Bethesda Graveyard, Bank Top :

John Bradfield of the Alice Barker Trust has shown a special interest in the legal aspects of the Bethesda Primitive Methodist Chapel Graveyard and the New Bethesda Primitive Methodist Chapel Graveyard at Bank Top, Southowram.

A licence for the exhumation and clearance of the graveyard was issued in late 1993.

The Trust has voiced suspicions that the decisions and deeds of clearing the land were not all sweetness and light.

In September 2003, the graveyard was cleared and housing was built on the site.

The following represents John Bradfield's answers to a number of questions which I asked about the two Burial Grounds

  1. How many people were buried in each of the 2 graveyards?

    As far as I can see, I didn't note how many people had been buried. The answer should be in the burial register (or registers) in the local archives. Registers must be available for inspection by anyone, at all reasonable times. The archivist won't know but "certified copies" of each burial must be issued, if the fee is offered – limited by law to about 10p to 20p per "entry" because the law hasn't been updated. Public cemeteries have a modern law so charge about £15 for each "certified copy" or "entry". They must also allow free inspections of registers at all reasonable times. I made hand-written notes from one or two Bank Top registers, which the archivist signed and stamped, so I would have proof of various points, e.g. a register has a heading of "owner" for each grave. "Owner" means someone bought the "burial rights" and had legal rights to erect gravestones etc. That means their rights could not be ended, with a mere "exhumation licence" which is what happened. Calderdale MBC "estimated" in a report dated 17.02.1994 that there were

    over 1,200 bodies in 271 graves ... 1861 to 1969

    That may not be accurate because the 3rd burial (02.08.1861) was in grave No 300. If there is only one register, some grave numbers may refer to the 2nd burial ground. Without checking the burial register (or registers) we cannot know if there were more than 300 graves. I have details of someone who paid a sum to bury 4 bodies in one grave. That indicates how the MBC came up with the figure of 1,200 bodies (300 x 4) but that assumes every grave had been used to full capacity which is unlikely, i.e. burials could have continued at any time, in the spaces available, because of purchased rights. Indeed, the builder wrote to one person after the destruction to say burials could continue in the 2nd burial ground. Legally speaking, there was no difference between the two places, i.e. rights had been purchased in both places

  2. Are there any lists of those buried there?

    Only the register (or registers) as mentioned above and below

  3. When did the site close for burials?

    As far as I can see, no proper decision was ever taken to "close" Bank Top. As far as I can see, all the Methodists could do, was stop selling "burial rights" for additional graves. Rights already sold had to be honoured by any future landowners The government closed thousands of burial grounds in the early 1850s by "Orders in Council". It could have done the same after that date but I think such "Orders" were rare after then. No such "Order in Council" was issued for Bank Top, so the place was never closed in that 'legal' way. I thought I had turned over pages in a register but it looks as though I may have studied a microfilm copy (Ref MIC 25). The first burial was on 06 Feb 1861 and last 30 April 1963. If I remember correctly, it was not possible to work out which burial grounds burial dates refer to. 1861 is sure to the "Old" burial ground and 1963 may or may not have been the "New" one

  4. When did they remove the contents of the graves?

    By this I assume you mean when the exhumations took place. Correspondence between various parties indicates November-December 1993. I wasn't asked to help until about 9 months later, by which time it was too late to prosecute. That said, a subsequent report will prove that the exhumation licence was invalid (unlawfully issued). The time limit for a prosecution for the "common law" offence of exhuming may be unlimited because the penalty is unlimited.

    I was and remain sure, that all exhumations were unlawful.

  5. Where did they go?

    The skeletal remains were "dumped in a pit" in the "New" (2nd) burial ground but some may have gone to Stoney Royd Cemetery

See Alice Barker Trust

© Malcolm Bull 2021
Revised 15:04 / 12th May 2021 / 6690

Page Ref: KK_137

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