The church yard of St. Michael’s in Dalston, Cumbria could have come straight out of a novel by J.R.R Tolkien.
In the mists of an autumn morning, we came across 30 or so small gravestones about 18 inches in height and 12 inches wide, this was something we had never seen in a Cumbrian church yard before and it felt like we had suddenly been transported to the Shires of Middle Earth.
Then a sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach at the thought that all the graves were of infants and that some epidemic befell the Victorians of Dalston. However, closer inspection revealed that these are just normal graves, representing a wide selection of the population and all dating around the late 19th century.
Victorian gravestones are renowned for being quite large, well carved and often ostentatious and there are gravestones in Dalston churchyard which fit with this generalisation. Perhaps hard times in the late 1800’s led to people selecting smaller grave memorials but these are not simple stones, they are just as detailed and well carved as their larger counterparts.
There are about 30 to 40 grave stones in the older part of the church yard, surrounded by mature yew trees, with a handful of others scattered in between the larger memorials.
Inscriptions on these miniature stones are well worn and some are falling over but one or two give an insight into the lives of the people they commemorate;
“In memory of Robert Baldwin
Who was accidentally killed by the
breaking of a grind-stone at the forge
February 7th 1885 Aged 19 years
Thy will be done”.
St. Michael’s Church
St. Michael’s Church stands in the main square of Dalston village. Built in 1750 from red sandstone and restored in 1850.
The chancel is said to date from the 13th century and two Bishops of Carlisle are buried here.
One of the other graves we found in Dalston Church yard and marked by a regular size memorial, belongs to John Harkness, a local tombstone cutter who died in 1891.
Perhaps John Harkness was responsible for the miniature gravestones!
We would be interested to hear from anybody who can shed light on the reason for the small grave memorials and indeed, their creator.