Monday, 21 October 2013

19th Century Protest aka Research is Continuing

It was with a mix of sadness and elation that I took down my work that was part of the Place and Memory Exhibition at Holy Trinity Church on Saturday, what had taken a long time to research, create, set up and get lit the way I wanted it the week before took all of 5 minutes to take down and put back into bubble wrap and carrier bags. I was sad to see it come down but excited that it had all come to fruition and been up in the first place plus I have had an expression of interest in buying it. Someone else said they would put it on their wall. I'm counting this as high praise indeed.

My interest in St George's Field is continuing though and I am looking forward to paying repeated visits to take more photographs and to watch it change colour and form as autumn and winter progress through into spring.  My research will also continue as I am thinking of applying to do an MA and am in the process of putting together a research proposal. My research hasn't just been the history of the site itself but also the history of Leeds and the victorian period in general. I am slowly but surely becoming obsessed with the victorian and early edwardian periods.

One of the reasons Leeds Burial Company was such a success (until the end of the First World War when it began to go into serious decline in terms of numbers of new burials) was that in such class conscious times it was quite exclusive. Unlike the municipal cemeteries which opened in the late 1840's who took *shudder* paupers  Leeds Burial Company did not (though it did take the bodies of stillborn children from Leeds General Infirmary) and class difference was not only alive and well in victorian times but also lauded and perpetuated even in the face of  death the great leveller . Plus unlike the churchyard burials where plots were reused here you were guaranteed a plot that hadn't been used before.

Overcrowding in church graveyards had been an increasing problem in Leeds as the population grew, it was said that when it rained body parts came floating to the surface in Leeds Parish Church. Letters to the Mercury and Intelligencer complained of both the smell and the sight of various churchyards within Leeds and of the pressing need to do something about it. A church grave digger was quoted as saying that the smell was 'dreadful beyond all smells, there is nothing to exceed it' and the increasing numbers needing burial meant that at the time corpses didn't remain undisturbed for decent intervals and so their 'disintegration and decomposition constituted a distinct hazard to the health and welfare of the living'.

The victorians believed that many diseases were caused by foul miasma so preventing the build up of foul air that could infect and kill was very important. And many of Leeds churches must have stank as the nearby not very deeply buried dead began decomposing plus interments still took place within church building themselves as well and were only outlawed by legislation with the passing of the Cemeteries Clauses Act in 1847. It makes me glad that I can read about this from a 21st century standpoint as opposed to actually having to live it.

Place and Memory has finished in its current incarnation but we are hoping to restage it elsewhere - details will be on here as soon as they are confirmed

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