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Photo of the Month - exploring the Story behind the Image...

My Father's Gravestone

My Father's Gravestone

Year: 2010, Month: September

England > Yorkshire > Malton

I'd like to share this photograph of the memorial-stone for my father.

Geoffrey Edward Makins.
Born 13th December 1915.
Died 6th July 1995.

He's the one who's name is carved second from the bottom of this stone. Joining him on the same memorial are carved the names of Bernard Rowntree Taylor, Born 16th Nov 1905, Died 29th April 1968; his wife: Jane Agnes Taylor, Born 31st Jan 1908, Died 4th Feb 1990; Mary Kathleen Hamilton, Born 16th September 1902, Died 11th April 1976; Wilfred Colin Hamilton, Born 4th December 1900, Died 15th October 1976; Joyce Rowntree Taylor, Born 20th October 1898, Died 2nd February 1990; and Barbara Helen Gunn, Born February 1919, Died December 2008. There's probably not much of a mention about any of them on the internet, as they all came from a generation before such things had even been dreamt about. This page, at least, maintains a small listing of their names and dates.

To the casual observer of this scene, it might strike them as strange that so many people should share the same gravestone. A clue to this is shown at the top: 'Cremations'. This stone doesn't mark individual graves, but rather acts as a memorial for those who were cremated. Their ashes may or may not be in the vicinity. What else can we learn from this scene? Three of the names give a clue: Bernard, Jane, and Joyce Rowntree Taylor. Rowntree is an old Quaker name, from the same roots as the Quaker firm of Rowntrees in York, who used to be world famous for their chocolate, and the benign conditions of service for their workers. The same applied to other Quaker companies: Cadburys of Bournville village, and Fry, who used to make the Fry's Chocolate Cream of my childhood. All, alas, have been bought out by multi-nationals who care little for their worker's living conditions, and much for their shareholder's dividends.

So, we have learned that this is a Quaker burial ground. Quakers, often unostentatious in life, hold similar restraint in death, and the recording of such. Where there are gravestones, these are often small, or are mounted flat on the ground, rather than the more normal vertical position of other religions. Sharing a stone seems a friendly thing to do, and a reminder of the other name for Quakers, the 'Religious Society of Friends'. In their Sunday morning 'Meetings', which are generally peaceful with little talk and no music, they address each other as 'Friends', and suggest that life should be lived in a 'Friendly Manner': something that all in the world could learn and benefit from, I'm sure.

What else can we learn from the inscriptions? One thing that shouts out to me is that the first person died in 1968, whilst the last died in 2008, exactly 40 years later. The Quaker meeting in Malton always was a small group, and at times almost faded away altogether. The Meeting House itself almost had to be demolished, due to a savage attack of dry rot, which my Father was instrumental in saving, money-raising, and the organising of its repairs. Today, the Meeting is still in existence, though with reduced numbers, and no caretaker in residence to clean the rooms and tidy the gardens, as used to be the case.

Why have I included this image as 'Photo of the Month'? I like the composition: the contrast of dark evergreen leaves with warm red Yorkshire brick, the white flowers that lead the eye to the dark slate of the memorial stone, with its carved names gently fading with time. The scene imparts a feeling of quietness and dignity, a fitting tribute ot my Father.

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