died Dec’r 25th 1909 aged 24 years. Rest in Peace. Also Eliza Ann, beloved wife of Alfred Collins, who died Sept 8th 1911, aged 51 years.”

And the gravestone in the background (Consecrated O 479) commemorates another of Alfred and Eliza Ann’s daughters – Beatrice Alexandra Collis (nee Collins), mother of Edna Elizabeth Barker (nee Collis), who died aged only 28 years old. Among the family papers we have this rather beautiful memorial card.

Alfred and Eliza Ann Collins were my great great grandparents. As these headstones record, their daughter Ethel died on Christmas Day 1909, her sister Beatrice soon after in March 1911, and their mother Eliza Ann a few months later in September 1911. It must have been an especially sad and rather unsettled time for the family.

Although he’s not commemorated on the headstone, Alfred Collins was also buried here when he died over three decades later in 1945, as was his second wife, Sarah Ann (formerly Potter, nee Chambers). How do I know, given that he’s not mentioned on the inscription? Well, the Leicestershire and Rutland Family History Society have created a CD of indexed burials at Welford Road Cemetery, 1849-1950 – which can be searched by surname and plot number. It’s invaluable when undertaking family history research, especially as most graves are not marked with a headstone, and those headstone inscriptions that do survive can be incomplete or difficult to decipher. For example, for Consecrated O 370 here are the details the CD provides:

So, as well as the name of the deceased and the burial (not death) date, we also get their age and an address – which can be handy in cases where an extra piece of evidence can help pinpoint the correct grave. Piecing together information from the CD and the headstones, here’s a simplified family tree showing the relationship between my relatives buried in these two graves, as well as the grave we saw in the previous blog post.

Alfred and Eliza Ann Collins in fact had a total of eight children: as well as their two daughters Beatrice and Ethel who died in their 20s, four died as babies, and only two survived to later life: William Collins and Alfred Charles ‘Uncle Charlie’ Collins. Sadly, such mortality rates were not so unusual at the time. With his second wife, Alfred later went on to have another son, Robert Francis Collins.

Alfred Collins initially worked as a fishmonger for his eldest brother, John Collins, who was the subject of one of my earlier Trading Stories, Working Lives articles: John Collins, a Victorian fishmonger and game dealer. Alfred appears as a ‘fish salesman’ in his marriage certificate 91881) as well as the census returns for 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911. By the time of the 1921 census however, he’s become a baker, and a “baker’s assistant retired” in the 1939 Register. For many years Alfred lived – firstly with Eliza Ann, then with Sarah Ann – at 1 Sheldon Street, a house owned by Beatrice’s parents-in-law, Martin and Elizabeth Collis.

Next, we’re off to see another member of the Collis family, Martin’s brother, John George Collis. Continue on the path you’re already on, ignoring side turnings to the left and right. Another path merges in from the right-hand side. Continue sloping uphill, cross straight over the wide-and-straight avenue, and then gradually the pathway curves around to the left of a triangle…

Grave Encounters (4): Martin Shipley Collis and the Crews

Tucked away in the westernmost sliver of the cemetery, and easily missed, you’ll find the grave of Martin Shipley Collis – my great grandfather – along with his second wife Ethel and her parents, Edwin and Jane Crew. It takes the form of a low headstone fronted by an open stone book (Unconsecrated S 3362).

“In Memory of Jane, beloved wife of Edwin Crew, who died 20th Sept 1933 in her 78th year. Also Edwin Crew who died 27th Oct 1939 in his 84th year, interred at Bournemouth” and on the book in front “Martin Shipley Collis, died 29th March 1951 aged 69 years, son-in-law of the above. Also of his beloved wife Ethel Collis, died 15th Sept 1964.”

This is the first grave in this series of blog posts that’s located in an Unconsecrated section of the cemetery. Consecrated sections of the cemetery, blessed by the Bishop when they were first laid out, were generally intended for members of the established Anglican church, whilst the Unconsecrated sections were intended for all others, often referred to as Dissenters or Non-conformists. So, Methodists, Baptists, Catholics, Quakers, Jews and those of other faiths or no faith at all might prefer to be buried in an Unconsecrated plot.

It can sometimes provide an indication of a family’s religious preferences, and in this case, I happen to know that Edwin and Jane Crew became members of the Wycliffe Congregational Church when they first settled in Leicester in 1889, though it seems they might have later moved their allegiances to St James the Great (Anglican) Church on London Road. But it was from the Wycliffe Church that they initiated – with fellow Congregationalist Thomas Harris – the Wycliffe Society for Helping the Blind in Leicester in 1893. The Wycliffe Society grew into what might today be called a social action project: a supportive community of blind residents on Gwendolen Road, clustered around cottages homes, employment workshops, a small infirmary, and a programme of social events. Edwin was also an advocate for health insurance at a time before the National Health Service.

This is not the place to tell the full life story of Edwin and Jane Crew, fascinating though it is; they’ll feature in future blog posts, I’m sure. Following Jane’s death in 1933, Edwin retired to Bournemouth to live with his eldest daughter. Despite the inscription saying “interred in Bournemouth” he was actually cremated and his ashes scattered at the inner garden rose beds at Bournemouth Crematorium. So, with his final resting place unmarked, I’m pleased he was commemorated on this headstone in Leicester where he’d been an active figure in civic life for over 40 years.

Among our family papers we have the original title deeds to this plot, showing that Edwin Crew paid the princely sum of £5 8s 0d for the freehold.

Edwin and Jane Crew’s youngest daughter, Ethel, married Martin Shipley Collis (his second wife) in 1922. Like his father, Martin Shipley Collis (known as Matt) worked as an engineer’s patternmaker – for Jones & Shipman, and later with in partnership with his uncle George Shipley on Freeschool Lane – and you can dip into his tool chest here: a patternmaker’s tool chest. He later set up as an electrical and wireless dealer with shops at 202 Melbourne Road and 2 Green Lane Road – the latter named ‘Ethlona’ after his wife – as these two adverts (1933 and 1936) illustrate.

Now, let’s meet Martin Shipley Collis’ first wife, Beatrice Alexandra (nee Collins) and her family. Continue along the perimeter pathway all the way to the far corner, curve around with it to the right and take the second turning to the right. See you there.

Grave Encounters (3): Martin and Elizabeth Collis

My great great grandparents, Martin and Elizabeth Collis – like their parents before them, and many of their siblings – are buried at Welford Road Cemetery. Their grave (Consecrated L 1339) is marked by a modest stone cross, lichen covered and these days propped against its plinth.

“In Loving Memory of Martin, the beloved husband of Elizabeth Collis. Born July 28 1853, Died Jan’y 17th 1912. Also Elizabeth, wife of above. Died Jun 18th 1937, aged 81 years. Also Mabel Gertrude Collis, Archibald Pink Collis, children of the above, and Martin Stanley Collis, grandson.”

I’ve written a few ‘glimpses’ into the lives of Martin and Elizabeth Collis over the years:

Census: Martin Collis at the Spinney Hill Tavern (1871)

In the news: the Opera Hotel is auctioned (1893)

Snapshot: Outside the Admiral Nelson (1911)

Martin worked as an engineer’s patternmaker and they also ran a succession of Leicester pubs: The Fox and Hounds on Humberstone Road, the Royal Oak on West Bridge, the Cross Keys on Highcross Street, the Opera Tavern on Guildhall Lane, the Black Lion on Belgrave Gate, and the Admiral Nelson on Humberstone Gate. At some point I hope to write their story up in more detail, inspired – at least in part – by inheriting Elizabeth Collis’ photograph albums and family papers. In the meantime, here’s a family photo taken around 1892 showing Martin and Elizabeth with their three children: Ada Elizabeth, Martin Shipley and Leonard George Collis.

As the gravestone notes, they also had two children who died in infancy – Mabel Gertrude Collis (1885-86) and Archibald Pink Collis (1896) – with baby Archie’s ‘Pink’ forename being a tribute to Martin’s childless sister and brother-in-law, Elizabeth and George Pink (who we’ll meet in a later Grave Encounters blog post). Infant mortality was a familiar aspect of Victorian life, with most families across the working and artisan classes – and often in the upper classes too – experiencing the death of babies, toddlers or older children. As the gravestone also notes, it was a pattern that continued into the next generation; Martin Stanley Collis – the baby son of Martin Shipley Collis and his wife Beatrice Alexandra – died at less than one month old in 1904.

Among the family papers there’s a simple fold-over booklet for the 1937 funeral service for Elizabeth Collis, a much-loved member of the family.

Now, let’s head over to find the grave of Martin and Elizabeth’s eldest son. Rejoin the path and continue to slope down towards the bottom perimeter path. On the sliver of land between the path and the railings – lined with trees and backing onto the railway – you’re looking out for an ‘open book’ sculpted in stone…

Grave Encounters (2): John and Sarah Firn

After visiting the gravestone of Elizabeth Collis, return to the visitors’ centre and follow the main driveway ahead. The view opens out in both directions; to the left, the cemetery lawns slope down – dotted with gravestones and trees – towards the railway line and to the right, an area known (in our family at least) as ‘the Flat’ follows a more orderly arrangement, with impressive monuments set around a grid of pathways. We’ve re-visit The Flat later in the series, so for the time being continue towards the end of the driveway. As the path begins to narrow, look out on the left-hand side for a monument looking somewhat like a stunted spire – the grave of John and Sarah Firn (Consecrated H 154).

“In Loving Memory of John Firn, who died October 21st 1873 in the sixty first year of his age. His end was Peace. Also of Sarah, beloved wife of the above, who died January 9th 1875 aged 65 years. Not dead but sleepeth.” with the side panel commemorating his parents: “George Firn, who died April 187th 1863 in the 72nd year of his age. Also Martha Firn, wife of the above, who died Nov’r 23rd 1832 in the 42nd year of her age. Interred at the Dover Street Chapel.”

John Firn was a notable stonemason and builder in Victorian Leicester, responsible for restoring and re-modelling at least 23 churches in the county from 1861-1874. And, as a monumental mason, he would have been a regular visitor to Welford Road Cemetery. In the course of his work, he and his team designed, sculpted and installed a number of significant monuments here including those commemorating the artist John Flowers, politician John Biggs, and the businessmen George Checkland and Thomas Partridge. Local historian Derek Seaton is currently researching some of the stonemasons who undertook work at the cemetery, which I’m hoping will reveal some more of John Firn’s craftsmanship.

In the meantime, you can read more about John Firn’s story – and that of his wayward son, George, who married Sarah Collis – here in one of my earlier articles: Trading Stories, Working Lives: John and George Firn, monumental masons. George and Sarah Firn aren’t buried in the Firn family grave however – George died in Sheffield and was buried there, for reasons I have yet to fathom out, and his widow Sarah chose to be buried with her own parents, George and Elizabeth Collis, elsewhere at Welford Road Cemetery.

John Firn’s family monument still stands out, even though it has not weathered as well as some of his clients’ commissions. From there, continue along the pathway – forking to the left at the triangle, and left again – in search of the grave of Martin and Elizabeth Collis (Consecrated L 1339).

Grave Encounters (1): welcome to Welford Road Cemetery

(photo: Friends of Welford Road Cemetery)

Welford Road Cemetery in Leicester plays a pivotal role in my family history; at the last count, more than 80 members of my extended family have been buried here. Since the cemetery opened in 1849, my relatives will no doubt have visited many times. And one rather dramatically ended his life at the cemetery. Through a series of blog posts let me take you on a walk about, stopping off at some family graves and tuning in to the history of the cemetery as we progress.

Let’s begin at the main gates on Welford Road. As you head along the driveway, the traffic noise subsides and you’re soon in a different world, surrounded by greenery, birdsong and impressive monuments. Like many early Victorian cemeteries, the landscaping of Welford Road Cemetery was inspired by the ‘garden cemetery’ movement which espoused that burial grounds should be designed not only for the dignified repose of the dead but also for the pleasure of the living. Visiting your dearly-departed on a Sunday afternoon, they argued, should also bring with it the chance to enjoy a beautiful setting.

To the right of the main entrance the visitors’ centre – opened in 2006 as a base for the Friends of Welford Road Cemetery – is a good starting point for those keen to track down their ancestors buried in the cemetery.

But today, on this walk, we nip immediately behind the centre. Tucked round the back, on a sloping embankment, there are serried ranks of slate headstones. At first glance, it’s an odd place for graves to be positioned, with lawn falling away so steeply. A closer look at the inscriptions also indicates something is amiss – virtually all of the years mentioned on the stones pre-date the 1849 opening of the cemetery. How can this be?

Continue reading Grave Encounters (1): welcome to Welford Road Cemetery