This the last of six blogposts written and published on six successive days, in which I take a look at a particular ancestral gravestone that my wife and I visited on our recent road trip. You can read the other five here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5.
Today we’re in the Cheshire village of Astbury, now on the outskirts of Congleton but historically the heart of the ancient parish of Astbury. We had no idea whether or not we would find any family stones there but I think it’s fair to say that we hit the jackpot with this one…
If you were to draw a triangle connecting the parishes of Macclesfield, Leek and Congleton you would cover an area which included the birthplaces of the majority of my wife’s English ancestors. Gawsworth, Marton, Eaton, Wincle, Buglawton, Rushton Spencer, Biddulph, Hulme Walfield and Sommerford Booths – all are there or thereabouts. Tracing their lives hasn’t always been that easy as they constantly flit back and forward across the Staffordshire/Cheshire county border.
The parish of Astbury was formerly one of the biggest parishes in England. It included the chapelries of Buglawton and Congleton along with the townships of Davenport, Eaton, Hulme Walfield, Moreton cum Alcumlow, Newbold Astbury, Odd Rode, Radnor, Smallwood, Somerford and Somerford Booths – and most of those places feature in my wife’s ancestry.
Pedley, Ford and Dutton were three of the surnames we were looking for when we set out on the daunting task of searching the hundreds of surviving stones in Astbury’s sprawling churchyard. Many of the stones are laid on their backs. Whether they were originally upright or whether they were designed to be laid flat in this way from the outset it’s difficult to say – I need to do a bit more research.
There are some pros and some cons when it comes to ‘flattened’ stones. The most obvious con is that they often become covered with grass clippings and mud and the general detritus of everyday life and can soon be lost beneath a layer of fresh turf. When we visited the churchyard at Marton we found that a number of the stones that had been transcribed quite recently by the Family History Society of Cheshire are now hidden under a thick layer of grass.
Of course, the flipside to this is that once the inscriptions are covered in this way, they’re being preserved for future generations – although you can’t see them! I guess it’s kind of a good news/bad news situation…
It didn’t take us too long to start finding some family graves – a Ford and a few Pedleys – but they weren’t direct ancestors and the inscriptions were proving very difficult to read. We were also painfully aware that many of the flattened stones were completely covered and that if what were looking for was on one of those stones we weren’t going to find it.
We decided to just keep wandering and see what we could see and we had just started out along a path which led beneath a semi-recumbent yew tree when a large (very large!) stone caught my eye – it was a Pedley stone and it looked like it was one of ours.
I cleared away as much debris as I could, conscious of the fact that the grass was seriously encroaching on the stone, which was set an inch or two lower than the surrounding growth. The right edge, towards the foot of the stone was particularly overgrown and there were actually two bits we couldn’t get to. The rest, however, was fully legible:
lieth interred the Body of
Nancy daughter of William and
Sarah Pedley who died Nov 25th
1786 aged 24 Years
By my short life this lesson take
be sure your peace with God to make
Then you may say in joyful strain
To Live is Christ, to die is Gain
Also Sarah wife of the said William
Pedley who departed this life
Jan 26th 1803 aged 70 Years
Also the said William Pedley
who departed this life March 10
1811 aged 73 Years
Also Harriet the beloved daughter of William
and Sarah Rothery of Congleton who died Ju..
the 30th 1857 aged 21 Years Also Sarah wife
of the above William Rothery who died July ..
1866 aged 63 Years Also the said William Rothery
who died April 4th 1880 aged 75 Years
William and Sarah were my wife’s 5x great grandparents, born in the late 1730s. To find a stone as clear and legible as this for relatives who were born almost 300 years ago was an unexpected pleasure.
Who knows what other gems are in the churchyard at Astbury hidden beneath a couple of inches of turf. At least, if there are any there, we know that they’re being protected from the elements and from the ravages of time…
© David Annal, Lifelines Research, 7 May 2022