The Funeral of John Laird at St. Mary's Church 1874

The funeral of John Laird, who had represented Birkenhead in Parliament since its enfranchisement in 1861, took place on Tuesday forenoon at St. Mary's Church, in the presence of an immense concourse of sorrowing people, comprising all classes of the com- inanity. The morning was exceedingly fine for the time of year, and at an early hour crowds of people began to assemble at different points leading to the demised gentleman's residence, in Hamilton-square, and to St. Mary's Church. Nearly all the shops in the township were closed, and at the principal large shipbuilding and other works all operations were suspended for the day, the workmen turning out en masse to do honour to the memory of one whom they all held in high respect and veneration. Indeed, the township presented quite an aspect of mourning for some hours.

It was arranged that the funeral cortege should leave the residence of the deceased at a quarter to eleven o'clock. About ten o'clock the employees at the Birkenhead Iron Works (founded by the late Mr. Laird) assembled in Church-street, close to the works, and formed in procession four and six deep, to the number of nearly 1500. They were all respectably dressed, and their appearance and demeanor showed how much they esteemed and valued their old employer. At the head of the procession were some men who had been in the employ of Mr. Laird and his sons for the long period of about 40 years. These included Mr. Thomas Williams, Mr. Thomas Wharton, Mr. Henry Ashton, Mr. Coomber, Mr. James Barton, Mr John Moore, and others. This large body of men proceeded from Church Street, through Pilgrim Street, Market-Street, and Hamilton-Street, into Hamilton-Square, and on passing the residence of the deceased, to take their position at the head of the cortege, the men uncovered in the most respectful manner. We should here state that in this procession there were a number of workmen who were employed in other establishments in the township. The Square at this time was densely crowded with men, women and children. The blinds of the houses in the Square and the neighborhood were closely drawn, and the scene was one of a most impressive description.

At ten minutes to eleven o'clock the coffin containing the body of the deceased was removed from the house to the hearse, amidst profound silence. The chief mourners, who were in in carriages, were Mr. William laird, Mr. Macgregor Laird, Mr. John Laird, jun., Mr Henry H. Laird, and Mr. Egerton K. Laird, sons of the deceased; besides Masters John Macgregor Laird, Gordon Laird, and Charles W. Laird, sons of Mr. John Laird jun.; and Masters John Knox Laird and Henry C. Laird, sons of Mr. W. H. Laird. There were also chief mourners Mr. James T. Bristow and Mr. Joseph R. Busk (with his son Master William H. Busk), sons-in-law of the deceased; the Rev. Nicholas Hurry, brother to Mrs. Laird  Mr. William S. Laird, Mr. Joeeph King, Dr. J. F. Stevenson (who attended Mr. Laird during his illness), Dr. Vose, Mr. F. S. Hull, Mr. John. T. Goldney, Mr. R. R. Bevis, Mr. S. S. Bristow, Mr. W. S. Briggs, and Mr. Billinie Porter, who acted as private secretary to Mr. Laird nearly the whole time he was in Parliament, and for some years previously had been employed in a similar capacity by one of Mr. Laird's brothers.

Following the mourning coaches were the Birkenhead Commissioners on foot, including Messrs. G. Harrison, W.. Williamson, H. E Aspinall, Thomas Evans, E. Mills, E Derbyshire, Braithwaite Poole, jun., T. S. Deakin, T. Hope, W. Worrell, W. Hinson, Dr. Shield, J. M. Radcliffe, W. Henderson, and W. Fulton: The Commissioners were accompanied by Mr. C. J. Preston, Stipendiary Magistrate of Birkenhead ; Mr.. Ambrose Walne law-clerk ; Mr. Henry Bell, deputy law-clerk ; Mr T C. Thorburn, surveyor ; Captain Pinhey, manager of Woodside Ferry; Dr. Vascher, medical officer of health ; Mr. W. Hardisty, township treasurer ; Mr W. Callow, gas and water engineer; Mr. Thomas Nicholls, Woodside Ferry treasurer ; Mr. 'Sanderson, registrar of the cemetery.

Next In the procession, on foot, came members of the Dock Board and a large body of other gentlemen 'belonging to both sides of the water, many of whom had known Mr. Laird for many years, and had taken an active part with him in parliamentary, dock, and other matters. These included Viscount Sandon, M.P.; Mr.Rathbone, M.P. ; Major Waterhouse, M.P. for , Halifax ; Mr. J. Tollemache, late M.P. for West Cheshire, . Mr. W. Langtone chairman of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board Mr. Harold Littledale, Mr. Ralph Brocklebank, Mr.. J. A. Tobin, Mr. Robert Galloway, Mr. W. Paton, Mr. T. B. Forwood, Mr. A. T. Squarey, solicitor to the Dock Board; Mr. A. B. Walker (Mayor of Liverpool) ; Mr James Beazley, Mr. John Bingham, Mr. William Inman, Mr. David McIver, Mr. B. Darbyshire, Lieut-Col. King, Lieut.-Col. Clay, Mr. J. R. Shaw (Arrowe Hall), kn. In the procession were also a number of the members of the Tranmers local Board, including Mr. George Atkin (chairman). The Birkenhead guardians were represented by Mr W. Legge (chairman), Mr. Henry Fisher, Mr. Peter Gregory, the clerk, and other members. About 50 licensed victuallers 'of the township likewise formed part of the procession, : including Mr. Eldershaw (chairman of the Birkenhead and Wirral Licensed Victuallers Association), Mr. W. Harbridge, Mr. R Hobill, Mr. W. Pulford, Mr. E. Parsons, Mr. Joseph Perrin, &c. Mr. Robertson Gladstone and Mr. F A. Clint did not walk in the funeral procession, but they were in early attendance at the church, and at a quarter past ten o’clock took their seats in a pew near the chancel. Following those on 'foot came about thirty private carriages, some of which had occupants, and others not.

The immense funeral cortege started from the residence of the deceased, amidst great silence, a few minutes before eleven o'clock, and proceeded slowly from Hamilton-Square into Bridge-Street, and thence along Chuch-Street, the distance to the church not being more than a quarter of a mile. The route on both sides of the thoroughfares was densely lined with people, who conducted themselves in the most decorous and orderly manner. Large numbers of the spectators were attired in mourning, and appeared to be deeply affected with the solemmty of the scene. Upon the employees, who headed the procession, reaching the proximity of the church, they filed on each side of the thoroughfare, and allowed the hearse and mourning coaches and the gentlemen on foot to approach the main entrance to the sacred edifice. The body was met in the churchyard by the Rev. Canon, Knox, who, it is said, married. the deceased in Liverpool in September, 1829, and who had (although a much older man) survived to see his old and valued friend committed to the dust. The reverend gentleman read the opening sentences of the burial service in a slow and solemn manner, while all heads were uncovered. The body was conveyed into the church, and was placed upon trestles in the aisle at the west end of the building, which in a few minutes was crowded in every part. The chief mourners took their seats in the pews belonging to the family of the deceased. The edifice presented a very mournful aspect, the communion table, the pulpit, the reading desk, the rails in front of the organ gallery, the family pews of the deceased, and the fronts of the galleries having been draped with black. The great gathering of gentlemen of Various political opinions and religious creeds was of a most affecting character, and many of those present were moved to tears while Canon Knox was reading the sublime burial service of the Church of England. The portion of the service read in church having been gone through, the body was removed to its final resting place, followed by the chief mourners and others who could get near the grave. The vault in which the body was laid is situated at the west end of the churchyard, adjoining the spot where the deceased's father and mother, sister, brother, and other relatives are interred. The body was placed in a shell, which was enclosed in a lead coffin contained in an outer coffin of polished oak, with heavy brass mountings. The inscription on the plate was as follows :—" John Laird, Member of Parliament for Birkenhead, born 14th June, 1803, died 29th October 1874, in his 70th year."

The funeral service having been concluded, the grandchildren of the deceased who were present strewed the coffin with flowers. Two beautiful wreaths of white camellias were placed at the head of the coffin, and a floral device in the form of a cross was laid at the foot. An old friend of the late Mr Laird also placed a wreath of flowers on the coffin. The mourners then took a final look at the coffin, which remained exposed to view for some time. After the interment, the procession was re-formed, and walked to Hamilton-square, where it broke up.
Between seven and eight o'clock at night the bells of St. Mary's Church rang a muffled peal as a mark of respect to the deceased.

When the death of Mr. Laird became generally known in Birkenhead on Friday morning week, the inhabitants felt that in the decease of their representative the town had suffered a great loss. Early in the day flags were hoisted half-mast high from various buildings in the town, and the ferry-boats plying between Woodside and Liverpool had also flags flying half-mast at the stern. Several ships in the Birkenhead docks also displayed a similar mark of respect, and the majority of the tradesmen of the place took their shutters only partly down.

Prior to commencing the business of the Police-court at the Town Hall, Mr. Preston, the Stipendiary Magistrate, alluding to the decease of Mr. Laird, said :—The sad announcement of the death of Mr. Laird has caused a profound feeling of regret and cast a deep gloom over Birkenhead. Until lately we had hoped that his illness would have taken a favorable turn, and that he would have been again able to appear amongst us with his health partially, if not fully, restored. These hopes have now been dispelled, and we have to lament the death of one who, for many years, ably represented the borough in Parliament, whose knowledge of its requirements, watchfulness over its interests, extraordinary energy of character, and great tenacity of purpose which he brought to bear upon all matters which he thought would be of advantage to the place, made him its guiding spirit .His munificent gifts to the town of a hospital and a school of art will be enduring evidences of the interest he took in Birkenhead, and his many private acts of charity and benevolence and his unbounded hospitality will not soon be forgotten. I know no man in this country whom name is so completely identified with any town as is that of John Laird with Birkenhead. Deeply interested in its welfare, his heart and soul were devoted to furthering its advancement. His loss has created a void here that no one can fill, and our heartfelt sympathy will be given to the family he has left behind.
On Sunday references were made to the death of Mr. Laird in the several places of worship in Birkenhead. At St. Mary's Church, where Mr. Laird was a regular worshipper, the Rev. Canon Knox preached a sermon suitable to the sad occasion.

Cheshire Observer, Saturday, November 7th 1874 page 2 Issue 1161

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