Thackley’s hidden graveyard

In an area that once was known as ‘Thackley End’,  surrounded by modern houses and gardens, there is a small walled plot of land.  On the wall is a carved stone, recording that “This place is set apart by William Smith, 1790, for a burying place for his own family for ever”. 

J.Horsfall Turner, local historian and writer, described it as

… nearly circular, and the base of the wall is built up to make seats all around.  There are about seventeen grave-mounds without gravestones.  One grave has rough edgestones without inscription, and another has a table gravestone unlettered, and a third stone is prostrated but may have an inscription on the under side.

This graveyard came to be built because of a decision made by the leaders or members of the local Society of Friends, commonly known as Quakers. It was a decision which nowadays seems inexplicably unfair and unfeeling towards those directly affected at the time.

William and Ann Smith were devout Quakers who lived at Thackley End.  They had an only daughter, Lucy Ann.  In 1785 she married the son of another established local family, Dr John Rawson.  He was the third successive apothecary/surgeon of that name to work in the Thackley and Idle area. But the Rawsons weren’t members of the Society of Friends.

Dr Rawson and Lucy Ann Smith married ‘by licence’ at Calverley Parish Church in March 1785.  Calverley was the parish church for a wide area including Idle and Thackley.  Parish churches would be made use of by anyone, not just by members of the Church of England, for marriage ceremonies, after the banns had been read and no objections raised.  A marriage by licence was uncommon, but could take place for various reasons.  For example,  the marriage could be arranged quickly, without the delay needed to publish and read the banns;  it could be kept secret with the banns not being publicised;  or it could simply mean that either or both the bride and groom were dissenters,  not members of the established church where the marriage took place. 

One obvious reason for needing a quick marriage could have been pregnancy;  but John and Lucy’s first child, Martha, wasn’t born until August 1786, so this was unlikely to be the reason. 

Members of the Society of Friends would normally be married in a very simple way, as part of one of their regular meetings, as their services were called.  This might be held in a licensed meeting room, or sometimes in the open where the members met.  However, if a member of the Quakers married a non-Quaker in a church ceremony with a priest they were disowned by the Society.  This is what happened in the case of John Rawson and Lucy Ann Smith.

The first son of the couple was William Smith Rawson, but sadly he died aged 1 year, in 1789.  The local Quakers refused to let the infant be buried in their Idle Burial Ground because his parents had been married by a Protestant priest and in addition his father, Dr John Rawson, was not a Quaker, which meant that his mother, Lucy, was disowned by the Quakers. 

It is difficult to appreciate why the one-year-old infant of the Rawsons could not be buried in the official Quaker graveyard at Idle without understanding the history of the Quakers.  But it seems probable that the Society of Friends group in Idle might have been determined to keep strictly to their rules, which had become an important part of their beliefs and way of life because of their past experiences.  In the not too distant past the Friends had been subject to suppression and unfair treatments, such as having their possessions confiscated, and being imprisoned, for not attending the established church.   At a court session at Wakefield in 1661, Zachary Udall (Yewdall), and Ephraim Sandall, both of Idle, were sentenced to imprisonment for præmunire (refusing to take the Oath of Allegiance).  Not swearing an oath was a central tenet of Quaker values.. They believed in speaking the truth at all times, so swearing an oath promising to tell the truth in court implied that they were hypocritical.  Later, in 1683 many members of the Society of Friends suffered from claims made upon their goods for fines imposed upon them for absence from the national worship.  And in 1686 several of the Idle Quakers were fined for holding a conventicle, a secret or unauthorized meeting for religious worship: James Marshall was fined £20, Ephraim Sandall, £20 and John Adcock, 5s.  

So, the establishment of the small Thackley burial ground was probably the result of the Friends’ firm rule that stipulated that Quakers could not marry outside their faith and if they did so would be disowned

But this was not the first occasion something similar had happened amongst the Idle Quakers.

When the local historian and journalist William Cudworth explored the Westfield Lane graveyard he noted that the earliest visible inscription on a gravestone was from 1690, commemorating Jeremiah son of Zachary Yewdall of Idle, which was the same year as the date at the entrance. He added that,

From this circumstance, and from the fact that there was no meeting-house at Idle, we infer that the Yewdalls gave the ground for this quiet resting-place, not only for their own family circle, but for others of the persuasion called Quakers.  Several of the Yewdall family have been interred at this Westfield Lane burial-ground … 

Quaker Burial Ground, Westfield Lane, Idle

The Yewdall family appear to have been the leading members of the Society of Friends in Idle and the surrounding area. However, in the mid-eighteenth century, Jeremiah Yewdall married  Mary Adcock, and after her death married Sarah Ogden.  They were disowned by the Quakers because their marriage was performed by a priest.  However, three of their children, aged between 16 and 23 died in 1770 and 1771.  All were buried at Idle, although they were listed as non-members.  Records show that other non-members were also buried there.

Maybe the case of little William Smith Rawson arose from a straightforward but crucial disagreement between families, the Smiths and the Yewdalls, that erupted into a major and long-lasting difference.  According to H.R.Hodgson, author of The Society of Friends in Bradford – a record of 270 years. published in 1926, aspects of the little Thackley graveyard such as

… the ornate stone  …  and the unusual gravestones, also the use of heathen names of the months on the stones would seem to indicate that the [Smith] family subsequently left the Society.

Clearly it was a significant, life-changing event for the Smith family.

But one still has an uneasy conviction that the rules should have been applied equally to everyone.  It looks like a callous decision, at odds with the historical fact that the Society of Friends was, as a whole entering a period notable for its compassion for others.  This was exemplified by the opening of William Tuke’s Retreat, the asylum in York which was far ahead of its time in the care and treatment of the mentally afflicted, and later, for example, by Elizabeth Fry’s campaign for prison reform.

Despite the marriage which had led to Lucy’s disownment, the child’s grandparents, William and Ann Smith, had been devout members of the Friends, and must have been deeply offended by the seemingly heartless decision.  So as well as leaving the Society of Friends, they took this other, enduring action, as Wright Watson observed in Idlethorp:

It was therefore decided to make him a grave in a corner of one of his grandfather’s fields at the edge of West Wood; and so with little William Smith Rawson began that little burial ground in the wood at Thackley End, the field corner being enclosed and set apart by the grandparents as a final resting place for their family…. Barely a year later the young Dr Rawson himself, at the age of thirty, was laid to rest with his little son.

Lucy, widowed, married a wealthy woolstapler, William Brown, and had a further seven children.  Both the daughters she had with Dr Rawson and the seven later children lived long lives, and several were eventually buried in the little Thackley graveyard, as were Lucy herself (aged 77), her second husband, William Brown, and of course her parents who had established the burial ground.

 According to the research undertaken by J. Horsfall Turner,  the last burial there was in 1905.  The graveyard still exists, hidden from view by tall trees and tangled undergrowth,  a curious corner of Thackley’s history.  

Cudworth, William.  Round about Bradford.  1876.

Hodgson, H.R. The Society of Friends in Bradford – a record of 270 years.  1926.

Horsfall Turner, J.  Idle Upper Chapel Burial registers and Graveyard Inscriptions, with notices of the Quaker Burial Ground, Westfield Lane, and of the Private Burial Ground, Thackley End.  Privately printed, n.d.

Watson, Wright.  Idlethorp.  Privately printed, 1950

Dr Hester Marvell

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