Brixham Non-Conformist Churchyard Trust

Land for The Non Conformist Churchyard was purchased for ‘Fifty Pounds of lawful money’ from ‘William Gillard the Elder of Brixham in the County of Devon: Gentleman’ on ‘the sixteenth day of May in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifty’, so we’ll have just celebrated out 171st anniversary.

What do we know about the founding Trustees?

Wolston, Lakeman and Hoare we do, but not much about the others except that a cordwainer made footwear.

What about that little chapel?

That was built in 1857 and is still owned and maintained by the Trust. It and the wall are listed buildings…

But what was it used for?

As a final roof for coffins to pass under and for bearers to rest before the burial. Without a hearse it was a long heavy carry up from Lower Brixham.  There were restrictions in the conveyance on what could be built and what any building could be used for. It’s used for storage today.

Is that it?

Not quite.

By 1900 there was need to extend the churchyard and on 29 April 1900 a further parcel of land, part of an orchard known as Eveleigh was purchased from John Charles Martin for £134

So how much land do the Trustees manage today?

Added together, it’s just less than three acres. Taking care of the burial ground is the responsibility of the current Trustees working on behalf of all the Non-Conformist Churches in Brixham.

The Trustees arrange for all the necessary maintenance in the churchyard to be carried out: regular grass cutting and trimming of shrubs. A contribution is also made to the Parochial Church Council who manage the rest of the churchyard, for the bills arising from the removal of rubbish.

So how is all that paid for?

Fees, for burials or interment of ashes, are received from Funeral Directors and Monumental Masons for the placement of memorials. Many relatives and friends also make annual personal donations for the maintenance of their loved ones’ grave. Donations have also been made by the Non-Conformist Churches.

But why is the Churchyard divided up?

That’s mainly historical:

Brixham Non Conformist Burial Ground Map

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries there was a great deal of unrest nationally over what were seen as scandals in graveyard management, especially in urban areas.

Given the relative numbers of Anglican and Non-Conformists something had to be done to appease the Non-Conformists. In practice that didn’t happen until towards the end of the nineteenth century.

Non-Conformists felt they’d been getting a raw deal where burial rites had been dictated by Anglicans and so started to set up their own graveyards. Brixham is perhaps an example of this.

Something of the fervour which was gripping the country is evident from what happened in Brixham in the lives of two of the founding Trustees: Wolston and Lakeman.

All was not well in Lower Brixham. In 1843, Thomas Lakeman, presumably then worshipping at All Saints wrote and published a 23 page letter to the congregation at All Saints which did not pull any punches.  The incumbent, one Rev. HF Lyte had been having a rough time of it, losing considerable numbers of his congregation to the Non-Conformists over a period of years. At one time he lost half the choir at one go.

Richard Wolston, a solicitor, lived in a house where Saxon Court is now on New Road. He’s probably best remembered for financing the railway branch line from Brixham Road (Churston) into a new station at Furzeham.

In 1839 he and his wife are recorded as contributing money to the Incorporated Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts  on the same account as Rev HF Lyte, his curate son in law Hogg, and two other curates: Holdsworth  and Twysden.  Quite a turnaround.

Not long after the Churchyard was purchased, cholera broke out in Brixham leading to about 80 deaths. Wolston subsequently petitioned the MP who then lived at Lupton House to have the town inspected with a view to raising funds to improve water supply and sanitation.

Both he and Lakeman were recorded as working with the inspector together with Hogg in attempting to address the unsanitary conditions faced by residents mainly in Lower Brixham.

One other founding Trustee, Frederick Hoare, left Brixham in 1854 for Australia leaving his wife and family behind. He sailed from Liverpool in 1854 for Melbourne along with another local man: Squiers.  Sailing on a new ship, the Red Jacket, that reached Melbourne in record time, they are reported to have embarked on building in and around Melbourne for about two years.

A copy of the diary Frederick kept on the outward voyage is now in the South Australian Maritime Museum in Adelaide. In 1856, receiving news that his wife was ill he returned to Brixham where she died shortly afterwards. He is reported to have died three years later. One of his grandsons, Archer Hoare, became the Chairman of Middlesex County Council.