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Haworth’s Graveyard & Having Respect

I want to share some interesting and fairly good news, about something that upset and angered me inspiring me to write to the powers that be about it.

Here’s the background though.

Haworth is beautiful. I adore going there, the people are lovely, the place is an idyll in the throbbing and heaving life that swirls about it in West Yorkshire. An oasis of calm and charm.

The path through the grave yard at St Michael and All Angels church yard, Haworth
The path through the grave yard at St Michael and All Angels church yard, Haworth

Below in the valley, the town of Keighley rests squatly on the border with North Yorkshire and thrives and pulsates with life. The Bronte family that brought little Haworth fame, where all very familiar with their local town which housed the frequented train station.

I won’t go into what Elizabeth Gaskell said about it. Because that will just make me more cross.

Either way, a visit to Haworth is a visit above the clouds and into an Elysium of peace.

But it wasn’t always that way. I remind myself, as a former resident of the village and now frequent visitor, that this was once a bleak, impoverished spit of houses and industry, clung by sheer Yorkshire will-power to the little hill by the church.

Four houses to every one toilet and a grave yard so over flowing that a nasty, pungent ooze would find its way into the church. There are estimated to be somewhere between forty to sixty thousand people buried there. No-one is really sure. The church yard is not very big either, so all that death in one place, meant that even Queen Victoria got involved in the late 19th century and by her order, closed it off for good.

But what a graveyard. Every stone tells a tragic tale of loss and most of the gravestones holds the brief line of someones life that was taken far too soon.

There are innumerable children and babies buried in that cold, solemn place. As a mum who has buried children of my own, I empathise greatly. It nicks at a special place in my heart – seeing so many tiny ones lost.

It also makes me cross to think of all these anti-vax crazies wandering about our modern day earth, spouting their nonsense. They should all come on a bloody day trip to Haworth’s graveyard and see what living without those dastardly vaccines actually looks like. What real germs and real chemicals can do.

Deep breath.

I always try to have a brief walk through the cemetary at Haworth, in rememberance and respect to those who died so long ago. I want to remember those people who are long forgotten, to let them know that their lives, however long, meant something, to someone. Even a stranger born in the next century.

One of the stones in the graveyard at Haworth
One of the stones in the graveyard at Haworth

So… As we were walking to the exit towards the old school house, trying to contain my emotions, as a visit there is always very moving, we spied a woman with two little dogs enter the church yard. She then proceeded to let them both off their leads, so that they could run about the tightly packed together stones and memorials, merrily doing their dirty business as they went.

I was incandessant with outrage.

I’m sorry… but on what plane of reality must you be on if you are unable to show respect in a place as obvious as a graveyard?! Letting your dog s**t and p**s all over the sainted resting place of someone is utterly, utterly, utterly disgraceful. It is lazy, rude and barbaric.

Haworth is but a dot amongst the hundreds of square miles of rolling countryside and moorland. With just the tiniest bit of effort, these idiots could let their animals run wild and free up there.

But instead, it is easier to let them cock their legs up on the side of a babies grave.

I just… have no words to describe that.

I didn’t say anything to the woman as I passed her, because I knew that if I had a go, I’d get really, really upset.

It left me feeling physically sick though. The thought of someone doing that to my babies graves, regardless if it was now or in a hundred years… it made me feel cold inside.

If a wild animal does something, that cannot be helped, but when an owner has the responsibility to stop their animal? No. Something needed to be done.

A notice to visitors from the side of the meadow behind the parsonage
A notice to visitors from the side of the meadow behind the parsonage

As I knew the graveyard was shut now to new burials, I wasn’t sure who looked after it now. So I contacted the current incumbent at Haworth’s St Michael and All Angels (the church Patrick Bronte was once the Reverend for).

I asked if it was possible for a sign to be put up asking for dog owners to be responsible and keep their dogs on leads in the graveyard, tidy up any mess they make and exercise them instead in the very ample countryside walks virtually EVERYWHERE you look.

I got a very sympathetic and helpful reply from the Reverend Peter Mayo-Smith:

Dear Catherine

Thank you for your heart felt letter.  Dog fouling is a major problem in Haworth, one that concerns the Parish council and the parochial church council.

I think your idea of a sign is excellent but unfortunately the upkeep of the graveyard is the responsibility of Bradford Council. However I have sent a copy of your letter to our councillors in the hope they can use comments to get things done.

It would really help if you were able to feed your comments back to the information centre. Every little bit helps.

God bless

Peter

I was extremely grateful for Reverend Mayo-Smith’s reply and I was pleased that someone had taken notice of it. I didn’t think I would hear any more about it. Then I got another e-mail:

Dear Mrs Mercer

Rev’d Mayo-Smith has contacted me as the Ward Councillor for Worth Valley regarding the dog fouling incident you witnessed.  It must have been very distressing to witness and is totally unacceptable. 

Fixed Penalty Notices can be issued by Council Wardens for dog fouling and I have asked the Council Wardens to ensure they visit the cemetery to look out for any dog fouling.  I have also made enquiries to see if there are any signs that could be put up to reinforce acceptable behaviour.   If residents do know people are letting their dog foul we ask them to report it and wardens will carry out visits to discuss their behaviour. 

I hope you return to Haworth soon and do not have to witness such poor behaviour.

Regards

Rebecca

Cllr Rebecca Poulsen

Worth Valley Ward Councillor

I’m so pleased that my calmer approach of writing to someone and hoping someone hears me, has paid off and reassured me a bit.

The nature of the Haworth graveyard is such, that respect must be shown. It goes without saying that you should be respectful and not let your dog do its business in ANY graveyard. It is unique though, in that it tells a story – a snap shot of life and death in a small area over a finite amount of time. It shows the sorrow and horror experienced by so many, too many families, as they watched their babies and children die in front of them of diseases they had no hope of healing.

The very graveyard, five little girls and one little boy traipsed through to get to church from the parsonage. As the years marched on, their numbers dwindled one by one, until only the third oldest girl, Charlotte, remained.

Thank you to the ward councillors of the Worth Valley for listening to me and to Reverend Mayo-Smith for passing on my message to them.

I am no longer a Christian, but I always pray for the souls in that graveyard and hope that they find eternal love, rest and peace.

Cat x

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