Guided tour for Ivel Valley Walkers
by Sue McGrath
On 10th May 2018 I led a tour of Foster Hill Cemetery for about 15 members of the Ivel Valley Walkers, as part of their new series of ‘Interest Walks’. It was my first official guided tour, so I admitted at the outset that a frequent answer to any of their queries might be “I’m sorry, I don’t know, but I know people who will know, or the answer is to be found on our website, or in our impressive library of research notes.” At the beginning and end of the tour – which lasted about an hour and a half – I described the activities of our Thursday working party and made an appeal for volunteers to join us in any of the tasks that we undertake, be it events organising, fundraising, research, gardening, handywork and so on.
We assembled in the chapel, where the group was able to look at our photographic displays and see all the historical research folders. Everyone was given a copy of the printed ‘Friends of the Cemetery Leaflet, with an enclosed flyer about forthcoming events. We were lucky to enjoy lovely spring weather that day and I pointed out the natural beauty of the wildflowers and various significant trees (Cedar of Lebanon, Indian Bean etc.) as we came to them. I also showed them vantage points for photographing views over Bedford from where they could see St. Paul’s church spire, the Sikh Gurdwara in Queen’s Park, the Cardington Airship sheds, and the Sandy Heath transmitter. I mentioned birds (including sparrowhawks and green woodpeckers) that are occasionally seen in the cemetery, we passed the large badger sett, and I told them about the many butterflies and orchids to be seen in the upper meadow in summer.
After a brief history of the origins of the cemetery and the historical layout of the gatehouse, chapel and grounds, we started the tour at the enormous monument to Charles Higgins, of the brewing dynasty. In the same area we found Ada Benson and Marian Belcher, both pioneers of secondary education for girls and headteachers at the High School. Nearby are the graves of the Laxton family, famous plant breeders and nurserymen. I described Thomas Laxton’s correspondence with Charles Darwin and Edward (Ted), Thomas Laxton’s grandson, a nurseryman who developed new varieties of peas roses and fruit for the famous family firm, but was killed in an air raid in WW2. We passed the lovely Celtic cross which commemorates the Charles Wells brewing family on our way to the prominent memorial to Matthew Clay, a survivor of the Battle of Waterloo.
The group was very interested in the beautiful Commonwealth War Graves enclosure and the story of the ‘Bedford Highlanders’. I referred them to the ‘Conversations with the Dead’ film on our website in respect of the Scottish soldiers’ memorials and the next graves we visited, which were those of Mabel Barltrop of the Panacea Society, the Bedford Prison governor Robert Evan Roberts and Evelyn McKay who was killed at the tennis court by The Ship Inn in St Cuthbert Street in 1883.
The last four graves I showed them were those of Lady Jean Turing Eve (Social reformer and London County Councillor) John Torr (a veteran of the Peninsular Wars and Waterloo), Daniel O’Connell (youngest son of the Irish Politician known as The Liberator) and Rev. John Jukes, who was Pastor of the Bunyan Meeting Church from 1840 to 1866.
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