Historian Arthur R Nicholls looks back at church cemeteries in Kendal and its surrounds

FOR each of us, life follows the same overall pattern - birth, span of being, death.

When the body ceases to live, it has to be disposed of appropriately, customarily being buried to moulder away in the earth.

Anglican parish churches set aside consecrated land around their buildings for the burials of members of the church and parish.

Non-Anglicans, such as Roman Catholics, Quakers and other denominations and sects, were known as Dissenters, as they did not conform to the beliefs and practices of the Anglican church.

They were not allowed to be buried in consecrated ground or even within the town boundaries, and had to make alternative arrangements for their adherents.

To foster the woollen industry, Acts of Parliament were passed in the 1660s requiring a certificate to show that the corpse was wrapped in woollen cloth.

In Kendal and around, in those days it was not uncommon for bodies to be buried without a coffin.

When the Rev William Crosby became Vicar of Kendal in 1699, he found the church in such a deplorable state that people preferred to stay at home than attend services.

Under his ministry they flocked to the church in multitudes. He was a man of exemplary morals and truly practised what he preached. He suppressed the practice of coffin-less burials.

Kendal in the 17th century was most unhygienic. A report in 1849 pointed to the cause: as dense population in poor housing with defective drainage and filth remaining uncleared for long periods of time causing excessive mortality. Poorer people wore second-hand clothes which often passed on contagious maladies.

In that same year there were ten cemeteries in the town and its surrounds. The four Anglican were at the Parish, St Thomas and St George churches and in Castle Street.

The Methodist Chapel in Stricklandgate, being of Anglican origin and assenting to its beliefs and practices, had a burial ground beside its building. This lay disused for many years and most of it was taken up with the widening of Burneside Road in 1958.

The Dissenting churches had burial grounds outside the town limits.

Funerals of the poor were carried out cheaply, with as much dignity as possible.

Those in the higher social scale could be impressive with lengthy processions of mourners and ornate floral displays on the hearse.

The funeral in 1875 of J.J. Wilson, a prominent local manufacturer, was one such.

When the cortege left his house, a large number of friends and work people had gathered to pay their respects. All the shops along the route to the cemetery and many of the mills were closed and blinds in houses were drawn.

The cortege featured the county officials, members of the Corporation, solicitors, doctors and clergy among others of note, nineteen carriages of mourners and private carriages.

A large contingent of his workers followed on foot. The children of Castle Street School stood in silent awe as the procession passed.