You are here: HomeSt Kenelm's GravesIndex of Graves in St Kenelm's Churchyard (Part I)

Introduction to Part I

(Based on a talk entitled "Of Graves, of Worms and Epitaphs" given on 26th February, 1991, by Mr. Joe Hunt (President) to the Romsley and District History Society)


The numbers in the text refer to the grave transcriptions listed here.

You will find no ancient gravestones or memorials in St. Kenelm's Churchyard, for it was not until it became a Parish Church in 1856 (it had previously been a chapel-of-ease of Hales Owen Church) that it was licensed for Christian burial. It follows that the majority of the gravestones are either Victorian or Edwardian, and they lack the individuality, the exuberance and local flavour of stones to be found in more ancient burial places.

There are, however, just a few stones with remarkable wording or with a history worth mentioning. That, for example, in memory of John Read (No. 1), which marks the first burial in the Churchyard. Appropriately for those who believe that the meek and the poor shall inherit the earth, John Read was the humble local roadman who for many years prior to his death in 1857 could have been seen clearing ditches, filling pot holes or trimming verges on the narrow untarred roads of the time.

There are graves which are the final resting place of local farmers, including the Southwell family. William Southwell (No. 110) of Yew Tree Farm, Hunnington, died in 1919. I recall as a very small boy hearing larger boys calling "Bunny Bottom" after William as the stooping elderly farmer traversed the village street. I am not quite sure how he earned that nick-name.

Many Hadens are buried at St. Kenelm's including Frank (No. 109) who died in 1940. A man of many parts with above average education for the time. The village blacksmith, he had his house and smithy in the first block of cottages along the St. Kenelms Road from the Sun hotel. Sometime verger of St. Kenelm's, Secretary of the local Loyal and Ancient Order of Foresters, Romsley's first newsagent, his timber store and sawmill was on the corner of St. Kenelms Road adjacent to the playing field, where his saw bench was powered by an ancient stationery steam engine.

Also housed there and sometimes cranked into reluctant life was an ancient pre-1914 vintage De Dion Bouton motor-car which had once been the property of Dr. Thomas Brett Young, the father of the novelist, Francis Brett Young. I once saw Frank Haden, with Len Bevan beside him, set off in this car ostensibly to visit the seaside. They never got there. Later Frank's son, Stanley, only comparatively recently deceased, patiently and lovingly restored this car. I have an illustration of it. After Stanley's death it was put up for sale, and, I imagine, fetched a fabulous price. It would be interesting to know in what collection it is now contained. Stanley is buried at St. Kenelm's (No. 8).

Several stones in the churchyard indicate spelling changes over the years. For instance what we now know as "Uffmoor" is registered in stone as "Offmore" (No. 14).

Many of Romsley's old innkeepers rest here, including Edward Smith of the "Fighting Cocks"; Major Baker (No. 51) of the "Sun" hotel; Thomas Gould (No. 44) of the "Fox" and Joseph Hunt (No. 95) of the "Fox Hunt", Romsley Hill. Major Baker was at the "Sun" for something like forty years and I wonder who now remembers our sitting round the huge Smoke Room fire (on evenings early in the '39–45 war) which was his pride and joy and singing "Kiss me goodnight, Major Baker"?

Joseph Hunt of the "Fox Hunt" was pit sawyer turned innkeeper and smallholder. He built the house which occupied the site on Romsley Hill now occupied by the split-level dwelling erected by Donald Luff and lived in it when the floors were made of beaten earth. The "Fox Hunt" closed in 1910 and I must say the floors were a little better when I was born there in 1913. He fathered a large family of which two sons emigrated to New Zealand, where one, Stephen fathered 27 children and the other, Jeremiah, produced 12. No wonder I now have 3000+ relatives in New Zealand! His stone records that he was born in 1804 and died in 1891.

People have recently pointed out to me, following the Len Bevan articles in the Parish magazine, that although the name is spelt GOULD, the family at the "Fox" were always known as GOLD, another instance of curious local pronunciation which resulted in "FARLEY" (Farley Wood) always being written and spoken of as "FAIRLEY". St. Kenelm's itself has had more than its share of misspelling. To my grandmother it was always KALLUMS and even on Saxton's 17th Century map of Worcestershire it appears as KELLUMS.

The Len Bevan story led to the completion of a Cooks (No. 121, No. 122) family tree which showed on the distaff side the name PROUD, which name appears on several gravestones (No. 22, No. 122). Very recent investigation has traced the family back to Bilston where the Prouds were a most important family. Lawley's "History of Bilston" records the death in 1828 of Major Proud, "proprietor of Bilston madhouse". For many years he was a benevolent patron of the inhabitants, by whom he was "sincerely respected". His son's (George Leacroft Proud) is No. 22 in the index.

The graves of several tenant farmers of Dove House Fields Farm, Hunnington (No. 68) remind us that a rent charge on that farm, now owned by the Toffee Works, helped provide funds for the Lea Charity which still gives Christmas doles to the poor of local parishes.

One of the few really original and imaginative gravestones in the churchyard is in the shape of a severed tree trunk. It commemorates Arthur Bayliss (No. 30) of Hollies Farm who was a well-known timber and brushwood merchant. He was a hard-drinking, hard-swearing character who was never seen in a collar and tie; a flaming red neckerchief was one of his trademarks. He fathered a very large family, many of whom migrated to farm in other parts of the Midlands. His son, Ned, and daughter, Pam, were, I think, the last of the family to live at the Hollies.

Names like COWAN (No. 33) and GOODYEAR (No. 78), names relatively new to the area, are a reminder of the families which settled here following the opening of the Toffee Factory in the twenties. Most came from the inner Birmingham suburbs.

You will find the name LUCOCK on several stones (No. 35, No. 71, No. 80). The family provided the Church with at least two generations of Parish Clerks and a portrait of Samuel Lucock (No. 80) who died in 1913 is in my possession. He is shown at the gate of the old cottage which has been replaced by several detached houses opposite the old chapel in Dark Lane.

There are memorials to members of the Barlow family (No. 34, No. 39). John Henry Barlow (No. 39), 1866–1935, was the proprietor of the old-established Nailmakers and Hardware Merchants, Charles Homes and Co., of Grammar School Lane, Hales Owen. He lived in some state at Oatlands, Holt Lane, Romsley, and was driven to and from business in a massive Arrol-Johnson saloon car by a chauffeur named Hartle. He sometimes gave me a ride to school in that car, and I can hear him, even now, shouting down the speaking tube to the driver, "Stop here, Hartle, and let the lad get out!".

His son, William Eric Jackson Barlow (No. 34), who was a Captain in the Army during the '14–'18 war, was for many years Romsley's elected representative on the Bromsgrove Rural District Council, and was a great local benefactor, providing each Christmas a marvellous party for all the Romsley schoolchildren. For some years he drove recklessly round Romsley lanes in an 8 h.p. Rover air-cooled two-seater car. I can still remember its registration number, OK 26!

Harry Crocket (No. 45), 1865–1944, was a local Methodist stalwart, and lies not very far from William Medlicott Davies (No. 70), 1834–1879, who was founder of Romsley Methodism and the builder of the old chapel in Dark Lane in 1870. Medlicott died after exposure to a blizzard while walking back from Bearwood to Romsley on a Sunday evening after preaching at a Chapel there.

At the top of the Churchyard near the car park gate lie members of the Dudley family. Fred Dudley (No. 47) came to Romsley in 1918, after distinguished war service, as school headmaster and was the last master to occupy the old School House adjacent to the Sun Inn. He was also the last teacher in the village to have charge of children's education from 5–14.

There are a number of Grove graves in the churchyard (No. 48, No. 49 and No. 54). This is the Hales Owen button-making family, many members of which have been benefactors to the Church. The Kenelm window and the Church's electric lighting system are among the family's gifts. One of the family opened the Parish Centenary History Exhibition in 1966.

Members of the Tandy family are buried at St. Kenelm's; definitely the oldest family in the area (No. 57). There were Tandys at Kenelmstowe as far back as 1280 when the Romsley Court Rolls mention "Tandy the Cleric".

Gravestone No. 81 commemorates George and Mary Annie Ruckman. Mary Annie was the sister of Charles Peach, Master Grocer of Hales Owen. Her husband built and opened Peach's first and only branch shop at Romsley, now a private bungalow. It was subsequently Romsley Post Office, and for many years was kept by George Morton.

What sad story lies behind the inscription on the concrete flower vase on No. 92? It reads:

"IN MEMORY OF OLD JIM BICKLEY"

No dates; no mention of family. Perhaps the vase was placed here by a sorrowing friend. We can only say with Gray:

"Here rests his head upon the lap of earth
A man to fortune and to fame unknown".

Several graves have stones commemorating the Coley-Smiths. The curious story which surrounds the hyphenated name is told in a pamphlet by Norman Jones. Richard Coley-Smith (No. 99) pater-familias died in 1909; his wife Sarah (No. 99) in 1917. On a par with the pejorative "she meant well" is the tribute on her stone "She hath done what she could".

Hannah Reece (No. 101) who died in 1954 could well have been an actress for on her stone she is described as "resting"!

When we see a stone commemorating the Woodall family (No. 112), we remember that the door in St. Kenelm's opening onto the choir stairs and gallery is a memorial to George, a member of that family.

We learn from grave No. 128 that George Little, who died in 1936, is described as "Relieving Officer of Hales Owen". Curious that so thankless and much criticised a profession should be so recorded!

Grave No. 130 is that of Ernest William Joynes and his wife, Jane Elizabeth. Joynes was a Hales Owen police constable, tall and plump with a rosy, ever-cheerful face, and a deep, hearty laugh. He could have been the prototype for the old music hall song, "The Laughing Policeman".

A small coda needs to be written to this brief "grub among the graveyard" at St. Kenelm's. The statement that there were no burials here before 1856 needs to be accepted with caution. It has to be remembered that the church was once the centre of a sizable village with, one would suppose, its ancient Manor House. Extant ancient documents mention a cemetery surrounding the Church.

We learn that in 1288 Sir Roger de Somery gave land to enlarge the burial ground in the same year that William de Kenelmstowe, the lessee of the cemetery died. In 1413 it is recorded that "Margery de Kenelmstowe surrendered a messuage and curtilage with cemetery to John Taylor to endow St. Kenelm's Chapel. One hundred and forty years later in 1553 it is recorded that Richard Cooks holds lease of part of the Churchyard of St. Kenelm's.

Why is history silent between 1553 and 1857, when the village roadman was the first person to be buried in the newly opened burial ground of St. Kenelm? There is plenty of scope for more research here, but as one looks at the Churchyard today and sees not only many unmarked graves, but many of the memorials indecipherable or fallen, it is within the bounds of possibility that, given the lapse of another 300 years, the visitor could well find an undulating stretch of pasture with grazing sheep, and have no idea that just below the suface "the rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep".

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