Throughout history there are many amazing facts of interest that raise one’s emotions and sometimes past practices come to light, that most people nowadays would find difficult to understand. One such tradition of history was discovered within Hedge End Town Council archives quite recently…
During recent archiving, we discovered documents referring to the interment of 30 stillborn babies within Albert Road Cemetery and whilst records identified registration of their parents and the date of burial, it had remained a mystery as to the location of their interments. However, the documents found within the archives clearly explained why their location had not been identified as they were laid to rest in un-consecrated grounds.
History indicates that prior to the 1980’s, it was customary that stillborn babies were interred in unconsecrated land and parents were not told where their child lay or given the option of a funeral. It would also seem that there was a train of thought that, as there was no opportunity for the child to be baptised, it was laid to rest in unconsecrated land and the parents urged to forget.
It has long been the unmentionable, undisclosed and unidentified area of Albert Road Cemetery which the Town Council wished to remedy as sensitively and respectfully as possible. In the first instance both staff and Councillors referred to rumour of a location, which none could verify as the last interment had taken place long before employment or serving Council. However, a former and now retired Funeral Director was able to concur that he too had been of the impression that the burials had taken place within the bank of the boundary at the St. John’s Road end of the cemetery.
The register of the Burial of Stillborn children provides the date of burial and the names of parents and it was not until archives dating back to 1957 were uncovered, that we were able to identify addresses and found that the babies came from Millbrook, Butlocks Heath, Netley Abbey, Bursledon, West End, Sholing as well as Hedge End, which may also indicate that the parents were not made aware of the final resting place of their child. In recent years, the Town Council has been approached by a man searching for his sibling’s grave and when we found his parents named in the Register for Stillborn Children he was shocked to find that the name of the child had not been entered. However, this was the requirement of the time and then to learn that the baby lay in unconsecrated land was very little comfort as we were unable to identify a specific grave. Indeed, we were only able to suggest the area by hearsay.
It is the Burial Authority’s duty to ensure that no interment/grave is disturbed and whilst the remaining areas of Albert Road Cemetery decrease, it might be a suggestion long into the future to inter in the very ground that remains unconsecrated, through the mere fact that it has not been identified as interred.
Sands, stillbirth and neonatal death charity, a bereaved parents’ group, has been campaigning for sympathetic burial, cremation and memorials for babies with considerable success in recent years. Community baby memorial areas are appearing in cemeteries, crematoria and hospital grounds and cemeteries are increasingly setting up children’s burial and memorialisation sections and the Town Council has resolved that it is time that corrective measures are taken and that this part of Albert Road Cemetery is recognised.
The Town Council, with the assistance of funding from Hampshire County Council’s County Grants Scheme, have commissioned a commemorative stone with the words “For All Babies Born Asleep 1932 – 1983” to be placed to identify the area of the cemetery. The memorial, a former exhibition model of dark-grey all polished granite with an Angel carved insert and gold leaf lettering, will be unveiled during a dedication service conducted by Churches Together on the first day of spring, 10.30am, Saturday 21st March, 2015.
Enquiries may be referred to the Burial Authority and will be dealt with sensitively and respectfully by contacting Denise Lowth, Deputy Town Clerk, Hedge End Town Council. Telephone: 01489 780440. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org