Written by Pauline Martin.
The first Sexton employed by the Newcastle General Cemetery was a Mr. John Atkinson. Born in Morpeth in 1791, John can be found in both the 1841 Census and the 1851 Census, along with his wife Mary and daughters Hannah and Charlotte, living in ‘Jesmond Cemetery’, with his occupation being recorded as ‘Sexton’.
John Redshaw, with his wife, Jane and children John and George, can also be found in the 1851 Census living in ‘Jesmond Cemetery Lodges’, with his occupation being recorded as ‘Husbandman’. Eldest son, John, aged 16, is recorded as being a ‘Gardener’s Apprentice’. A report in The Newcastle Guardian, dated Saturday, February 26, 1859,gives a sad insight into the times; the headline reads ‘The Social Evil’ and goes on to state that “One of the too frequently recurring phases of the social evil was discovered on Wednesday morning, near the back-gate of the Jesmond Cemetery:- an infant child, wrapped up in calico. It was dead when discovered by Mr. Redshaw, the keeper of the cemetery. Who was its mother probably will never be known”. Born in Newsham, Yorkshire, John Snr. is described as a ‘Gravedigger’ in the 1861 Census, by which time he is aged 73. His address is now recorded as ‘Jesmond Cemetery Lodge, Sandyford Lane’. By 1871, John is recorded as ‘Sexton’ and living in the ‘South Lodge’ with his son, George, and is now aged 83. Electoral Registers still record John as being at Jesmond Cemetery in 1878, by which time he would have been around 90 years old!!
Michael Watson, born in Auckland, Durham in 1809 is recorded as being a ‘Schoolmaster’ and living in ‘Gosforth School House’ in South Gosforth ithe 1841 and 1851 Census records. Married to Cecily Margaret Kipling, they had 16 children!! In the 1861 Census, he is recorded as living with his wife and 8 of their children and is listed as ‘Superintendent of Cemetery’ and living at ‘Cemetery Road, Jesmond Cemetery’. Michael died in 1869 and is buried, along with his wife and other members of his family, in the Consecrated Section of Jesmond Old Cemetery. Following his fathers death, James Watson, born in 1842 in Gosforth, becomes ‘Cemetery Superintendent’. We find him in the 1871 Census living in ‘Jesmond Old Cemetery, Lodge North’, with his wife Frances and two children. As recorded above, John Redshaw was ‘Sexton’ at this time.
In 1881, we still see James Watson as ‘Superintendent and Asst. Overseer’, along with John Redshaw’s son, George Redshaw. Both of their addresses are recorded as being ‘Jesmond Cemetery’. By 1891, George has moved to Carliol Street and is recorded as being a ‘General Labourer’. James Watson had also moved on too, as according to the 1887 Directory, Robert John Everatt is now identified as the ‘Cemetery Superintendent’. Born in Washington, Durham, in 1838, Robert married Margaret Jude in 1861 and had two sons and a daughter. In the 1881 Census, Robert is recorded as living in Woodbine Terrace, Jesmond, with his occupation being ‘Gardener in Public Park’. A suitable preparation for what was to come!! In the 1891 Census, now aged 53, Robert is recorded as ‘Superintendent’, living in ‘Jesmond Old Cemetery Front Lodge, Jesmond Road’, with his wife, Margaret, and daughter Margaret Mary. However, Robert is mentioned somewhat earlier than the 1891 Census; in the October 9, 1886 edition of the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle, R.J. Charleton in his series on Jesmond Old Cemetery, reserves special praise for Robert, describing how “the greater part of this labour falls upon the superintendent of the cemetery, Mr. R.J. Everatt – in addition to the general work of the place, and into no worthier or more sympathetic hands could the pious trust be consigned. From morning to night he is busy with what to him is truly a labour of love – carrying out the wishes of friends with regard to the planting of the graves, or seeing to the weeding, trimming and keeping in order the various parts of the cemetery which, under his care, is increasing in beauty year by year. There is another interesting feature of the place, in connection with which Mr. Everatt is deserving of praise. The cemetery is the home of countless birds. Here they build, safe from the inroads of prowling bird-nesters. In winter, birds are fed by the superintendent and his family, and at all times a sharp eye is kept upon boys and others who may come in search of nests”.
The 1901 Census still has Robert as ‘Superintendent of Cemetery’ and living at ‘Jesmond Old Cemetery’ with Margaret and their daughter. Margaret dies in 1904 and in 1911, Robert is still living with their daughter, Margaret Mary. Robert remains Superintendent until his death in 1913, where he was then buried in the Consecrated Section of Jesmond Old Cemetery, along with other members of his family.
Also recorded in the 1891 Census is Thomas Davison, a 38 year old widow with one son and a step daughter, who is identified as being a ‘Sexton’ and living in the ‘Back Lodge, Sandyford Road’.
Along with Robert in the 1901 Census, William Henry Giles is also recorded. Born in 1865 in Filby, Norfolk, his wife Rachel and young son, Frederick, are living in the Lodge with him, where William is recorded as being the ‘Sexton’. By 1911, Robert is joined by Richard Stothard, born in 1875 in Hatton, Durham, his wife Annie Mary and young son, Richard.
The 1914 Directory shows Peter Leitch Adams to be ‘Superintendent’ of Jesmond Old Cemetery, Jesmond Road. Army records show he enlisted in 1915.
1915 sees William Woods become Superintendent of ‘this cemetery’, a position he holds for 31 years. William was born in Newcastle and married Annie Mary Patterson in 1914. Both are buried in the Consecrated Section of Jesmond Old Cemetery.
During the time William was Superintendent, there were five changes as Sexton, as identified via the Electoral Registers; a William Ramsay in 1919 and 1920, George Merideth and his wife, Ada Stacey, in 1920 and 1921, William Miller and his wife, Alexina, in 1921, John Thomas Thompson, from 1922 to 1926 and John Edward Minto, from 1927 to 1939. John was born in 1891 in Newcastle, marrying Martha Jane Cryer in 1922.
From 1945, through to 1966, records show that Kenneth Norman Ballan Sharp and his wife, Nora, lived in the Lodge as Superintendent. In the 1944 minutes of a meeting at Sutherland Hall, it is recorded that “Mr Sharp, unfortunately, has tendered his resignation. We are very sorry to lose him but wish him well and every success in his new sphere, after his years of most conscientious and varied aid at the Sutherland Hall”. Born in 1900, known as Norman, he married Nora Walker in 1923 and went on to have three children. During their time at Jesmond Old Cemetery, a Thomas Fairbairn and his wife, Mary, lived in ‘the cottage’ between 1945 and 1955. The records do not show what their occupations were.
In 1956, Norman and Janet Nicholson lived in the Lodge, where Norman is recorded as being a ‘gardener’. He was, previously, caretaker at the Blind School, Sutherland Hall on Jesmond Road from 1945 to 1955, the position that Norman Sharp resigned from in 1944. Norman and Janet’s daughter remembers playing in the East Lodge with the Sharp children and recalls it had a greenhouse, chickens, an allotment and a rose garden with a swing.
Records show that from 1957 to 1959, Arthur Williams and his wife Francis lived in the cottage. Arthurs family planted a rose tree outside the South Lodge in remembrance of Arthur (1911 – 1998).
1965 to 1966 sees Cecil and Rhoda Telford in the cottage. In 1967, they were living in Claremont Buildings. They were the last occupants of Jesmond Old Cemetery, along with the Sharps. The Newcastle General Cemetery Company went out of business and the City Council took over the running of the Cemetery.
Norman, Nora and son, Ernest, are buried in the Consecrated Section of Jesmond Old Cemetery.
So, over a span of 130 years, from 1836 to 1966, twenty one families have lived and worked in Jesmond Old Cemetery. Some stayed longer than others, with William Woods being the longest serving Superintendent at 31 years!! John Redshaw was certainly the oldest inhabitant, with him still living there in his 90th year. Four of those families are buried in Jesmond Old Cemetery with the possibility that William Ramsay is also buried there too, with his remains moved in 1971 as part of the preparation for the road widening that never happened.