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At the time that St. John’s church and graveyard were opened there were only two other main graveyards in the whole area. These were St. Paul’s at Little Marsden and the already overcrowded St. Bartholomew’s at Colne. St. John‘s was needed for the rapidly growing community as there was an influx of people seeking work. This is a very important burial ground which served as Nelson's first cemetery. There are over 17,000 people buried in over 7,000 graves in the six and a half acre churchyard - people from all walks of life and denominations and from many different areas of the British Isles.
The land for the church and graveyard was given by Miss WALTON and Mrs MAW who were members of the wealthy landowning WALTON family.
The first recorded burial was of one year old Margaret Haworth of Bradley on January 14th 1849. Below are the stories of just a few of the people buried in the graveyard.
The Friends' CD records all the details of the graves within the churchyard. It's very comprehensive and includes a plan of the churchyard, an index of everyone buried there, date of burial, age of the deceased and a record of all the grave inscriptions. It is available to purchase here
Died 1905 aged 82 years. Born in Padiham, but moved to Barrowford in his late 20s and later to Nelson.
He had a great influence in the development of the town. He was an architect and surveyor and also a builder in partnership with Mr Holland. Many streets in the Whitefield area of Nelson were designed by him and he built the National school at Barrowford. Together with Mr. Holland he built a mill to be leased out on ‘the room and power system’. Anyone with just a small amount of capital could rent space and power to operate a few looms, so getting his foot on the business ladder. Another venture was the building of stations for the Lancashire and Yorkshire railways. He was a magistrate and member of the Local Board and church warden at St. John’s.
The rapidly growing town of Nelson achieved Borough status in 1890.
In 1908 in recognition of his services to the town William Hartley was given the honour of being the first Freeman of the Borough. He had started work as a weaver at Lomeshaye Mills and in 1870 went into the manufacturing business at Bridge Mill. He became a member of the Local Board and was elected as Nelson’s first representative in the County Council. One of the projects he was involved in was Coldwell Reservoir. He was a stalwart of Carr Rd. Wesleyan Chapel for many years and died in 1909 at the age of 76 years.
William Astley and his partner William Brown founded a Brewery on Sagar St.
William Astley died at Scarborough in 1896 and he was buried in St. John’s but without a grave stone. His memorial is the drinking fountain (water only) which stands in the town centre and which he presented to the town in 1887. The stone relief of Admiral Lord Nelson which was removed from the brewery wall when the building was demolished is now on the wall above Boots Chemists in the Pendle Rise shopping centre. The Astley family home was Fern Lea, Netherfield Road which in the 1920s became Fern Lea Maternity Home, the birthplace of many Nelson babies for about 40 years.
Many of the gravestones are very ornate but others are very plain and simple. One of the simplest headstones is that of George HILLARY. This is a small plain stone inscribed ‘G.H.’. George lived at the Lord Nelson Inn with his wife, Sarah Ann, daughter of the landlord, Matthew Manley. He helped his father-in-law in the daily running of the Inn. In 1868 he was diagnosed with consumption and died on 13th February 1869 aged 31, leaving his widow and a 4 year old son. In her book’ Tales of the Nelson Inn’ Gertrude.V.Wilson, granddaughter of George tells this story about his funeral. ‘The funeral coaches had been ordered from Burnley but did not arrive, leaving the funeral party and many local inhabitants who had turned out to pay their respects. When it was realised that the coaches were not going to arrive in time for the burial to take place that day, many volunteers decided to carry the coffin all the way from the Lord Nelson along Leeds Road and up the long hill to St. John’s, followed, on foot, by the mourners. Apparently, a clerk in the coach office in Burnley had made a mistake in the order book and put the funeral as being on the 19th instead of the 18th!’
Two world wars touched the lives of Nelson folk and there are about thirty war graves in various parts of the churchyard. A civilian victim of the war was James Robert KELLY, a second class passenger who lost his life on the ill-fated Lusitania in 1915. He is not buried at St. John’s but is commemorated on his family’s gravestone. James, son of a Manx man, was born in Nelson in 1872. The passenger ship, Lusitania, left New York harbour for Liverpool on the 1st May 1915. When on the 7th of May she was only 10 miles from the coast of Ireland she was hit by a single torpedo fired from a German U-Boat. A second explosion took place on the ship which the German government claimed was caused by the ship carrying a secret cargo of ammunitions but the British government claimed that this second explosion was because of the ignition of coal dust in the ship’s bunkers. There were some survivors but, sadly, nearly 1,200 people died that day.
Because of the bad state of the graveyard in the past, it was found impossible to maintain the war graves and a stone has been erected in Nelson Cemetery to commemorate these casualties.
(War grave website can be found at www.cwgc.org.)
In the days of bad sanitation and before the use of antibiotics and more advanced medication, illness and death were frequent visitors to the homes of both the rich and the poor. Severe epidemics were responsible for a lot of deaths. An example of the high infant mortality can be seen on the gravestone of John and Agnes EASTWOOD whose 4 sons and 5 daughters all died in infancy.
Gravestones pictures are coming soon!!
St John with St Philip Church