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).