Mr Thomas Dann (First Registrar & Superintendent)
by John Gibbons
When, in the interests of public health, church and chapel graveyards were closed for burials, Bedford’s first public cemetery at Foster Hill Road was opened in 1855. The first appointed Superintendent/Registrar was Thomas Dann. He, together with Thomas Jobson Jackson (died 1894), had the formidable task of converting an uninviting landscape (‘two ploughed fields and some arid land’) into a decent place of burial.
That they achieved this is without doubt, as the cemetery was later described as one of the prettiest in the country.
Thomas Dann was born on 29th March, 1822, the fourth of the five children of Thomas and Philadelphia Dann of Rotherfield, Sussex. In 1850 he married Ann(e) Adams, a young woman from his native village and came to Bedford around that time. He had been engaged as head gardener to Rev. R. W. Fitzpatrick, the incumbent of Holy Trinity church, who resided at The Lodge on Clapham Road. When the cemetery opened, Thomas and his wife lived in the right-hand side of the gatehouse and a room over the archway (the left-hand part of the building contained the mortuary and Registrar’s office).
They produced nine children of whom three – Ellen Elizabeth (1854-93), Mary Jane (1861-72) and William Henry (1862-91) predeceased their parents. They are interred close to them in the cemetery. Despite these undoubted sorrows and also the solemn nature of his occupation, Thomas was described as being of genial disposition, courteous to visitors to the cemetery and universally esteemed and respected. He was a devout Christian, regularly attending Holy Trinity church where he became clerk to the church and also, for some thirty years, Superintendent of the Sunday School. He continued as Superintendent/Registrar at the cemetery for forty-three years until, on 13th August, 1898, whilst working near the chapel, he was taken ill with chest pains. He had been in poor health for several years but always made light of his ailments. He recovered sufficiently to pay the men their wages on the Saturday evening and, after supper and his usual bath, retired to bed. However, in the night he became gravely ill and, although his doctor attended him, little could be done and he died on the Sunday morning. The cause of death was stated to be angina pectoris. His funeral was held on the following Thursday when thirteen members of the clergy led the cortege. The chapel and graveside services were conducted by Rev. R. Greig (curate of Holy Trinity church). Despite Mr. Dann having made it known that he wanted no flowers at his funeral, several wreaths were on the coffin, including a large anchor wreath from the undertakers of the town. A large Calvary Cross adorned the entire lid of the coffin. Canon Haddock (Rector of Clapham), preaching at Holy Trinity church on the following Sunday, aptly summed up Thomas Dann’s life – “His religion was his duty and his duty his religion”. His widow, herself in poor health, lived on for over nine years at 14 Foster Hill Road, not so very far from Cemetery Lodge where she had lived with her much-respected husband for 43years.
Grave Ref: H3.236
May 21, 2021