St Mary's Churchyard Survey

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Few of the gravestones in St Mary’s churchyard tell us who the stonemason was. However, a small number from the 1890s to the 1920s are signed by various members of the Field and Hall families of Aylsham. It is quite likely that Aylsham would always have been the primary source of gravestones for Itteringham. It is our nearest market town and until 1912 the river Bure was navigable to Aylsham allowing river based import of the stone, there being no sandstone or other suitable stone naturally findable in North Norfolk.

Trade directories for Aylsham date back to 1822 when John Stanley and Mary Ann Thompson in the Cromer Road, Frederick Weaver in Hungate Street and Charles Abbott in Millgate are listed as stonemasons. Millgate is clearly the dominant site throughout the ensuing 100 years – nearest the basin of the Bure. By 1836 John Freeman is the only stonemason in town and is in Millgate. By 1845 he also runs a beer house. Five years later he has upgraded to ‘stone and marble mason’ (seeing off brief competition from Henry Francis Allen of White Hart Street) and by 1856 he has also upgraded his beer house which becomes ‘The Stonemason’s Arms’ – many reading this may remember the pub surviving in Millgate with this name until relatively recently. Freeman continues as both mason and publican until the mid 1860s and by 1868 James Ling is running the pub but is not a mason – the direct link is broken.

In 1868 Robert Bartram, for many years a builder in Millgate Street, adds ‘stone mason, monumental slabs and tomb erector’ to his directory entry. Bartrams continues as a mason until the early 1890s. Until 1890 Bartrams have no competitors, but in that year Frederick Culley a builder in Cawston Road also offers stonemasonry services. This seems only a fleeting proposition, as by 1896 he is only listed as a builder.

Perhaps he is driven out by the arrival of Uriah Field as a stonemason in Burgh Road by 1891. Field continues until William Field, presumably his son, takes over in 1908. William’s signature is on several Itteringham stones and he continues in business well into the 1930s.

The other choice for stonemasonry was the Hall family – Charles and his youngest son Harry operating in Millgate. A single reference in 1883 lists Charles as a foreman of Millgate with no trade given. It seems very likely that he was foreman at Bartrams. He immediately takes over the listing when Bartrams stop appearing and we know from the 1891 census that Hall was a stonemason aged 38 at that time, with seven children including Harry aged 1, not quite yet started as an apprentice! In fact Charles has the directory entry until 1922 and Harry takes the business on from the 1925 listing.

For much of this long period there was no undertaker’s trade as such in Aylsham. But we have a nice insight into the emergence of at least the hearse provision for the better off in the area. The delightfully named Christmas Stapleton ran The Black Boys Inn and posting house for many years and in 1877, perhaps under pressure from the substantial railway network, he diversifies into a new venture as ‘hearse and mourning coach proprietor’ - no doubt a wonderfully decorated and sombre Victorian set of vehicles. As it happens he clearly understood the business value of that old maxim that only two things in life are inevitable: death and taxes. By 1892 to all his existing ventures he had added the Aylsham area Inland Revenue Office located in the pub!

Copyright © William Vaughan-Lewis

October 2006

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