This is an interesting story about the death and burial of Isabella Marshall CHRISP nee ANDERSON who died aged 61 at Brentford, London in 1911.
The story, for me, opened with receipt of an email from Colin Fenn, a Friend of West Norwood Cemetery in South London, where as he described “is a most unusual memorial to Isabella Robson (- 1853), William Robson (-1853) of Norwood and Isabella M Chrisp (-1911) who took over the grave from William as ‘next of kin’. Colin had seen my website records of CHRISP and ROBSON names.
Isabella Marshall ANDERSON had married Edmund son of James CHRISP and Catharine ROBSON the daughter of William mentioned above. Isabella was the granddaughter of William Robson
Papers Past ( The Poverty Bay Herald ) 17 August 1911), as one would expect, immediately obliged with information allowing Colin to further his interest in the “most unusual memorial”.
Further research showed that the Occupation of Isabella’s grandfather William ROBSON recorded as ‘Stonemason’.
This information provided an answer to Colin’s question concerning “next of kin” status for Isabella CHRISP. She correctly fitted the status of being William Robson’s closest living blood relative.
Colin also is interested in why the Cemetery Register, unusually, does not show a purchase price for the plot. One could speculate that this was a perquisite related to William Robson’s position within the Cemetery and the tomb was constructed as proud example of the work of the artisan, William Robson.
It would seem then that the selection of a resting place upon Isabella’s death in London was a matter of coincidence and convenience. Of note here is that I have unconfirmed as yet information that Isabella’s Grandmother, Catharine Robson (wife of William Robson) had died in 1901, and was buried in Gisborne, New Zealand – Isabella’s adopted home town since her arrival in New Zealand in 1880.
Colin also expressed an interest in the construction of the Tomb. The memorial in the foreground of this photograph is an artificial stone – a sort of Pulhamite shaped into a “rockery”. The scroll on the top is illegible and Colin has cleared an area around it and exposed the small arch at the front and the crucifixes down the side. This is unusual and in Colin’s experience, unique; perhaps a demonstration of the work of an artisan.
This is the latest of the emails I received from Colin:
The cemetery register I showed you was the ‘purchase register’, this is a special type of register that is kept in the offices of the Victorian private cemeteries, you won’t see it through Ancestry or other digital companies (though I’m working to change that!)
It shows how much they paid for the plot to be dug and leased to them – Private graves like this were normally leased ‘in perpetuity’, though that’s been a bit problematic in recent times.
As a stonemason he may have had a special mate’s rates for the memorial, but this would not be recorded in the register. A basic private plot in Norwood cost 3 guineas (3 pound 3 shillings) – a heck of a lot for an artisan (about 2 months wages) and well beyond the reach of the poor, who typically couldn’t even afford 15 shillings for a common grave in a churchyard.
And that is before that added on the funeral costs, which might be 20 to 60 pounds for a gentleman of the ‘middling sort’. Then 6 months later, when the ground has settled, they may pay pounds for a headstone or something grander – directly opposite him is a mausoleum that cost £1,500!!!
So whenever we see people in private graves in Norwood we know that they are of a certain social rank. The unusual material has long intrigued me and suggested that we are dealing with some special circumstances.
The Robson-Chrisp memorial was also at an important location, on the corner of two roads. These were normally sold at a premium so its very odd that there is no price recorded. (In fact, I can’t think of another entry where its not recorded, even if its discounted.)
Stonemasons may have been simple building tradesmen who knocked up dimension stones for housebuilding, or they may have been specialists who did carving and fancy things, or employed big teams of masons.
But stonemasons in Norwood were typically associated with the funeral trade… The funeral industry was for a long time – and still is, to some lesser extent – a family business, with various family members acting as masons, undertaker, and managers. That brings me onto the thought that Wm Robson may have been related to Robson the cemetery superintendent. When he died the road next to the cemetery was renamed from Cemetery Rd to Robson Rd .
Hmm, some more investigation needed. When I get home I’ll look through my dictionary of sculpture for Robson….
David Robson who I have not as yet confirmed as William’s Father, was Cemetery Superintendent at West Norwood for many years.
Well there is Isabella’s story, as I know it, which I have blogged partly as trying to help Colin Fenn with his research, and to broaden my knowledge of my wider family.