The Lottery Funding Launch Event took place on September 10th, the last day of the Heritage weekend and marked the opening of the newly restored Chapel. Local dignitaries, including the Mayor of Bedford, Dave Hodgson; Mohammad Yasin MP; V B Tailor the High Sheriff of Bedfordshire; Deputy Lieutenant Judith Howard and Councillor Colleen Atkins, attended.
At the Grand Opening of the refurbished chapel at Foster Hill Road Cemetery. Mohammad Yasin MP, Dave Hodgson Mayor of Bedford, V B Tailor the High Sheriff of Bedfordshire, and Councillor Colleen Atkins with Friends of Bedford Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Colleen Atkins.
The VIPs and other guests were entertained by the Goldington Ensemble who sang songs played at funerals from 1855 to the present.
The brilliant Goldington Ensemble – Eve McGrath, Sally McGrath, Lottie Bagnall, Harry Bagnall and Henry Vann. Photo courtesy of Sue McGrath FOBC
CONVERSATIONS WITH THE DEAD
Guests were also treated to a unique and very special production ‘Conversations with the Dead’ where some of the cemetery’s ‘permanent residents’ told their stories, giving a fascinating glimpse into the lives of James Wyatt, Robert Evans Roberts, Eleanor Evelyn McKay, Mabel Barltrop and Peter John Mackinnon. Some tales were inspirational, some strange, some tragic, but all were true.
The production culminated with a haunting rendition of ‘Flowers of the Forest’ a Scottish lament played on the bagpipes by Richard Galley, local expert on the Bedfordshire Highlanders and member of the Bedford Pipe Band.
The film of this production can be found here: https://www.fosterhillroadcemetery.co.uk/videos/conversations-with-the-dead/
Richard Galley – Bedford Pipe Band. Photos of the production courtesy of Colleen Atkins.
CONVERSATION 1 – JAMES WYATT
Adrian Bean played James Wyatt (1816-78), who founded the Bedford Times newspaper in 1845. He is buried in the Foster Hill Road Cemetery in the Wyatt Family plot James was Bedford Borough Treasurer (an unpaid post in those days) when he bought the future site of Bedford Cemetery, on behalf of the Borough Council, in the early 1850s. The Bedford Times is now the Bedford Times & Citizen.
Adrian Bean as James Wyatt
CONVERSATION 2 – ROBERT EVAN ROBERTS
Peter Davis as Robert Evan Roberts, Governor of Bedford Gaol (1853-1885).
As Governor of Bedford Prison, Roberts first came up with the idea of photographing criminals. He was concerned that too many habitual criminals were getting away with offences so he decided that taking pictures of them would allow them to be more easily traced if they committed further crimes. The whole collection of vintage photos is held by Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service.
He had many children who died young (as did his first wife) thought to be due to the damp conditions in the Governor’s House. The Governor’s House was attached to the prison at 1 Saint Loyes Street.
CONVERSATION 3 – HUBERT WIGRAM VEASEY VERE and ELEANOR EVELYN McKAY.
Jacob Bone (as Hubert Wigram Veasey Vere) and Georgia Balac (as Eleanor Evelyn McKay).
A tragic story of unrequited love and possible post-traumatic stress. The following is from an article on their murder-suicide at the Ship paddock in Saint Cuthbert’s taken from the Bedfordshire Mercury of 21st July 1883.
‘HORRIBLE TRAGEDY IN BEDFORD’
On the evening of Tuesday last, the little paddock at the rear of the Ship Inn, St. Cuthbert’s, Bedford used for the last few years as a private enclosure for lawn tennis, was the scene of a fearful tragedy which resulted in the almost immediate death of a young lady of great personal attractions and the absolutely immediate death of a young man who had lately served with honour as an officer in Her Majesty’s Army at Tel-el-Kebir [13 Sep 1882] and Kassassin [10 Sep 1882]. The circumstances of these two fearful events may be briefly stated. Miss Eleanor Evelyn McKay, the daughter of Mrs. McKay of Bedford-terrace, Harpur-street, widow of a merchant, was it appears, about 20 years of age, and was the subject of intense affection on the part of a young gentleman named Hubert Wigram Veasey Vere, aged 22, whose mother is a widow lady residing in St. Cuthbert’s parish.
(Full article: http://bedsarchives.bedford.gov.uk/CommunityArchives/Bedford/TheTennisLawnMurderEvents.aspx)
CONVERSATION 4 – MABEL BARLTROP
Adrian Bean as James Wyatt interviewing Vicki Manners as Mabel Barltrop (Octavia) of the Panacea Society.
The Panacea Society was founded by Mabel Barltrop in 1919 at 12 Albany Road, Bedford. Its inspiration was the teachings of the Devonshire prophetess Joanna Southcott (1750–1814). Barltrop took the name Octavia and believed herself to be the Shiloh of Southcott’s prophecies. She and 12 apostles founded the Society.
For more information visit http://panaceatrust.org.
CONVERSATION 5 – THE TALE OF THE HIGHLANDER
One very moving story was of a young Scottish soldier, Peter (Pat) Mackinnon from the Cameron Highlanders – part of the Highland Division. He died in Bedford in 1914 from bronchial pneumonia, a secondary infection to measles. He was one of 25 Camerons who died of disease in Bedford that winter. The Division as a whole lost at least 140 men, while hundreds more fell ill but recovered. Pat Mackinnon’s great nephew Duncan Mackinnon and his wife Elizabeth travelled from Glasgow to attend the performance and to visit Pat’s grave for the first time. The story of Pat’s short life is set out below.
Harry Bagnall as Peter John Mackinnon in “Conversations with the Dead”
Following the production guests were offered guided tours of the cemetery and the afternoon culminated in a special presentation to Margaret Carpenter for her incredible work and support to the Friends of Bedford Cemetery.
Sue Parsons making a presentation to Margaret Carpenter to thank her for her tremendous support to the FOBC
The link to the performance can be found here:https://www.fosterhillroadcemetery.co.uk/videos/conversations-with-the-dead/
The link to the launch event can be found here: https://www.fosterhillroadcemetery.co.uk/videos/flavour-day-chapel-grand-opening-2017/
THE STORY OF PRIVATE PETER JOHN MACKINNON
Written by Richard Galley – July 2017
(with very special thanks to Alison Beaton – great grand-niece of P J Mackinnon)
Private Peter John ‘Pat’ Mackinnon 4th Battalion, Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders Photo by: Donald Lindley, Tavistock Street, Bedford
My name is Peter John Mackinnon, but my family and friends call me Pat. I was born on the 15th June 1892 at Struan in the parish of Bracadale on the Isle of Skye. My parents were Duncan and Jessie Mackinnon. When I finished my schooling I followed my father’s trade as a house carpenter. I was his apprentice and we enjoyed working together. We were also crofters, looking after a wee bit of land. I suppose it was a simple life in comparison to some and it was often very hard work, but we knew no other way and I think we were quite content.
When I was old enough I joined ‘H’ Company, 4th Battalion, Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders – part of the Territorial Force. All my pals were members. Some called us the ‘Saturday night soldiers’, but we preferred to call ourselves, ‘The Terriers’! We belonged to the Highland Division and were mustered with Territorial battalions of Scotland’s other famous Highland regiments – the Gordons, the Seaforth and the Argyll’s. We may have been amateur soldiers, but we were disciplined and quite well trained. To be honest, I don’t think we ever really thought we’d be called on to fight.
The Terriers’ were mobilised as soon as the war started. We said our farewells to family and friends and left Skye on the 7th August 1914 to join our comrades on the mainland. On the 15th August we and the rest of the Division began the move south to Bedford by rail. That journey seemed to take forever and the troop trains were jam-packed with men and their kit. It was such a tedious, uncomfortable trip and when we arrived in Bedford some 18 hours after leaving Inverness, we were tired and famished. So, just imagine our surprise and delight when, stepping off the train, we were greeted by the good people of Bedford who plied us with trays of tea, coffee, sandwiches and cakes. We didn’t realise it at the time, but this was just a sign of things to come as the Bedford folk took us to their hearts.
Refreshed and reinvigorated we formed up and marched behind our pipes and drums to our billets in the town centre. Some of us were put into empty houses, while the lucky ones were accommodated with local families. Most of us were away from our homes for the first time in our lives and home-sickness made many of us melancholy during those early days in Bedford, but our kind and generous guardians worked hard to take the edge off our sadness and very soon we had found our feet in our new home.
Communication between us and the locals was not always easy at first. This may seem odd, but not so when you consider that more than two thirds of us Camerons were Gaelic speakers first and foremost. When we spoke English it was often with such heavy, lilting accents that it took time for the people of Bedford to understand what we were saying!
For those of us from the more rural parts of the Highlands and Islands it took us a while to get used to the hustle and bustle of Bedford. The town was fairly groaning at the seams with soldiers. Before we arrived the town’s population was about 35,000 – the Highland Division numbered some 17,000 men. Just think of it – 17,000 men with all their kit, equipment, wagons and horses suddenly appearing in your town in the space of 3 days! Oh, and we also brought with us no fewer than twelve pipe bands.
Once settled into our billets, we started training for war. We fought mock battles in the fields around the town and dug practice trenches in Clapham Park. We were made fit with our regular route marches – at least 18 miles covered in a day while carrying our rifles and packs. All the while the curious Bedfordians looked on with great interest and were always ready to boost our flagging energy with generous quantities of tea and cakes! It was a grand life and although I missed my home faraway in Scotland, I was very happy.
The day after we arrived in Bedford, the Mayor set up the Borough Recreation Committee for the Troops. Hundreds of volunteers were enlisted, mostly ladies from the town and its surrounding villages. Nothing was too much trouble for them. They set up canteens for us in each of our billeting districts – the central canteen in the Corn Exchange was said to be serving two hundredweight of porridge every evening while us kilties were in town! They organised dances, arranged concerts and the young ladies of the Physical Training College regularly entertained us with impressive displays of gymnastics. Some of the big names even visited us – among them Harry Lauder whose son was an officer with the Argyll’s in Bedford. Besides all this there was plenty to keep us occupied in the Town with its cinemas, theatres, music hall, library, chapels, churches and any number of cafes, tea rooms and pubs.
The news from the Front was never encouraging. The British Expeditionary Force was struggling to hold its ground against the weight of the German advances in France and Belgium. Good soldiers, our Regulars, but too few in number. Rumours were rife that we would be sent to reinforce the front line at any moment. However, by this time my own story had taken a far darker turn.
The onset of a cold, wet winter signalled the start of several months of suffering for the Highland Division as disease struck us down. Measles, diphtheria and scarlet fever ran like wild fire through our ranks. Because those of us from the more remote parts of the Highlands and Islands had never been exposed to these diseases before, we had little or no immunity to them. Not just that, but when these diseases are caught by adults the effects will often hit very hard. I recall that I started to feel unwell in late October. At first I thought it was just a cold, but soon it became all too apparent that I’d caught measles. Not just me, but dozens of others. We all felt so sick and wretched, there being little that could be done to alleviate our symptoms.
The Bedford people were shocked by what they saw. You see, some of us were dying and the locals couldn’t understand why such fit young men in their prime were dropping like flies. They didn’t think the Army was doing enough to look after us properly. That wasn’t really fair because in those days there were no medicines that could cure us. The main killer was bronchial pneumonia, a secondary infection to measles and this is what finally finished me on the 21st December 1914.
I’d written to my father some weeks before I died, telling him that I had no fear of what might happen to me and reassuring him that I’d been steadfast in saying my prayers and reading my Bible since leaving home. I thought that I should get better, but it wasn’t to be. I was one of 25 Camerons who died of disease in Bedford that winter. The Division as a whole lost at least 140 men, while hundreds more fell ill but recovered.
Those of us who succumbed were either sent home to Scotland for burial, or laid to rest in Foster Hill Road cemetery. My dear father was devastated by the news of my death. He sent word to Bedford asking that if I could not be returned to Struan, I should at least be given a respectable coffin and burial. He received some comfort on being informed that all the officers and men of my Company, bar one who was sick with measles, attended my funeral and that the service was in Gaelic. As I was lowered into the ground, one of our pipers played ‘Flowers of the Forest’ – the lament for a lost soldier.
There are thirty-three of us Highlanders lying here in the peace and quiet of Foster Hill Road cemetery. Eight of us are Cameron boys. It may not be Skye, but it’s still a beautiful place to be resting amongst friends and comrades. It’s strange to think that so many of my old Cameron pals now lie in France – they lived just a few months longer than me before being cut down by the German machine guns in the mud and desolation of Festubert in May 1915.