Monday, September 25, 2006

The old graveyard of St.Mary's

W. F. Bushell, 'The Ancient Graveyard of Birkenhead Priory', T.H.S.L.C. cviii. 141 is the best source of information about the old graveyard before it's demolition to make way for the new Dock at Lairds.

The modern church of St. Mary was built within it about 1820 at the expense of the lay owner, who no doubt saw the expansion that was coming, but the greater part of the churchyard was untouched. Of recent years friends of the Priory have urged that it should be made into a small park, and that, if the ecclesiastical authorities were unable or unwilling to maintain it, they should offer it free for that purpose to the Town Council. Many members of the latter,and others, had expressed themselves as favourable to the suggestion, but unfortunately nothing was done in spite of the efforts of the few. Such an open space, where there are so many inhabited buildings crowded together, would have been of great value to the community, and it caused keen regret when it was heard that the ecclesiastical authorities were proposing to sell it in order that a new dock could be constructed on that site. Thus were shattered for ever the hopes of those who had envisaged the provision of a small park in which old people and others could see visions and dream dreams of the past. Indeed some had looked forward to a day when buildings to the east of the site could be remoV6d," revealing once more a view of the Mersey on which, from this headland of birch trees, the monks had gazed for four centuries, followed, for a further three centuries, by the lay owners and their friends. It has already been stated that many had regretted the state of desolation into which the graveyard had been allowed to fall, and had long urged that it should be handed over to the Town Council for the above purpose. The precedent of 1896 would then have been followed when the Council secured the majority of the ruins, and gladly spent £3,000 on their restoration and repair. Much of this was done under the influence and supervision of the Historic Society or Lancashire and Cheshire. It was for this reason that this new threat naturally alarmed the Society, so that they sent representatives' to the government enquiry held at the Town Hall, Birkenhead in the earlier part of 1956. Some of their members had been active for months beforehand, with letters to the Press, and interviews with those concerned. Unfortunately, however, the Society was helpless against the combined opposition of industrialists, Town Council, and, most unhappily, the ecclesiastiical authorities, who had little regard for their ancient inheritance. Thus there will pass away the holiest spot in Birkenhead, where rest the bodies of the holy men of the past who served God in prayer and praise upon this headland, and where also rest the bodies of our predecessors who, after the dissolution, played their part in the life of Wirral and served their generation. One more thing should be said. Our Society has always recognised the needs of the present generation, and has never neglected that aspect. In this small island some fifty million people live. They have to export to live. Industries have to be encouraged and helped, and the use of this graveyard may be essential to the continuance of our present standard of life. The Historic Society, while it deplores the loss of the graveyard, realises such needs full well; but it is justified in deeply regretting such a loss, however necessary it may be.

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