The third of my six blogs posted in consecutive days, focussing on particular family gravestones, is a bit of a cheat. The other five are stones that my wife and I saw for the first time on our recent 40th Anniversary road trip: today’s is one that we’d intended to go and see but for one reason or another, we had to cancel our plans.
So, the images and the story behind this stone are the result of a visit I made to Key Hill Cemetery in Birmingham in June 2017. I’ll get back there one day…
My 2x great grandfather, Thomas Port, died in Chaddesley Corbett, the Worcestershire village where he spent the last few years of his life, after retiring from his business as a soda manufacturer in Smethwick. Thomas’s daughter, Nellie, was the headmistress of the board school in Chaddesley Corbett and it seems that he and his second wife, Mary Ann, moved in to the school house sometime in the mid-to-late 1890s.
I first visited Chaddesley Corbett about eight years ago and spent some time wandering around the churchyard there hoping to find Thomas’s grave. My search was unsuccessful and a few years later I discovered that I’d been looking in the wrong place and that he, along with several other members of the family, was buried many miles away, in Birmingham.
Key Hill Cemetery, also known as the ‘Birmingham General Cemetery’ was opened in 1836 to provide much-needed burial space for the growing Protestant nonconformist population in England’s second city and one of those nonconformists was my ancestor, Thomas Port.
Thomas had arrived in Birmingham in 1850 and the following year, his oldest daughter, Kate Elizabeth Mary, died of small pox. ‘Mary’, as she’s described in the cemetery’s burial register, was the first member of the family to be buried at Key Hill, on 14 October 1851. Young Mary was buried in a public grave but by the time that Thomas’s first wife Mary died in 1859, the family had its own plot: grave no.175 in section O.
Between 1860 and 1895, five more of Thomas’s children were buried in the family plot at Key Hill, before Thomas joined them on 23 January 1900. Mary Ann died in November 1904 and it was to be another 37 years before the grave was opened once more – and for the last time – for the burial of Annie, Thomas’s third daughter on 9 March 1942.
When I visited Key Hill Cemetery back in 2017, I was armed with the grave number and a good idea of where in the cemtery I might find the Port family plot. I was therefore quickly able to find the stone but also quickly disappointed to find that it was not in a good state. At some time in the 75 years since Annie’s burial in 1942, the stone had fallen and was now broken into a number of pieces.
Large parts of the inscription are worn away or entirely missing but I’ve been able to piece some of it back together again. I was particularly pleased to note that Thomas’s oldest daughter, who had been buried in a public grave in 1851 is commemorated, along with her siblings.
My main reason for wanting to revisit the grave was to get better photos of what remains but that will have to wait for another day. It’s good to know that there is a stone, however badly damaged it might be and who knows…? Maybe one day I’ll be able to get it restored to its former glory…
© David Annal, Lifelines Research, 4 May 2022