When the Spurn, Kilnsea and Easington Area Local Studies group was formed in July 2006, a number of ideas were considered for projects which might be undertaken by the group.
One of these was to raise and record the inscriptions on some gravestones which had been used as paving stones in the garden of Kew Villa (formerly known as Sweet Briar Cottage), a small bungalow, situated next to St. Helen’s Church, in Kilnsea.
This property is now owned by the Spurn Bird Observatory, which kindly granted us permission to carry out the exercise. The existence of these stones had been known about for some time, but no one seemed to know when they had been laid or by whom.
On 16th April 2007, four members of the group, Peter Martin, Brian Parker, Mike Welton and John Broom together with John’s son, Chris Broom, who had come along to help, started work on the project.
Initially the area was cleared of grass and weeds and photographs were taken. Then work began on raising the headstones, which, in general, came up quite easily. Each stone was cleaned and washed down, then laid out for recording. Some of the inscriptions were in good condition and quite legible, others unfortunately were in quite a bad state with the top layer of stone having “blown” from the face due to damp and possible frost. Only four stones had complete epitaphs, while five had parts of the engraved stone missing, and a few pieces of stone were blank.
The area was tidied up and a layer of sand put down, then a number of new paving stones were laid to restore the area to the satisfaction of Paul Collins, warden of the Spurn Bird Observatory.
The stones were then transported by tractor and trailer to Peter Martin’s premises prior to being transported to their final destination at Easington churchyard.
A complete list of all the stones that are recordable has been made and as far as possible checked against the burial records. The question still remains, “Why did all the stones that really should be in Easington churchyard end up as a footpath at Kilnsea? Who moved them there, and when?”
Two of the stones had been laid with their inscriptions face up at Kew Villa and one of this pair was particularly intriguing. The inscription (illustrated above) was of a young girl by the name of Elsa Kettle who had died at Spurn on 5th November, 1847 aged six years. The presence of her gravestone in Kilnsea was a complete mystery since the old church of St. Helen’s in Old Kilnsea had fallen over the cliff some 20 years before this date and all the burials from that time up until 1868 had taken place at Easington. The puzzling question is “What was the stone doing at Kilnsea, when its rightful place was Easington churchyard where indeed it is recorded in the burial records.” The other stone commemorated a Mary Watson who died 16th June 1789, aged 19 years.
A list of the other names still legible is as follows:
Since conducting the original research, further records have been obtained which show Mary Watson in the Kilnsea register for the old church (also St. Helen’s). Mary was the daughter of John and Margaret Watson (née Robson) and she was baptized on 19th August 1770, and as we know died on 16th June 1789, aged 19 years.
The Watson family had an association with the Spurn and Kilnsea area for many years, being lighthouse keepers for several generations. John and Margaret had two known children, Mary (as above) and John Watson II, baptized 1766. John married a Mary Jollands in 1798 and went on to have five children. John II was the keeper of the Spurn light but died in 1807 being only 41 years old. He was also buried in the old Kilnsea churchyard, and his wife Mary took over as one of the keepers of the lighthouse on his demise.
One of John and Mary’s sons, also called John, was buried in the old churchyard on 17th November 1815, aged just 17 years, and later Mary Watson, the mother, was buried in the old Kilnsea churchyard on 12th February 1824, aged 43 years. Margaret, the mother of the Mary whom we are investigating, died aged 87 years old and was buried on 2nd January 1828, in Easington churchyard.
On account of erosion by the ever-encroaching sea on the churchyard at Kilnsea, the last burial there had taken place in April 1826. (A note in the Kilnsea burial register states that, “In 1826 the church and churchyard were engulfed in the sea and burials were removed to Easington”). Could this have been the reason why Mary Watson’s headstone ended up at Easington? When the Old Kilnsea churchyard fell into the sea, her headstone may have been rescued and relocated in the same churchyard where her mother was buried. If this were the case, why did they not also rescue the headstones of John and Mary Watson, Mary’s brother and sister-in-law? But perhaps they did not have headstones. This we will probably never know.
One item of interest that has emerged from research on this project is that Mary Watson’s headstone, which is undoubtedly 18th century from its style, thickness and inscription, is probably the only remaining relic actually from the old churchyard of St. Helen’s in Old Kilnsea.
The mystery as to how the stones found themselves at Kilnsea has not been solved, but some light on the matter was shed when a short time after the stones had been raised, the author was speaking with Albert Clubley who formerly resided at Cliff Farm, Kilnsea. Albert moved there in 1963 from Easington and he recalled that he had bought some kerb stones to make an entrance to the farm drive. Whilst digging out for the kerbs and in order to plant some trees, he uncovered some headstones buried there and rather than break them up or dispose of them, he stood them up alongside the back of one of his barns. We assume that these are the same headstones, but cannot prove it beyond doubt and we still do not know who laid them at Kew Villa. The person who lived there at the time was Mr. Ernie Norwood.
In August after a few postponements due to adverse weather, a day was finally selected to erect the headstones in the churchyard at Easington. The same team who had raised the stones re-assembled for the task. The stones were brought from Kilnsea by tractor to the churchyard, unloaded and carried in. Four of the headstones that had sufficient blank space to be erected vertically without obscuring the lettering were placed in a row in the south west corner of the churchyard. Two other stones that had been broken off were laid flat and sunk into the ground below grass level, thus leaving uncovered as much of the inscription still legible as possible.
Thus finally these headstones have been returned to their rightful home. As to why they were removed from Easington and taken to Kilnsea in the first place and by whom, we do not know, but SKEALS can take pride in the fact that this restitution has been successfully carried out and the project brought to completion.
N.B. A list of the known headstones that have been checked against the records will be sent to the East Yorkshire Family History Society for their archives of monumental inscriptions for Easington and Kilnsea.
Mike Welton (2007)