What follows is a study of the gravestones at Lancaster Priory by the late Kenneth H Docton. It was started in 1930 and published privately in 1972 © copyright all rights reserved. It was prepared before the Churchyard was levelled and (largely) grassed over. The record of the gravestone inscriptions is in alphabetical order of surname. Many of the gravestones now comprise the floor of the Priory - a lot are still readable. The Parish registers referred to are now held by Lancashire Record Office, Bow Lane, Preston PR1 2RE. The telephone number is 01772-254868. They have complicated opening times. Their web site is listed on our Links page.
Click on the appropriate link to go to a subject heading or gravestone record file,
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1 A gravestone from 1672 photograph
2 The Graveyard of Lancaster Priory Church article by Kenneth Docton
3 Map of the gravestones before the Churchyard was levelled
4 Gravestones from ' A ' to ' D '
5 Gravestones from ' E ' to ' H '
6 Gravestones from ' I ' to ' O '
7 Gravestones from ' P ' to ' S '
8 Gravestones from ' T ' to ' Z '
9 Back to:
My interest in Local History has, during the past two or three decades made it necessary for me to investigate the pedigrees of various families, and in doing so I have made copious notes, of the family connections engraved upon the gravestones and memorials in the Priory Church Yard. During this period I decided that such information might be of interest to other persons and for that reason I compiled a record of all the essential facts recorded upon the stones that were visible from about 1930 to date. Many of these stones are no longer decipherable as weather, vandalism, and carelessness have taken their toll. No attempt has been made to copy the whole of an inscription, such words as "Here lies," "In loving memory," etc. have been omitted, but sufficient has been recorded to enable the family connections to be traced as this can only be done from the Parish Registers with a great deal of trouble, if at all.
When in doubt as to certain names or figures, an attempt has been made to verify them with the Parish Registers but in many cases such a search has only added to the confusion for various reasons:
(1) The Parish Registers indicated burials up to 1836 and not of necessity all deaths in the Parish.
(2) The Registers after 1836 show deaths and not of necessity all those persons buried in the Parish.
3) The registers were very imperfectly kept during the 18th century as the evidence before the Select Committee on Registration 1833, shows. The Clergy were themselves in some cases, careless. It was not uncommon for them to get their information from the undertaker and make the entry in the register just before the burial and sometimes the information was taken from the coffin plate.
(4) Not all burials took place in the Parish Church Yard, many took place without religious ceremony, sometimes during epidemics, for reasons of poverty or being Jews, Non-conformists or Roman Catholics, interments were frequently made in non-Anglican cemeteries in which Cases no record was made in the Parish Register of Burials.
(5) Surname may have been misunderstood.by either the registrar or the monumental mason.
(6) Some surnames can be spelt in various ways, i.e. Patterson, Paterson, Pattison or Humphrey, Humphries, etc.
(7) The person who gave the information to the mason may not have been the one who registered the death and may have given it to the best of his knowledge, i.e. about 3 years of age instead of 2 years 9 months.
(8) The deceased may have been known by an abreviated Christian name such as Sandra for Alexandra.
(9) The mason could not read the registrar's writing.
Where the main portion of the inscription has been illegible it has been left blank and so stated.
Soon the memorials of our forefathers are to be removed, but they themselves will not be disturbed as they must have disturbed those of their forefathers in their resting places, for this ground, during the past ten centuries must have held the graves of tens of thousands of Lancastrians of whom we have no record. It is unfortunate that no industrious person in the early 1800's had thought fit to record the inscriptions then visible.
There is no need here to set out details of the scanty records of early interments. Information as to the late Danish period, 10th and 11th Centuries can be obtained elsewhere and provide details of burials in pre-Norman times.
After a gap of some 300 years we again have evidence of burials from which the Church derived revenue. In 1256 the Prior of Lancaster Priory alleged that the Abbot of Cockersands Abbey had admitted certain parishioners of the Prior to the rights of sepulture in their monastary and some who served the Abbot and Convent of Cockersands to the ecclesiastical sacraments, and from them received oblations and personal tithes. The dispute having been referred to the Archdeacon of Richmond, he ordained, in 1256, that the Abbot of Cockersands should not 'admit parishioners of the Prior of Lancaster, without his licence, to sepulture or ecclesiastical sacraments, and if any parishioners of the Prior should desire sepulture at the Monastary of Cockersands on the dues being paid to the Church of which he was a parishioner, the Prior was not to withold his licence for burial.' (Dugdale Vol.6, p.908).
In the year 1348-9 came the terrible visitation of "The Black Death," and in an account rendered by the Rural Dean of Amounderness as procurator and agent to the Archdeacon of Richmond in respect of the fees for mortuaries and other dues, he states the total number of deaths recorded between the Ribble and the Lune as 13,024 (presumably in one year); of these there were 3,000 in Lancaster (Henry VIII and The English Monastaries, J.A. Gasquit, p. 2 Record Office, Exchequer Bundle 2, No. 11). we have no knowledge as to where these people were buried but as 400 of them had made wills they were probably of sufficient standing to require burial in a grave yard.
It would appear that this death roll was well over half of the population of the town, for in 1377 a census of principal towns in the kingdom was taken and some had a population of less than 800. No Lancashire towns are shown, it being expressly stated, "that Lancashire contains no town thought worthy of particular mention." It follows that Lancaster had a population of well under 800.
In 1622-3 a bad epidemic of Plague struck the Town. About 450 people died in Lancaster Parish. We do not know where they were buried but can only state that the number of deaths was about six times the average of 70-80 in preceeding years. The population of the Parish was about double that of the Borough.
The earliest record which can be attributed to some form of burial at Lancaster Priory Church is the seventh century Cross, now in the British Museum. It bears Anglian Runes believed to mean:- Pray for Cunibalth Cuthboerehrehting (Cuthbert's son). It is not intended to deal with all the ancient burials as this information can be obtained from Vol. 58 (New Series) 1906, Chetham Society - sufice it to say that the custom of burials in churches dates back to Norman times. The most wealthy and the most powerful were buried in sacred ground under the choir, the laymen, who could afford it, in the nave and so according to their means into the porch as an ancestor of mine, Thomas Docton, lies under a brass plate in the porch of Hartland Church, Devon, and upon which is inscribed:-
Here I lie at the Chancel Door
Here I lie because I am poor
The farther in the more they pay
But here lie I as warm as they
All the rest of the parishioners were buried in consecrated ground outside of the Church and it is these burials that this record refers to.
The first page of the earliest Register is inscribed
William Waller Gentleman, Mayor of Lancaster did deliver this booke to James Hardman the present Clearke of ye parish.
There is an ould peice of a Regester booke beginning 1538 in ye 30th year of Kinge Henry the eigth for some yeares after.
(The following has been struck out:
" There is another ould peice beginning 1568 in the tenth year of Quene Elizabeth and contineuing until 1571. "
Burialls from ye tyme to ye 4th of ffeb 1546 are in an ould peice of a booke in The Church Chist with ye newe booke fri Jan 1668 itt is 113 yeares since.
The records of the body of laymen known as the Twenty-Four in 1664 record that, " ye bellman shall have 4d [1•66 pence in decimal money] for every grave he makes in ye Churchyard and 6d [2•5 pence in decimal money] within ye Church. "
The Church yard at this time and into the 1800's was not enclosed by the stone wall that we know. The right of way round the west and south sides of the Church probably always existed together with a footpath from near the sun dial to the Old Grammar School but throughout the middle ages it was a playground, a fairground and a site for shops of a temporary construction. In the 1700's the Corporation provided gates, steps and repaired old walls and created new.
On the 18th April, 1700 Tho. Sheron, Tho. Medcalf, Tho. Westmore, Tho. Croft "Are appointed by the Corporation of Lancaster to view a certain parcell of waste ground belonging to ye Borrough of Lancaster and lyeing near Lancaster School adjoining to ye Church yard and to set out so much thereof as they shall think necessary for ye use of Lancaster as a burying place for such criminals as shall hereafter be Exequtd at Lancaster aforesaid or such persons as shall hereafter murder themselves within the said parish of Lancaster."
"Pursuant of the above we have viewd ye ground aforesaid and have set forth 20 yards in length and three yards in breadth within ye walls to be walled up at ye charge of ye Parish for ye use aforesaid ye wall to begin at ye stile going down to ye Schoole and to go 20 yards southward paying yearly at ye feast of St. Michaell ye Archangell six pence [2•5 pence in decimal money] to ye Church wardens of ye parish for ye time being to ye Bayliffe of this Burrough."
This rent was paid annually until 1818 in which year three pounds was paid by The Churchwardens for "removing Malefactors place" part of the new ground then added to the Churchyard being left unconsecrated for the purpose. It was not much used and was wholly covered by the railway from The Castle Station to the late Green Ayre Station. The ground then acquired was enclosed by a wall.
We have no knowledge of the number of burials in this Church Yard, but it must be colossal. In the years 1348-9 came the Black Death when nearly one half of the entire population of the country died. An account rendered by The Rural Dean of Amounderness as procurator and agent of the Archdeacon of Richmond in respect of fees for wills and other dues states that there were during this period alone 3,000 deaths in Lancaster, of whom 400 made wills.
In 1855 a Burials Board was set up, a new Cemetery at the top of East Road laid out so that the continuous removal of ancient bones to provide space for new burials ceased by the prohibition of further burials.
The bones from previous burials when dug up were stored in a structure known as the Charnal House and when it became too full they were taken out and again buried in a common pit. The Church Warden's account disclosed that in 1753 labourers were paid 19/lOd [that is nineteen shillings and ten pence which is about 99 pence in decimal money] 'for burying the bones of Charnal House.' In 1757, 15/9d [that is fifteen shillings and nine pence which is about 79 pence in decimal money] 'for work at the bone house and levelling the yard and in 1786, 7/6d. [that is seven shillings and six pence which is 37•5 pence in decimal money] 'for a new bone house.'
At a meeting held on the 4th December, 1813 the enlargement of the Churchyard was considered and negotiations for purchase of the necessary land for that purpose continued for many years, when in 1818 the land was purchased and a wall built to enclose it.
At a meeting of the four and twenty men on the 28th December, 1821, the Churchwarden reported (with other things) that the Lord Bishop of Chester had ordered that "the Fee for Interments within the Church paid to the Vicar be raised to five guineas [that is five pounds and five shillings which is £5•25 in decimal money] and that no graves hereafter be made either within or without the Church except at a yard distance from the Walls or Pillars."
The practice of interment within the Church continued to cause trouble. On the 4th August, 1827 a letter was read from the Archdeacon of Richmond stating that he found the floor on many parts especially in the centre aisle unlevel and imperfect, that it was represented "That this is occasioned by the practice of opening the ground within the Church for making graves. Though Ancient Rights of Burial cannot be infringed yet those who possess these rights are not entitled to exercise them so as to injure the fabric of the Church, I must therefore require the floor of the Church to be made level and perfect and afterwards you must oblige all persons who open the ground for sepulture to line the grave with a Wall on each side so as to support the flags when laid down again and prevent the floor from sinking."
There is a large area of the graveyard on the lower slope on which no stones are visible. It may be that they have sunk below ground level. If further stones are found when work is being carried out by the Corporation a record will be made of any inscriptions that are legible.
A few broken gravestones of the 17th century have been found and they are all made from the local sandstone. As this stone is very soft and soon worn away when exposed to the weather it probably accounts for the lack of early inscriptions.
The figures against each name on the list of tombstones relate to the numbers on the graves shown on the plan prepared by the Lancaster Corporation in l964 in preparation for the re-siting of the stones.
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