St Mary's Gravestones

Peter Dawson

21 January 2020

It was a chilly evening when I looked at the gathering of local folk ready for our talk led by Peter Dawson, on St Mary’s Gravestone stories.

Peter gave an in-depth view of the graveyard and the earliest church registers dating back to1558, which is the year Queen Elizabeth I came to the throne.  There are no headstones dating back this far. Some 1,133 people are listed in the registers, buried in about 550 graves. Some are family graves and some are sarcophagi with several people laid to rest in each. 

There were some unusual deaths.  George Richard Turner (b 1866) fell into the pond opposite the King’s Arms during the blackout and drowned on 2nd Jan uary1943. He was married to Alice Ward who had died the year before.  Frederick Grimmer (right) (b 1874) was accidentally killed on 2nd Jan 1947 whilst leading a tumbril and two horses across the railway at Cattle Creek, Martham, aged 72.

Susan Amis, nee Lines, drowned whilst crossing the river (which one we do not know) according to her gravestone (right). She was only 27 when it happened in 1872. Very sadly her husband, George Amis, also died the following year leaving two small daughters orphaned.   Phillip Francis of the well-known Francis family died when a sand hole at Hemsby beach buried him in 1929. He was only 17 years old.

We were shown how many local families are interlinked which was interesting.  Some were 'gentlemen farmers' but most were agricultural labourers working through the hardships of the seasons; others were shop owners. Over the centuries St Mary’s has been the centre of births, marriages and burials.  The people lived and worked creating the stories which in turn has made our village a special place. We learned of the spike in burials in 1873, especially infants, and the fact that there was a smallpox epidemic which had swept through Europe and somehow reached Martham.

There are different types of graves, the larger the headstone the more likely it is that there was greater wealth in the family.  A pauper's grave would probably not be marked.  Iron railings were often sited around a grave. During the first decades of the 1800s this was seen as protection from body snatchers.   The oldest person buried here is Judith Goose, nee Dove, aged 104 in 1954, and the oldest burials are nearest to the church.

Peter illustrated his talk with detailed photographs of graves and names and said he wanted to use the graves as a starting point for seeing if he could use the base information, along with some genealogy, to see if and how the families of Martham are inter-related. It quickly became obvious that many are inter-related especially those dating to the 19th and 20th century. Peter illustrated two of these in detail.  It was a fascinating insight into the lives of families over three hundred years.

Using the Rising (wealthy landowners) and the Watson family (farm labourers) as examples, Peter explained the numerous links to other families of the village.  He introduced to us one descendant - a special visitor, Terry, who is related to over 2,000 residents past and present in Martham.

The Risings became significant land and property owners in Martham. As gentlemen famers various family members also lived at Martham House, Sutfield House, and Moregrove Manor.    Peter started with Robert Rising and Ann Manship.  They were from West Somerton and Robert had inherited the family estate from his father and grandfather but from the point of view of inter-related Martham families they provided the Rising foundations by having 14 children.  Not all of them married of course but they give a glimpse of how their marriages spread the Rising wings to others in and around the village in those days.  

Benjamin Rising was their 8th child, born in 1775 at West Somerton. He married twice. Sarah Sowells in 1804 and then Mary Clementina Garnham in 1827. The Garnhams were another large landowning family from Itteringham near Aylsham and again the marriage joined two farming dynasties. There are 10 Garnhams buried at St Mary’s. Later in their life it is believed that Benjamin and Mary lived at Moregrove Manor. His grave with his two wives is at St Mary's.  ​

William Rising, the 2nd child of Robert and Ann was married twice. The first time in 1792 to Mary Ann Page of which very little is known and then much, much later in 1841 to Elizabeth Howes. She was his house keeper at Somerton Hall. By then he had had six children with Elizabeth before they actually married. Their children were therefore all illegitimate: some were given the surname of Howes but acknowledged to be William’s with the addition of the middle name Rising. All the children were born at Somerton but later in life William and Elizabeth lived at Martham House where he died in 1846.

Just one generation down from William and Elizabeth we find that some of their six children also married prominent locals of the time.   For example, 
Harriet married William Harrison Wells in 1832 who operated the mill at Hemsby Road.  Eliza Rising Howes married James Bane late in life in 1870. James was another farmer and his father had been a corn merchant and the owner of the mill at Hemsby Road when it was operated by William Wells.

The Watsons are the only family that can be found in all the census returns from 1841 to 1911. There are 34 Watsons buried in the graveyard from different branches of the family. They mostly lived in the Cess area and were agricultural labourers and railway workers. The Watson family is so large it would be impossible to mention them all. They originated from Repps in the mid 1700’s.  William Watson and Mary Ann Mason moved to Mustard Hyrn, Cess, and their son John married Judith Holt at St Mary’s in 1805 when he was a labourer. One of their sons was William Watson (b1820) who married Margaret Woolston and although he started out as an agricultural labourer by 1885 he has taken advantage of new work the railway brought with it and became a plate layer. They also moved to Rose Cottage Farm at Cess which was to become synonymous with the Watson family.   

The church of St Mary’s stands proud in this corner of Norfolk.  Over the centuries it has experienced the emotions of happiness and sadness.  Between the graves people have stepped, and stopped praying for those departed.  The continuation of births and marriages and the joining of families in the celebration of life continues.

Janet Edwards

*this is an edited version of Peter’s extensive talk. 



(Above: Frederick Grimmer's grave, courtesy of Peter Dawson)
(Below: The Amis grave, courtesy of Peter Dawson)

The Amis grave
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