I first began my cemetery research when I confessed to a friend that my family history investigations had still not lured me into Wycombe Cemetery to find the family plot which I knew to be there. This was a shocking admission for an amateur family historian and I could get away with it no longer. I ventured forth on a cold windy day, discovered just one of the family plots, and resolved to go back when it was warmer. So started the detectve mystery which has kept me Plot Spotting for the past few years.
After many more visits to the cemetery I was able to locate far more than the one family plot that my father had known to be there. In 2008 Wycombe Museum held an exhibition called 'Graves to Garden Parties' and asked me if I had any family photographs of any of the events held at Castle Hill House when my great grandfather, James George Peace, lived there with his wife and children. The initial 'grave' of the exhibition title which the Museum was particularly interested in was that of an Anglo Saxon burial discovered near the front entrance by road diggers on the same day as Ellen Peace (my great aunt on my paternal Peace line) married Fred Skull (my great uncle on my maternal Skull line). I had informal photographs of their wedding reception on the Castle Hill lawns and the same formal photograph which the Museum presently exhibit in their kitchen of the happy couple. More than happy to provide any information that I could I also revealed that many of the graves of my Victorian ancestors were in Wycombe Cemetery and that I now knew where most of them lay. So began my first cemetery tour which I called 'Would you be seen dead in here?'
|Infant Treacher deaths|
But locating long lost graves is not sufficient to keep my interest going. I need to know more about the residents within. Who did they marry? Where did they live? What were their lives like? How must they have felt upon losing so many infant children? – which, sadly, many of the gravestones frequently reveal.
I produced my family history website, Wye is for Wycombe, to coincide with my first cemetery tour.
There was far more information on the site than I could possibly cover in one tour so in 2009 I gave my second tour for Wycombe Museum entitled 'Tomb with a View' which covered the farmers, corn dealers and tradesman of the area, many of whom were also volunteer firemen. I set my research the following year on developing a cemetery tour to cover the chairmaking folk of Wycombe called 'Chairway to Heaven' but two things got in the way. Firstly this became such a mammoth topic that I felt I couldn't do it justice in the limited time I had to carry out my investigations – as you can imagine this is a HUGE research venture in a town made up of chairmakers! – and, secondly, I had become involved in the High Wycombe Society's research project on the 'Pioneers of Progress' which was investigating the eighteen names listed on the Progress Window in the Town Hall's Oak Room. Since I was aware that many of these names, and those of their descendants, were now residing in the cemetery I took a great interest in the project and had to leave my 'Chairway to Heaven' tour until a later date.
At the same time as I was working on the High Wycombe Society's tour of the cemetery, entitled 'The Victorian Cemetery – a window through time', I was asked if I could provide another tour for Wycombe Museum. Fortunately by this time I had accumulated a vast array of stories about the various families now residing in the cemetery and so the 'Vaults and All', tour materialised. Both were delivered in full Victorian Widow's Weeds, nice and warm for the winter but particularly hot in summer!
Since then I have delivered 'Dead on Arrival' (2013) about the physicians, nurses, dentists and chemists buried here, and I finally felt I'd gained sufficient knowledge to present that 'Chairway to Heaven' tour for 2014. That same year I also organised the 'Tell Them of Us' costumed pageant in liaison with the boys of John Hampden Grammar School, to commemorate the centenary of the start of WW1. This was when Wycombe District Council also saw the need for a cemetery war memorial to recognise all the Wycombe men and women who have given their lives to the service of their country. The memorial was formally unveiled in 2015 by Councillor Green.
An updated 'Tomb with a View' tour was presented in 2015 which included further graves and stories which my research had now brought to light.
In July 2016 there will be another costumed cemetery pageant, this time in liaison with the boys of John Hampden and the girls of Wycombe Abbey, to commemorate the centenary of the Somme. And in September 2016 I will be delivering a new tour called 'Pushing up the Daisies' which will be a development on the much shorter 'Wycombe's Women' tour which I first gave in 2012 for National Heritage week.
I have been helped throughout by the investigative powers of Richard Ogden who I first met when I asked for help in finding the grave of Walter Skull. At that time he was working as an administrative officer for the cemetery. He, too, has become hooked on the Victorian detective quest which it now appears that we have set ourselves. If I am Holmes he is indeed my Watson.
I began to put our cemetery research onto its own website in 2011 but there is still much to add. Hopefully this site will continue to grow and develop as our investigations continue. It is very much a work in progress as we get to know, and befriend, the folk of Victorian Wycombe. Welcome to ‘Lost the Plot?’
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Heaven on the Hill
Sit here awhile and pass the day,