29 October 2015

Grave matters: limbs lost and found, part one

When I read the chapter heading ‘Leg of Male’ in the Friends of Cathays Cemetery’s 150th anniversary publication and discovered the leg – not the body, just the leg – of one Samuel Chivers was buried in the cemetery, I was intrigued.

Nowadays, if a person suffers the terrible misfortune of losing a limb, the body part is most likely incinerated along with the hospital’s other medical waste. However, that wasn’t always the case, and Cathays Cemetery in Cardiff contains the burials of at least four legs. (I say 'at least' as more may be discovered as transcription of the burial registers continues.)

Some religions (Orthodox Jews, for example) believe that all body parts must be buried with the body, but that also isn’t always the case. The left arm of American General Thomas Stonewall Jackson is a well-known example – though Jackson died not long after he lost his arm, the rest of him is buried in a separate grave. That is also true of our Cardiffian legs. In one of the four instances, the body is not even buried in the same cemetery. Apart from the locations of their burial plots, very little was known about the lost limbs and their former owners so I started sleuthing.

The leg of Samuel Chivers was buried here 16th April 1883

The Weekly Mail of 21 April 1883 (p.7) tells the story of Samuel Chivers’ unfortunate accident:

A few evenings ago Mr. Samuel Chivers, vinegar merchant, Cardiff, and Mr. Edward Rees, his relative, were thrown out of their trap while on their way from Pontypridd. One of Mr. Chivers' legs was so terribly injured that the bone protruded through the cloth of his trousers, The injured limb was amputated by Dr. Edwards, Taff's Well, on the following morning. Mr. Chivers is a native of Pontypridd. Mr. Rees, also, was injured, but not seriously.

Samuel’s leg was buried in Cathays on 16 April 1883 and the site is now marked with a wooden cross, though that is a recent addition. It was originally thought that Samuel was buried elsewhere as he and his large family of 12 children and various servants had moved away from central Cardiff but there is, in fact, a family plot in Cathays Cemetery. Samuel’s son, Harold, was the first to be buried there, in November 1902, followed by Samuel's wife Mary, in 1915, and finally by Samuel himself, when he died aged 73 in 1917. He and his leg are, however, still quite some distance apart.

The plain headstone at the left marks the Chivers family burials

The Chivers leg was not the first to be buried in Cathays. That dubious honour goes to the unfortunate Miss Skyrme, whose leg was buried a few months earlier, on 23 January 1883. Research had already revealed that her leg had been amputated following a horrendous accident at Gelli Colliery, at Pentre in the Rhondda Valley, on Friday 19 January 1883.

She was one of a group of seven women and five men taken down the pit to see the workings by the manager Mr Daniel Thomas. They had only been underground a short time when a haulier lost control of a tram, which then ran wild down the tramway. Most of the group managed to get out of the way but the tram ran over Miss Skyrme’s leg and the damage was so severe that the leg was amputated the following day.

But who was she? Edith Fanny Skyrme was born in Ystradyfodwg in 1867 to Edward and Frances (née George) Skyrme. Her father was both grocer and postmaster in Pentre. When she was born, Edith already had three older brothers, Henry (pictured at right, who went on to become a doctor), Frank (who became a clergyman) and Charles (a chemist). Two more daughters – Kate and Clara – and three more sons -- William, Richard, and Harold (another chemist, who developed the Shurzine Antiseptic Healing Ointment that was used extensively to treat soldiers' wounds in World War One) – brought the total number of Skyrme children to nine. Another daughter, Alice, died when just a few months old.

Some time between 1873 and 1875, the family moved to 6 Richmond Terrace, Park Place in Cardiff, though Edward still ran his grocery business in Pentre. They were obviously quite well off, as the 1881 census shows they employed two domestic servants. With such a large family, I’m sure Mrs Skyrme was glad of the help!

Sadly, though, the family were no strangers to tragedy. Their son Richard died, aged just 7, in the last months of 1882 so the family would only just have been recovering from that tragedy when Edith’s accident happened. In those days amputations were much more traumatic medical procedures than they are today so it was touch and go for a few days as to whether Edith would even survive. But, luckily, she was young and strong, though she remained at the house of Mr Rubert Boddicombe, fireman at the colliery, for a month until she was deemed well enough to make the journey by train to the family home in Cardiff.

The Cathedral Road house where Edith lived with her sister Kate and family
Unfortunately, Edith’s father Edward didn’t survive to see his daughter marry, as he died in April 1894, at the age of 64, but I’m sure the rest of the family gathered around, early in the year 1900, to help celebrate Edith’s marriage to 39-year-old Arthur Thomas Haddock, a coal salesman of Whitchurch. A daughter, Margaret Frances, was born the following year.

Once again, tragedy struck, as Arthur died of pneumonia in the first months of 1907, aged just 46. For a time Edith and daughter Margaret continued living in Whitchurch, then lived for various periods with some of her brothers in England, and with her sister Kate and her family in Cathedral Road, Cardiff. She died in Cardiff at the end of 1924, aged 57.

Edith Fanny Skyrme experienced much tragedy in her life but managed to rise above the trauma of the loss of her leg and live a relatively long life. She was buried with her husband in St Mary’s Church graveyard in Whitchurch so was never reunited with the limb she lost in that terrible accident at Gelli Colliery in January 1883.

The pink granite cross in the foreground marks the final resting place of Edith Fanny Haddock (nee Skyrme)

The story of the other two leg burials discovered at Cathays Cemetery will follow in my next post.

Thanks to Eric R. Fletcher for much of the information on Samuel Chivers, derived from his chapter ‘Leg of Male’ in Cathays Cemetery Cardiff, on its 150th Anniversary, Friends of Cathays Cemetery, Cardiff, 2009. To buy a copy of this fascinating book, check the Friends website
Thanks also to David Skyrme for additional information about the Skyrme family. You can learn more about his extensive research into the Skyrme surname here

27 October 2015

10 things I love about autumn

Autumn and spring are my favourite seasons. I think it’s because of the changes we see during those months, changes in the colours of our world, in the life all around us.

So, what are my ten reasons for loving autumn so much?

1) Colour
The colours in the landscape, and I don’t just mean the trees. The diversity of colour in the berries is astonishing and they provide such a welcome burst of brightness on grey cloudy days.

2) Leaves
There’s nothing more fun than kicking your way through a great drift of crunchy autumn leaves and there’s nothing more peaceful than sitting quietly beneath a tree, watching and listening to the leaves fall.

3) Homemade soup
As the days get shorter and the temperatures cooler, my mind turns to comfort food, and there’s nothing better than a big bowl of homemade soup and a chunky piece of bread. And it’s healthy and nutritious!

4) Knitting
My hands get too warm to knit in the summer months but come the cooler evenings and I’m reaching for my knitting. Yes, I did get my stash of wool freighted all the way from New Zealand when I moved to Wales. Yes, I have knitting in progress: finishing off the sleeves of this jumper I started last winter, and the rib started for a fairisle vest.

5) Scarves
Of course, I wear scarves all year round but, in winter, they’re more of a cosy necessity than an optional extra. At current count I have 21 – and these come from such diverse countries as India, Cambodia (several), Peru, Morocco, Scotland (family tartan, of course!), Turkey, Australia, and New Zealand – but I need more!

6) Nutty squirrels
The grey squirrels in the parks and woodlands here are going crazy at the moment, madly scrabbling about trying to find and secrete away as many nuts as possible to tide them over the coming winter months. Their antics are laugh-out-loud funny!

7) Slippers
When you have slippers as delightful as these, how can you not like the cooler evenings when they come out of the wardrobe and on to the tootsies? I think they’re hedgehogs, but that’s open to interpretation.

8) Fungi forays
Though I’ve always loved to eat mushrooms, my appreciation for non-edible fungi has only really sprouted in the last few years. Like the berries and the leaves, they add wonderful colour to the autumn landscape. Their huge range of size, shape and colour is astonishing … and they can be frustratingly difficult to identify!

Waterbirds like this Shoveler are among the most common migrants

9) Migrating birds
With the changing seasons, Britain sees an outpouring of some species and a huge influx of others, so the skies and the fields and the estuaries and the wetlands are suddenly home to many different types of birds. As an added bonus, this is also the time the starlings perform their wondrous murmurations, those aerial dances where thousands of birds fly in incredible synchronised formations.

10) Robins
And finishing with another bird because this little cutie deserves a mention all of its own. They’re friendly, they’re cheerful, they’re cute, they herald Christmas – which may or may not be a good thing. As the leaves fall from the trees, they seem to reappear in great numbers – were they hiding there all along or are they returning from their summer holidays?

That’s my list – what’s yours?

21 October 2015

Grave matters: Celtic crosses

The elaborate knotwork of Celtic art has long beguiled me.

I have a lovely gold ring shaped in a knot pattern; I have a book full of charted embroidery patterns adapted from such exquisite works as the stone Crosses of Moone and Muiredach, the metalwork of the Petrie Crown and the Ardagh Chalice, and the incredible illuminated manuscripts of the Books of Kells and Durrow; and I have used simplified versions of these patterns in my knitting designs.

So, during my wanderings around the graveyard that sits adjacent to Llandaff Cathedral and through the extensive grounds of Cathays Cemetery, both here in Cardiff, I find myself attracted again and again to the many fine Celtic cross headstones.

This design is a combination of a cross, with a ring the surrounds the intersection of the two branches of the cross. Though usually labelled a Celtic cross, its origin is something of a mystery. Some sources claim it comes from the 6th century Coptic Church because it resembles the Egyptian Ankh (or key of life); others see its roots in pagan religions, with the circle symbolising both the sun and the eternal circle of life; while the Romans believed it developed from the draping of victory wreaths across the horizontal bars of crosses.

There’s also a popular legend that attributes St Patrick with the idea of combining the Christian cross with the Sun cross to create the Celtic cross, in an effort to convert the Druids and Pagan Irish to the new Christian religion. Whatever its origins, it was adopted by the Celtic tribes of Ireland, Scotland and Wales in medieval times, and is now most often associated with those peoples. It is also the official cross of the Church of Scotland.

In the mid nineteenth century, the Celtic cross became popular as a grave marker, often in conjunction with decorative bands of intricate Celtic knotwork. It was not only used for people of Celtic origin but also for the general public, so it’s not surprising to find many examples in graveyards dating from Victorian times.

All the photographs included here are of crosses I found in the Llandaff Cathedral cemetery. The structural designs, the complex patterns, and the construction materials vary but each cross is a work of superb craftsmanship and intricate beauty.

19 October 2015

St Margaret’s of Roath: dragons and angels and monstrous beasties

Coming as I do from a relatively new country, I sometimes find the antiquity of places in Britain difficult to contemplate. On the site where the Church of St Margaret’s now stands, in the Cardiff suburb of Roath, Christians have been worshipping their God for more than 900 years.

Of course, the current church isn’t that ancient, but a Norman chapel once stood here. According to the church website,  

There was a chapel here – ‘the Chapel of Raht’ – soon after 1100, founded by the Norman Lord Robert Fitzhamon, as a Chapel of Ease to his Priory Church of St Mary in Cardiff. A little whitewashed building, thick-walled and low, served the needs of this ancient hamlet, inhabited since Roman times, and now, for the Normans, the home farm for the castle, its pastures supplying meat, fish, butter and cheese.
St Mary’s and its chapels were given by Fitzhamon to his monastic foundation of Tewkesbury Abbey, which provided clergy, wine and wax to the chapel of Roath until the Reformation, and in return received its tithes. The ghost of a long-dead Benedictine chaplain is said to haunt the church to this day!

The ghost was nowhere to be seen the day I visited, probably put off by the hubbub of the Heritage Weekend Open Day. The church was full of folk enjoying, as I did, the fascinating guided tour that was on offer, as well as parishioners trying to raise funds for the church through sales of jams and various bric-à-brac, and visitors enjoying tea and cake and a gossip about parish goings-on. Genealogists were buzzing about too, as the tombs in the Bute mausoleum were littered with facsimile copies of the parish registers for anyone to check for births, death and marriages.

The original mausoleum had been built in 1800, by the 1st Marquess of Bute for his family, in a building adjacent to the old church. His great-grandson built the current church, in the grand style of Victorian Gothic, between 1870 and 1873, and then a very grand north aisle chapel was added to the new building between 1881 and 1886 as the new mausoleum for the Bute family tombs.

It is an exceedingly ornate resting place, housing seven massive red granite sarcophagi (said to resemble those built for the tsars of Russia), which contain the bodies of John Stuart, the 1st Marquess of Bute, and his two wives, Charlotte Jane Windsor and Frances Coutts, as well as various other members of the Stuart family.

The church itself is not quite as grand as the mausoleum. It was designed by the architect John Pritchard, who specified that a wide variety of coloured bricks and coloured stone were used to decorate the internal walls, in red, blue, white, grey-green and pink. It is an unusual but very effective design.

As in most churches, the stained glass windows are beautiful, filling the interior with rainbow-coloured rays of light. The dates and subjects of St Margaret’s windows vary greatly, from an illustration of the Holy City from the Book of Revelation, dating from 1917, to the Ascension and the four patron saints of St Margaret’s daughter churches depicted above the altar, dating from 1952.

Behind the altar, the Reredos, which dates from 1925 and is by Ninian Comper, depicts the Risen Christ and his 12 Apostles. The central figure is made of alabaster, the others of gilded wood.

Being fascinated by architecture and architectural decoration, I found the exterior of the church almost more interesting than the inside. Take, for example, the carvings beside the original main entrance, which is only used now for weddings and funerals. The church is dedicated to St Margaret of Antioch, who, for those who don’t know the story, had a life-threatening encounter with the devil in the form of a dragon. Being a good Christian girl Margaret bravely confronted the dragon clutching her cross in her hand. The dragon found itself unable to swallow the throat-irritating cross, so Margaret was miraculously saved from death by dragon! This, then, is the reason for the little dragon carvings either side of the doorway.

To my eye, the church is not a pretty building, being rather a jumble of square and rectangular boxes. This impression isn’t helped by the church tower, which is square and squat – Prichard envisaged it would be topped by a spire but, sadly, that never got built. It would perhaps have bestowed a bit more elegance to the building. The current tower was designed by John Coates Carter, as a war memorial, and was only completed in 1926.

The angels high up on the north side and on the north-east corner are lovely adornments, and that corner also boasts a rather unusual conical turret, which doesn’t exactly fit with the rest of the structure but adds visual interest. My favourite architectural decoration can be found towards the tops of both the north and south walls, where there are lines of stone carvings, depicting the heads of various monstrous beasties.

Parts of the boundary wall that surrounds the church date from medieval times and the large, leafy trees look equally ancient. Though the graveyard around the church looks almost empty, it is actually full to capacity but, sadly, most of the headstones were removed in a totally misguided 1969 decision to ‘clean up’ the grounds. Whoever made that decision should be fed to St Margaret’s dragon!

10 October 2015

Grave matters: passionflowers

Draped over a wall just around the corner from where I live is a passionfruit vine. I pass this way almost daily and always marvel at the beauty of its flowers.

Then, during one of my frequent walks through Cathays Cemetery, I noticed how often the passionflower appears on the headstones there. These are mostly stones from the late 19th century, though one is from as recently as 1924. The passionflower sometimes appears alone, sometimes in conjunction with other flowers, like roses and lilies, sometimes with foliage like ivy. It is carved on the stones of both men and women.

I guessed the flower’s presence was something to do with the passion of Christ but didn’t realise how specific the symbolism was until I researched it further. 

Working from the outside inwards, the flower has ten petals which represent the ten apostles. The rays that circle the flower form a nimbus, which, for Christians, is symbolic of the divine glory of Christ. Next come the five stamens representing the five wounds Christ received on the cross. The flower’s ovary is shaped like the hammer that was used to drive the nails into Christ’s hands and feet, and the stigma is divided into three parts which equate to the three days Christ lay in the tomb prior to his resurrection. Coincidentally, the passionflower only blooms for three days. And, lastly, the leaf of the passionfruit vine is shaped like a spearhead, representing the spear that pierced Christ’s side.

Not all stone masons seem to have understood the symbolism, I notice, as not all of their flowers have the precise numbers of petals and stamens but, still, I find it fascinating how much meaning has been attributed to this one little flower and will look with new eyes as I pass that passionfruit vine each day.

09 October 2015

Cardiff’s Animal Wall

To say that the 3rd Marquess of Bute was an animal lover is something of an understatement.

Not only did he introduce mammals like kangaroos and wallabies to his Isle of Bute, in Scotland, he also populated with a myriad of carved, sculpted and painted animals the palatial rooms he redecorated in Cardiff Castle (one example below) and he had a wall outside the castle adorned with stone-carved animals.

Luckily for us, his eccentricity means we can today still enjoy the nine creatures that sat atop his original Animal Wall, as well as the six additional animals that were added some forty years later, though the wall itself has moved from its original location.

‘From the southeast, Cardiff Castle, Wales’, between c.1890-1900, LC-DIG-ppmsc-07387,
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington.

The Animal Wall was designed by architect William Burges in 1866 but he passed away before it could be built. It was another architect, Burges's former assistant William Frame, who saw the project through to its completion in 1892, at which time the wall ran along the edge of the aptly named Castle Street, immediately in front of Cardiff Castle. The nine original animals were sculpted by Thomas Nicholls – they are a pair of apes, a bear, a hyena, two separate lions holding shields, a lioness, a lynx, a seal and a wolf. They have glass eyes, which mean some of them have a tendency to stare down rather menacingly at passers-by, and they were originally painted in naturalistic colours, though that paint has since been removed.

The bear is my favourite.

The hyena

In 1922, when the authorities decided to widen the road in front of the Castle, the wall was moved to its present location, just fifty metres along the road to the west, where it functions as a road frontage and boundary wall for Bute Park.

The extra six animals, sculpted by Alexander Carrick, were added to the menagerie in 1931. These – an anteater, a beaver, a leopard, a pelican, a pair of raccoons and a vulture – are different in style to the originals, a little more chunky and less lifelike, in my opinion, and they also lack the glass eyes.

The leopard

The two lions and the lioness

The lynx

Most fortunate of all, the whole wall somehow escaped the Cardiff Council planners’ demolition plans in the 1970s. What a catastrophe that would have been! As the signboard by the wall proudly declares,

the Animal Wall is one of the most delightful and photographed historic features in Cardiff. … [It] has inspired several literary works, most famously a story by Dorothy Howard Rowlands, which was serialised in the South Wales Echo and Express from 1933 and was enormously popular with a whole generation of children. Characters included William the seal, Priscilla the pelican, Martha and Oscar the monkeys, Larry the lynx and Romulus and Remus the two lions.

The anteater and the apes

The raccoons

By the start of the 21st century, the animals were showing their age (and the anteater was missing his nose!) so, as part of a £5.6 million refurbishment of Bute Park, the wall and its animals were comprehensively repaired and restored, though I notice the wolf has already lost one of his ears. Let’s hope the animals manage to survive another hundred years so they can delight animal-lovers old and young for generations to come.

The beaver

The pelican

The seal and the vulture

The one-eared wolf