Monday, 4 April 2016

Bromley Kent sexton's records 1809-1837

It has been a large undertaking to transcribe and proof read this large volume of records for Bromley Kent burials in several hands as a continuous record of the location and depth of burials in the churchyard at Bromley.
The volume is useful in understanding the land surrounding the churchyard and is also descriptive of the catacomb beneath the Ancient Parish church with its window location in one entry. Because of the descriptive references to the various neighbouring buildings and farm owners it is possible to identify the inhabitants of old Bromley. In 1809 the Rawes Academy was a large boys school and the sextons records indicate that Messrs Rawes had a paling fence oppsite the churchyard and a small wicket gate to gain access to the churchyard presumably for students and staff to attend church services. The account also records Doctor Ilott's house on another side of the churchyard and refers to a barn. There are also references to the different types of trees in the churchyard and to neighbouring farm and granary.
I have prevously blogged about my discovery of the Bromley Archives copy of Thomas Wilson "Accurate Description of Bromley" published in 1797 see here. On my rough sketch of the churchyard I think I can see the Rawes wicket gate and also the "Carriage Gate" entrance to the church and yard described in various accounts.
The locations of graves are measured using boundary features or trees or from existing tombs many described as with "rales" or flat stones or ledgers (a form of stone depicting a book). One is struck by the three dimensional nature of positioning burials in an ancient church yard. This account covers the Bromley response to the theft of bodies at Beckenham see my blog on the Beckenham Resurrectionists. From the outset of the volume it also records which bell was tolled for either the churchyard burial or the passage from bromley for burial elsewhere using either the Great Bell or small bell. In one case the bell is tolled for one hour although it was usual for the bell to toll the age of a person. There is a consistent fee of 7 shillings for the Great Bell and four shillings and sixpence for the small bell.
There was no "paupers grave" treatment at Bromley for the dead from the Poorhouse or Bromley Parish workhouse. Burials from there and from coroner's inquests regularly have the small bell tolled to accompany the interment which is in the next available location adjacent to other tombs and headstones. The grave is occupied by a number of burials and the burials tend to be shallower than neighbouring graves but there is no practice of using land at the edge of  the churchyard as "common" burial space.
In the accounts there are references to a Parish House at Bromley Common and given the field name Workhouse Field at Oakley Road and references to coffins made at the Parish House. It does appear that a second parish Poor House was occupied by the paupers from the Common and settlement at Skim Corner. The funeral accounts of both Joseph and Edward Dunn contain reference to "parish coffins" provided and I have formed the impression that paupers at Bromley Common which had a good deal of timber production woodbrokerage and sawmills were to produce coffins for both houses.
The entries have provided a number of blog entries including the death of Sarah Young in 1821. In most cases of a body found or sudden death or suicide the sexton records the circumstances to indicate suicide. Exceptionally Sarah's death is not designated as suicide. There are a number of deaths of people found in fields or drowned in ponds. Two deaths in sand pits (together) are entered and one in the gravel pit  "next to the Poorhouse". Outbreaks of smallpox claim young and old alike and there are a number of drowned persons in the moat of the Bishop's Palace mostly accidental but occasional suicides.
Another group of deaths are identified as patients under the care of Mister Scott famous surgeon and the number of patients treated is known to have been high so the death rate following surgery also seems relatively large.
In the era of the Napoleonic wars with France I was surprised to see a number of French burials. Since Shooting Common had a military encampment and soldiers were billeted in the town it surprised me to find a settled french population in Bromley.
Also associated with the war are deaths from injuries and reference to the death of fathers in Spain and in various regiments in other campaigns. There are also a number of amputees mentioned.
The early years of the record also identify the name of Bromley undertakers. These correspond with the Dunn funeral accounts ledgers that is the Dunn funeral business assisted various carpenters and cabinet makers from whom they purchased coffins at busy periods. There are a number of funerals recorded as being handed over for completion. R M Smith has a number of businesses in Bromley but ran a carpentry workshop; several of his employees are recorded at the time of their funerals.Smith also farmed land and owned rental properties known in the records as "Smith's Rents". Other undertakers are recorded as London or Stranger or name and the local parish such as Beckenham. Few in the local funeral trade could match the Dunn funeral business which undertook large funerals for the local nobility. The detail of the sexton's record series provide an insight into the funeral trade of the Georgian and Regency period and establishes Dunns as the leading undertaker in Bromley over this period.
© Henry Mantell Downe Online Parish Clerk 2013-2016