On this day … 5 March 1865

Anthony Hewitson
Anthony Hewitson

The Preston journalist and historian of the town, Anthony Hewitson, recorded the following sad event in his diary; his entry three days later makes for grim reading and speaks to his state of mind at the time:

𝐒𝐮𝐧𝐝𝐚𝐲 𝟓 𝐌𝐚𝐫𝐜𝐡 𝟏𝟖𝟔𝟓 Ethelind Hewitson, my daughter, died at 49 Fishergate Hill, Preston at 20 minutes to 11 o’cl[oc]k evening of tonsillitis. Age 3 y[ea]rs 9 months. God Bless her. Same age as my daughter Madge who died in March 1863.

Ethelind was buried in Preston Cemetery the following Wednesday and two hours before the ceremony, according to his diary entry for that date, he:

… went down grave, about 20 ft deep, and removed lid above a glass in coffin of my little daughter Madge, interred at same place and same age, two years before. Coffin put into ground 2 years ago. Said to be airtight. Made of iron. Face of Madge dark, eyes sunk, skin dark brown. Hair, cap &c perfect. Ethelind buried in a similar coffin.

The next day, ‘My son Ethelbert born between five and six o’cl[ock] this morning “without the aid of a doctor”.’

Hewitson’s diary has been edited by Andrew Hobbs and the first of two volumes has now been published. It can be accessed on line for free at: https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0262.04

With regard to the diary entry, Andrew adds a note,:

Twelve-feet-deep graves, to fit four burials, were common; Hewitson may have exaggerated the depth. His behaviour was unusual. Airtight coffins were intended to delay decomposition, and to prevent the release of “miasma”, believed to carry infection. An 1878 advertisement explained that ‘by the introduction of a Glass Panel in the lid a view of the departed may be obtained up to the last moment’ (“The House of Economy” advertisement, Cheltenham Mercury, 13 April 1878, p. 1).

‘His behaviour was unusual’ is perhaps something of an understatement.

3 thoughts on “On this day … 5 March 1865

  1. In Preston cemetery 20 ft graves seem to have been quite common. Quite a few of my relatives purchased them. They may only have sold them in certain parts of the cemetery,


      1. Hello Peter,

        Inspired by the article you posted, and my initial reply, I’ve just been looking at some of my family history records relating to Preston Cemetery and even found 1 grave, reference Bb113, where the initial internment is at 25 feet. I’ve wondered several times about the effort required to dig down this far.




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