Dockroyd Graveyard Trust has been formed in January 2020 in order to assist in the restoration, preservation, improvement, maintenance and conservation of Dockroyd Graveyard and to advance education in the graveyard and an understanding of the history and heritage of the graveyard.
As I start to write this in April 2021 my mind is taken back to what Dockroyd graveyard was like two years ago before any restoration work had been carried out. Firstly, it was very difficult to get into the graveyard via the official entrance on Chapel Lane. Over a hundred blue dumpy bags full of building waste blocked the entrance and had to be removed from site to satisfy legal requirements.
That was the easy bit! When volunteer Roger Laird first stepped into the “jungle” we lost him in the ivy – Bob the dog went missing too! We could hear the thrashing about and after a days hard labour the first gravestone was revealed. At least it was a start and an eye-opener as to how much work was involved. The ivy was draped over the entirity of the headstones like a giant net firmly fixed to the ground by roots as thick as your forearm. Only the granite headstones had been able to resist the invasion. With a vice-like grip the ivy wrapped itself around anything and everything, woven tightly like a wicker basket. Great care was needed not to damage the delicate engravings, as each headstone was cleared like lifting a bonnet off a baby’s head. But then, if the ivy didn’t get you the brambles would with their sharp thorns intent on drawing blood whenever they had the opportunity.
A callout for help over facebook resulted in the very welcome arrival of reinforcements. Over the spring and summer dozens of supporters gave their time and efforts to reveal more and more. For some a day was enough, but for many the challenge was addictive. As we kept being faced with the next seemingly insurmountable obstacle someone came forward with the appropriate skills – or at least knew a man who could. This was also the case with the many local businesses who contributed to the project. With their help the impossible became doable. The attention of the BBC Look North cameras registered an amazing 297,000 views.
At first our intention was just to make all the headstones safe by laying them down if necessary. However the arrival of Stuart Sharp, and his lifelong experience as a master stonemason, whose help and guidance taught us how to reset leaning headstones and sunken kerbstones. Observing and learning the skills of the Victorian stonemasons was an added bonus. Our target now was to stand everything up so we could admire their work.
As each headstone was uncovered there became a desire to read the inscriptions and find out who lived there. A personal lifestory was uncovered and an understanding of how everyone fitted into this Victorian community was unravelled. The gravestones had come to life. The occupants were no longer dead and forgotten, they seemed alive and going about their daily lives. Andrew was continually asked if he was writing a book about our findings and we had to agree that if everyone buried here is to be truly remembered then it needed recording for posterity. And so the idea for our handbook and its title “Dockroyd Live” was born.
Dockroyd Graveyard is the former Wesleyan Methodist Burial ground in Oakworth, West Yorkshire. The first burial in 1844 was a one year old boy Thomas Ickeringill and the last was 70 year old Mabel Falkingham in 1969. In between more than 2500 people are buried here of which 572 are children under the age of five. There are at least 770 graves and 2500 people here. More than half are not recorded on a headstone and conversely there are many remembered on a headstone but not buried here. There are around 350 headstones or grave markers, many of which are double or multiple graves. In addition there are many unmarked graves that have required a forensic examination of the burial records to discover their whereabouts and occupants. Quite poignant was the discovery of a small area reserved for still born children.
Following it’s formal closure the graveyard slid into decline, over-run with self-seeded trees, ivy and brambles. The Church unexplainably sold it in 2006 to a property developer who in cutting down trees demolished many of the headstones. His actions caused considerable damage and legal problems which were finally overcome when Andrew Heaton purchased the graveyard as a private individual. The intention was to restore the graveyard, secure it’s future and hand over to the local community. With this in mind Dockroyd Graveyard Trust was formed in 2020 with Andrew Heaton as Chairman.