The second blog by friend of Arnos Vale, Dave Napier:
The paths of Arnos Vale Cemetery connect many graves of those who held positions of civic responsibility in our great City of Bristol, in particular Mayors and Lord Mayors. Bristol has recorded its own Mayor since 1216 and the role was made ‘Lord Mayor in 1899.
In ‘Part 1’ of this blog, I imagined that the spirit of Mayor Sir John Kerle Haberfield might party in the Anglican Chapel Crypt. One writer described him as ‘rather Frenchified in appearance and dress’1 and explained how much he enjoyed presiding over banquets, dinners and festivities which may go some way to explain why he was Mayor of Bristol no less than six times between 1837 and 1851! He might even consider setting up a ‘Mayors/Lord Mayors’ dining club as there would be at least 17 eligible residents to invite:-
Sir John Kerle Haberfield (1783 – 1858) Mayor in 1837,38, 45,48,49,50
James Gibbs (1791 – 1853) Mayor in 1842
Richard Poole King (1799 – 1874) Mayor in 1844
William Naish (1806 – 1875) Mayor in 1856
Sholto Vere Hare (1820 – 1900) Mayor in 1862
Elisha Smith Robinson (1815 – 1885) Mayor in 1866
Christopher James Thomas (1808 – 1894) Mayor in 1874
John Averay Jones (1814 – 1896) Mayor in 1875
Sir Joseph Dodge Weston (1822 – 1895) Mayor in 1880,81,82,83
Sir Charles Wathen (1833-1893) Mayor in 1884,85,87,88,89,90
Dr. Charles Highett (1812 – 1896) Mayor in 1891
Alfred John Smith (1843 – 1920) Lord Mayor in 1905 and 1906
Sir Frank Wills (1852 – 1932) Lord Mayor in 1911
Sir Ernest Cook (1867 – 1945) Lord Mayor in 1921
Thomas James Wise (1870 – 1945) Lord Mayor in 1932
William Albert Winchester (1874 – 1941) Lord Mayor in 1938
Thomas Henry Underdown (1872 – 1953) Lord Mayor in 1940
Frederick Charles Williams (1878-1962) Lord Mayor in 1943
During the 19th century, the political associations of these City Fathers were split more or less evenly between ‘Tory’ (Conservative) and ‘Whig’ (Liberal) although it was said by one writer, Sir Joseph Weston, “might be a socialist if Socialism were more respectable and not so dreadfully lowering”2. I have no doubt that the benevolent and kind Sir Joseph would have been very comfortable with the “dreadfully lowering” Labour Lord Mayors who took the 20th century stage and he would have greatly respected their efforts to maintain moral and our city’s fabric as it was decimated in the Blitz.
One was of these two was Sir Charles Wathen and his memorial is inscribed with the fact that he ‘died suddenly in the council chamber’. He and Sir John Haberfield have the distinction of being the only Mayors in over 800 years to serve six full terms as Mayor.
A number of other monuments not far away from the Wathen grave show clear signs of damage caused when a number of small bombs were dropped in the vicinity during the 2nd world war. Repairs are visible on the Ionic pillars of the nearby chapel to this day. In that same air raid, the top was knocked off of the Wathen memorial by a piece of shrapnel, otherwise it remains in good condition adorned by four angels and with its imposing ‘entrance’ stone in front.
James Gibbs’ grave stone makes no mention of the manner of his death. He was a vitriol manufacturer and Director of a number of businesses including the Great Western Railway. On 24th February 1853 he took a train for a meeting in London. Traveling at about 48 mph near Ealing Broadway station, one of the carriages lost its hold upon the rails. As the line took a bend, the carriage was thrown up the embankment, its body separated from its undercarriage and it fell to pieces like a pack of cards – miraculously liberating all the passengers inside with no fatal injuries. The following carriage, which carried James and his three colleagues, fell down the embankment and remained intact but James was killed instantly. When his body was examined, the only significant injury was a severe indentation in the skull on the temple and he was the only fatality of the accident.
At the inquest no satisfactory explanation for the derailment was given. The Coroner said that when passengers travelling by rail become alarmed, the first thing they did was to look out of the window, he had no doubt that, “such was the case with the unfortunate deceased”. He added that (when such accidents occurred) the cushions in first class carriages rendered great protection to travellers, provided they kept their head away from the windows! He didn’t mention facilities for of 2nd or 3rd Class passengers.
I have neither the room nor the inclination to progress through all these fine gentlemen in this article but I will end by looking at the varied state of some of their memorials.
This is the memorial to Sir Joseph Weston. In fact, it stands on top of a family vault system with more than 20 souls resting there. The Celtic cross has stood up to over 120 years of weathering even though the undergrowth is for ever encroaching upon the stonework.
Similarly, from the 20th Century, William Winchester’s granite memorial is in good condition
In contrast, here is the simple limestone scroll stone remembering Lord Mayor Frederick Williams now lost in a forgotten part of the cemetery even though it was put there in living memory. A few years ago, it was necessary to first remove the surrounding roots and bramble and then dig its lower half out of the mud before this photograph could be taken.
Today Bristolians might be hard put to name just a few past Mayors. I wonder how many of these Mayors performed their civic duties with any expectation that their good works would be remembered?
To be continued….?
Bristol Worthies by A B Freeman1
Greater Bristol by ‘Lesser Columbus’ Published by Pelham Press 18932
Main research source: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk (Bristol Mercury and Western Daily Press)
As a result of COVID-19 the team at Arnos Vale Cemetery has had to suspend their events and close the buildings, making it difficult to generate the funds they need to sustain themselves. They urgently need donations to ensure that they can continue to look after the site – and resume a full range of activities when it is safe to do so.