Each plot has a story to tell

JUST who is buried beneath the tombstones at Ipswich's cemeteries? Feature writer JAMES MARSTON brings the first chapter of a two-part feature, revealing the characters interred in Ipswich's New Cemetery.

JUST who is buried beneath the tombstones at Ipswich's cemeteries? Feature writer JAMES MARSTON brings the first chapter of a two-part feature, revealing the characters interred in Ipswich's New Cemetery.

WINSTON Churchill once said “I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”

We all die in the end but how will we be remembered if we are buried in Suffolk?

The tombstones of Ipswich Cemetery bear a fascinating, moving, and absorbing testimony to the characters who shaped our town as we know it today.

For 25 years Paul Scott has worked at Ipswich's old and new cemeteries, and is now the supervisor of grave digging and grounds maintenance. During his quarter of a century he has become somewhat of an expert on the history of the cemetery and the people interred in it.

He said: “You just pick up stories and facts as you go along. I'm interested in history and have done a bit of research myself on some of the people. I'm fascinated by all the lives that have been lived here.”

Most Read

Once in a while Paul conducts guided tours of the cemeteries, sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge.

His tour starts in the new cemetery, at the crematorium.

He said: “By the end of the Victorian period cremation was becoming a more acceptable way of disposing of bodies. It wasn't that popular initially and the church was against it but in the large cities burials were becoming a problem as bodies were buried on top of each other.”

Public opinion gradually changed and by the 1920s crematoria were springing up in towns like Ipswich across the UK as people approved of the modern way being more hygenic.

The West Chapel is the smaller of the two housed in the crematorium. Paul said: “The North Chapel was built in 1973. There are about five or six cremations each day and with the two chapels two can take place at the same time.”

Walking from the crematorium towards Belvedere Road that intersects the old and new cemeteries, Paul describes the fashions of the time that dictated the layout of the cemetery.

He said: “The broad avenue echoes the vistas that were popular in gardens at the time. The cemetery had been farmland owned by the Fonnerau family. They planted traditional yew trees that are common in churchyards and you'll note that not all the graves have the feet facing east as they do in the old cemetery.”

At“the roundabout” in the middle of the new cemetery, Paul points out the graves arranged around it in a circle. He said: “What is interesting are the symbols on a lot of the graves in here. Much of that has been lost and forgotten today.”

A number of motifs that appear on some of the tombstones:

Flaming torches - symbolise everlasting life.

Torches lying down with no flame - symbolising life extinguished.

Roses - symbolising purity.

Grape vines - symbolising immortality.

Broken columns - symbolising life abruptly ended.

Not far from the roundabout, surrounded by trees, is 'plot XH', an area set aside for the Royal Air Force.

Paul said: “It is in the RAF enclosure that Prince Alexander Obolensky is buried. He was a Russian émigré who had escaped the Russian revolution in 1917. He played rugby for England and Oxford and he was a pilot based at Martlesham airfield. He died in a flying accident.”

He was the son of Prince Serge Obolensky , an officer in the Tsar's Imperial Horse Guards, and his wife Princess Luba. On the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 , Prince Obolensky joined the RAF's 54 Squadron .

He was killed during training when his Hawker Hurricane crashed on Martlesham Heath , Suffolk when his aircraft dropped into a ravine at the end of the runway , breaking his neck

According to his military headstone Obolensky died on March 29 1940. He was 24.

Paul said: “There are about 30 graves in this section. They are tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.”

As we walk across the tended lawns Paul points out a large and quite elaborate grave marker in the shape of a broken column. It belongs to Charles Ernest Walter Jefferson who died on November 22 1933.

He said: “A broken column was often used for young people to symbolise a broken life. He was just 17.”

As we head to the Belvedere road entrance to the cemetery Paul points out plot three, where some of the Tollemache family famous for their Suffolk brewery, are buried. Large, dark and constructed in brick they look mysterious and slightly macabre in the heavily shaded area just to the left of the entrance.

Paul said: “It is a huge grave for three people. The use of brick would have been fashionable at this time. It's a big momument.”

It is the tombstones with those extra details that Paul finds the most interesting.

He said: “There were more details often on the older burial stones. Sometimes there is an address or a few aspects of the person's life. I've enjoyed finding out about the people buried here.”

See tomorrow for many interesting graves in Ipswich's Old Cemetery.

Do you know any famous people buried in Suffolk? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk