Harry Franks Registrar and Superintendent of Foster Hill Road Cemetery
by Linda Ayres
Harry Franks was born in 1883 at Southill, Bedfordshire. He was one of the seven children of Elizabeth Ann, nee Sims, and Livett Edward Franks. His parents were born at Clifton, Bedfordshire. In 1876 they moved to Main Road, Southill in Bedfordshire. Livett worked as the foreman blacksmith on Mr. Whitbread’s Estate at Southill. He worked on the Estate until his death from pneumonia in March 1907 aged 54 years. Elizabeth survived her husband by 27 years. She died, aged 81 years, at Southill after a short illness on 8th August 1934. The funeral took place at Southill Church.
In the 1901 Census for Bedford, Harry is recorded as a milk carrier lodging with his sister, Gertrude and her husband Frederick Langley and their two children, Jessie and Leslie, at 10 Bower Street, Bedford. In 1908, Harry married Emily Elizabeth Johnson, at Bedford. She was born in 1877 at Eynesford, Kent. She was one of the five children of and Louisa and Henry Johnson. Her father was an agriculture labourer. Before her marriage, Emily was a live-in domestic servant, for Thomas Gracey, a Canadian Tobacco Manufacturer. She lived at Torrington Square, St. Giles in the Fields, London.
Life in Bedford
Harry and Emily moved to 52 Beaconsfield Street, Bedford. Their son Harry was born in 1910, and their daughter Louisa was born in 1912. At the time they were married Harry worked as a gardener at Foster Hill Road Cemetery. Subsequently he became assistant to William Shorley the Cemetery Superintendent/Registrar. William Shorley had suffered from ill health for some time and he died on the 19th August 1912. A few months later the Burial Board appointed Harry Franks the Cemetery Superintendent/Registrar. Harry and the family moved into the Cemetery Lodge (nowadays known as the Gatehouse). In 1915, their son John was born. Sadly, he died aged 2 years and 8 months on the 25th November 1917. (Section C3 Grave-55). In 1919, their third son Thomas was born.
The Lodge is the entrance to the Cemetery at the base of Cemetery Hill. In some old maps, Cemetery Hill is marked “Tire Devil Hill,” “Haycroft Hill” but it was mostly called Clapham or Forester’s Hill. The architect and surveyor, Thomas Jobson Jackson, designed the Lodge in the Elizabethan style. It was built in 1854, one year before the opening of the Cemetery, at a cost of £460. Over the years, a shelter for carriages, boardroom, offices and water-main extensions were added to the Lodge. There were repairs carried out to the walls, which were underpinned several times and shored up, and treated with damp-proof three times with no effect.
Poor Housing Conditions
On 12th September 1919, the Inspector for the Ministry of Health held a public enquiry at the Cemetery. He suggested that the Burial Board needed to borrow money for a new residence for Harry and his family. The Burial Board reported that the Cemetery Lodge was inadequate and the population of Bedford had more than doubled. A waiting room was needed for mourners, undertakers, etc., who had to wait under the arch. The Boardroom was too small for the 42 members. The Board required a larger room for an office. The bricks were porous and three out of four of the bedrooms were so damp in winter that they could not be used. In addition the roof needed repair.
There was some strong feeling in the town against spending money on the Lodge. They thought that to spend £1,600 on the Lodge was not economically viable. The rates in Bedford were already 11 shillings and 11 pennies and would go up 2 shillings the following year. As for the unhealthy condition of the Lodge, the first Superintendent/Registrar, Thomas Dann, had lived in it for 43 years and brought up nine children there. He lived to be 76 years of age. The profit on the Cemetery was about £100 a year, which would not cover the £220 which would be the annual cost of the whole scheme. The purchase of a house near the Cemetery at half the cost was suggested instead of rebuilding the Lodge. Dr. Alfred Phillips, the Medical Officer of Health, inspected the Lodge. He concluded that it was unfit for habitation and that it was in a state detrimental to the health of the children.
Emily and the children had been seriously ill. She refused to live at the Lodge another winter, and was trying to find temporary accommodation. Emily owned a house at 26 Salisbury Street, Bedford, and rented it out to Mr. George Hall. She served notice on Mr. Hall to vacate the property in order for her and the children to move in. Mr. Hall failed to find another suitable house to rent in the town. In February and May 1920, Emily made an application at the Bedford Petty Sessions Court for an order for eviction of Mr. Hall and his wife. On both occasions, the Clerk of the Court said that he did not think it mattered whether the Lodge was fit or unfit. The real question was whether there was alternative accommodation for the person turned out of 26 Salisbury Street. The Bench dismissed the case because the Court was not satisfied that reasonable alternative accommodation was available. It was unknown if Emily and the children did find alternative accommodation. It appears the work was carried out while the family were living at the Lodge in 1923.
A Family Tragedy
At about 2.30 pm on the 5th August 1924, Emily and Harry with their son young Harry set off from Cemetery Lodge in a motorcycle sidecar taxi. Harry had hired the car from the Motor Cycle Taxi Company at 6a The Broadway, Bedford. They were going to Southill to visit Harry’s family and had passed over the brow of St. John’s Bridge when the motorcycle taxi driver, Leo Turner, noticed a cyclist in front. He pulled out to overtake him and Harry senior heard something go snap. After that, Turner seemed to put his brakes on and the vehicle began to spin like a top. Then it fell over to the right and then came back to the left. It then seemed to right itself and ran into the fence where they stopped. Harry got out and handed his son to a passer-by. He went to Emily but found she could not move although she was still conscious. Sadly, Emily died three days later on 8th August 1924.
Sitting with the jury at the Burial Board Room, at the Cemetery Lodge, 6 days later, on the 11th August, the Borough Coroner investigated the fatal accident which caused Emily’s death.
Leo Turner, who lived at 17 Sussex Road, Cambridge, said he was a driver-mechanic attached to an affiliated firm at Cambridge. He was 19 years of age, had served an apprenticeship for four years, and had been in his present employment for two years. He went up the bridge at about 15 miles an hour and while going down the other side, just opposite Elstow Road turn, a shackle plate on the front fork snapped and as far as he could remember, the front of the machine fell to the ground. Directly after the snap he applied the brake, but the front of the machine fell to the ground, his right foot slipped off the brake and he was caught under the machine. He was thrown off onto the ground and dragged along until the machine stopped. Its snapping made him lose all control. He could do nothing. If the machine had been on the level it would not have gone three yards. He had driven nearly 40,000 miles on the machine, which was nearly two years old and was a B.S.A 8 horsepower combination.
In reply to questions, Harry said they were not going very fast, and he thought the driver was most careful and did everything he could under the circumstances.
Harry asked permission to add one comment for the good of the public. It was this: “I earnestly trust that whenever these cars go out again, they will be thoroughly overhauled first.”
In answer to questions, Mr. Turner said he was responsible for the overhauling of the machines, which was done periodically. He added: “I can honestly say that I considered the machine was in perfect condition before I took it out.”
The jury, after a thorough examination of the defective part, concluded that there was a flaw of some standing before the final snap, but it was quite possible that the part was in good order a month previously.
The Medical Evidence
Dr. Cochrane, practising in Bedford, said that on 5th August he saw Mrs Franks. He examined her and from the symptoms and examination concluded that she was suffering from severe injury to her spinal cord. She was conscious but the condition was critical and she died three days later on Friday morning at 3 am. In a post mortem examination, he found a fracture of the first dorsal vertebra at the top of her back. The spinal cord near the area was severely injured. The cause of death was spinal cord injury resulting in congestion of the lungs. The injuries were quite consistent with the head having been thrown forward violently on the chest.
The jury returned a verdict of accidental death, exonerated the driver from all blame, expressed their sympathy with Harry, and endorsed the remarks made by him and the Coroner on the question of overhauling.
Emily’s funeral service took place in the Cemetery Chapel. The Rev. Langdon and the Rev. Corney officiated jointly.
Harry’s Second Wife
In 1925, Harry married his second wife Laura Molly Seymour. She was born in 1879 at Peterborough. She was one of four children of William and Caroline Seymore. Her father was a railway guard and she had worked as a draper’s assistant.
Harry died on 21st December 1943 having completed thirty-one years as Superintendent/ Registrar of Bedford Cemetery. His funeral service took place on 24th December at St. Peter’s Church, Bedford. His wife Laura in her role as Assistant Registrar entered Harry’s name in the Burial Register. Harry was buried in the same grave as Emily. Grave Ref: C3.46. Laura died at Watford in 1957. Laura and Harry had no children.
Harry and Emily’s Children
Young Harry Franks attended the Bedford Modern School. He enjoyed sports particularly hockey and running. He was a member of St. Peter’s Church choir for about ten years. After he had left the Modern School, he was apprenticed as an electrical engineer to Henry Bacchus Ltd, High Street, Bedford, where he worked for three years. In 1930, he joined the army and served with the Royal Corps of Signals. He was in India for three years, but he was invalided out of the army while in Quetta in present day Pakistan. Sadly, he died at the Cemetery Lodge, on 25th November 1935 after a long illness. He was aged 25 years. His funeral took place on 28th November led by the Rev. Frederick Morris Symonds Squibb, Rector of St. Peter’s Church, Bedford. He was buried in the same grave as his mother. His father Harry, in his role as Registrar, entered his son’s death in the Burial Register.
On 15th August 1940 Louisa Franks, known as Lulu, married Private Thomas Dennis Hull at St. Peter’s Church, Bedford. Thomas was the youngest son of Mrs Hull and the late Mr. James Hull of Bridge Farm, Great Barford. Louisa had worked for T. K. Green, grocers, at 87 High Street, Bedford.
On 27th January 1945 Thomas, Harry and Emily’s third son, married Mary Britton at Uswoth Parish Church, Durham. At the time of his marriage, he was serving in the R.A.F.
Accommodation in the Cemetery Lodge
A 1953 plan of the Cemetery Lodge shows that there are three bedrooms on the first floor. There were once four but one was turned into a bathroom. On the ground floor, to the left side of the archway, is the entrance hall leading into two waiting rooms, one behind the other. A passage leads from the waiting room to three toilets and a store for the stretchers. Opposite is the Chapel, mortuary, refrigeration, pump chamber and a stretcher store. On the right side of the archway are the Parks and Cemetery Superintendent’s office, the general office, interview room and strong room. There is a porch leading to the washhouse, larder and toilet. Outside are the boiler house, two large greenhouses, a cucumber frame and a cold frame.
Photography: Linda S. Ayres
Bedford Mercury and Huntingdon Express 9th June 1855
Picture of Motorcycle Taxi. The Illustrated London News January 22nd 1921
Bedfordshire Times and Independent 15th August 1924.
Bedfordshire Times and Independent 9th 1939
Free BMD Census 1841 – 1911
Plan of Cemetery Lodge courtesy of Colin Woolf
May 21, 2021