What We Did This Summer: Monument Conservators Reflections

It’s the classic troupe. You get back from summer holidays in grade school, and your teachers make you write about what you did over the summer holidays. We’re not in grade school anymore, but we’d like to bring you a little bit of what we’ve learned over the ‘summer’ while working at monument conservators at Woodland, our best and worst experiences, and maybe a few of our favourite experiences and photos too!

What was your favourite gravestone to work on this summer?
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Brienna filling out a form for little Billie

Robyn: I think I’m going to have to go with the Carter Sisters on this one! Originally, we thought they were one stone…maybe a ledger that had cracked in several places or something, but when we took the sod off the stones we realized it was two different stones from the 1850s! They both had the bases in situ, right beside on another too and didn’t need a key made, so we were able to get them standing next to each other again…even if it did take 2 weeks to finish!

Brienna: Probably Maurice’s? Although, it’s hard to choose. I remember feeling really excited uncovering my first completely sunken monument, and Robert Cooper’s stone was also exciting because of its richness in history. I enjoyed working on Maurice’s monument because it felt like there was a surprise with every dig. We decided to work on the monument because we had nearly finished all of the fallen monuments in Section K, and wanted to finish the rest of them. We found Maurice’s monument laying flat in two pieces under a pine tree, and thought, “Okay, cool! Another one to lay down in screening!” But we were so wrong. While digging the monument out, we realized it had broken off, and the marble continued straight into the ground. While we tried to get that up, we realized it was in cement and surrounded by thick roots. While we tried to get the cement out, we realized there was a key underneath. And finally, while we tried to get that out, we realized it was in more cement! We ended up with what I’m dubbing the largest hole on Earth, but that was the exciting part! We never knew what to expect with this stone!

Best gravestone conservation tip for the public?
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Don’t break the stones!

Robyn: OhhhHHhh there are so many to chose from! Lets go with this: Please do not take rubbings of any gravestones, or add any substance to the gravestone to make it ‘easier’ to read, such as talcum powder, flour, or any other household powder. They all contain substances that leech into the stone and cause internal damage when they get wet…the particles expand, crack the stone, and eventually ruin the inscriptions. Please just take pictures, make notes, and lightly feel the stone with your finger tips to determine letters!

Brienna: Please please pleaseeeee don’t go probing around cemeteries to look for stuff. Even if it’s your families plot, please ask for consent from the institution. For example, if at Woodland Cemetery, you should go into the office and ask the staff. This is for many reasons. Firstly, you could scratch the monument with what you are using to probe the ground. Secondly, you could dig up something that the family intended to be buried with the person. Thirdly, it’s an active site, and you don’t know what’s below the surface. What if the burial is shallow? Or what if that plot is still in use? Please just ask the staff inside, they will be happy to assist you.

What was your favourite animal encounter?
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Fredrick/Franklin the squirrel!

Brienna: Watching a deer give birth! Even though it was a stillbirth and sad, we learned a lot. We found the deer sitting, with a pink sack next to her. Once she was done giving birth, she pulled the sack off of the fawn with her teeth! This looked super gruesome, as bits of the sack and blood dripped from her mouth. It was pretty intense!

Robyn: Definitely going to have to go with Fredrick/Franklin the squirrel for this one! It was one of our first days at Woodland, and as we were going for lunch this young squirrel was chasing us down the road while we walked! After we realized he was a hungry baby and not a rabid creature, we let him follow us over to lunch. We gave him water and a cashew, and he hung out with us for part of the afternoon! He rode around on our shoulders, snuggled inside my jacket, and rode on my backpack for a while. Once we got our golf cart running though, he ran off. I really hope he’s doing ok out there, friendly little guy!

Hardest part of the job?
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Some heavy lifting required!

Robyn: I could go with something physical here, but I think as an archaeologist I’m pretty used to figuring out how to lift large, heavy buckets of stuff (and stones). I think the hardest part of the job was just figuring out what gravestone repairs are the priority for us to work on. You could spend literal years at the cemetery, probably even in only one or two sections, making sure each stone is level, stable, etc., but our priorities need to be to older stones that can be repaired, unsafe stones, etc. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by the work that needs doing, or excited about X stone here and Y stone and start several projects at once (guilty!), so prioritizing based on need and safety is super important.

Brienna: I think just getting used to the conditions. I had not exercised much in a while prior to starting the job, and my body was in for quite the shock! Haha. I had a few muscle cramps at first from all the lifting and digging, but they quickly went away. And similar to Robyn, I also had difficulty prioritizing projects and accepting the fact that there’s no way we can fix everything. Once Thomas said, “You can’t get saviour complex for the cemetery!” Which is so true, but hard to accept! If we had more hands, there are so many easy fixes lying around Woodland. I’m happy that this program exists every summer though, so I can hope future monument conservators will get to them.

Best part of the job?
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2019 Woodland History Team!

Robyn: Besides meeting and working with all these amazing people? Getting to work in a historic cemetery, of course! I’m a huge advocate of public archaeology and heritage, so getting to work in a public site where we can answer questions from interested members of the public is huge! We have worked really hard this summer to up our online presence as a way to interact with people too, but it is so much more rewarding to be able to answer questions in person. I want everyone to know how interesting historic burial sites are!

Brienna: So many things!! Our team was amazing to work with; the job was essentially stress-free (well, unless you count stressing about the heat?); and our Tuesday visits to the gluten-free bakery across the road for baked goods were always amazing. I also really loved getting to choose what projects to do, based on what which repairs we preferred and which stones spoke to us. This allowed us to complete whole areas and family stones, areas in the shade, and really ambitious week-long projects (looking at you, Hugessen)! Finally, it’s an amazing feeling to find a completely sunken monument, and raise it so that their memory is restored. We’ve conserved and restored quite a few stones that weren’t visible to the public just 2 months ago, and now so many more people can acknowledge these people and their history, and perhaps do more research in their own time.

Tips for working outdoors in *This Heat*?

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…and summer follows spring.

Brienna: Drink 3x as much water as you think you need, and don’t feel bad for taking breaks! If you work your body to the point of exhaustion in this heat, your work will be subpar anyways. So, it’s better for you and your productivity to sit in the shade every once in a while! Robyn and I were lucky enough to have access to popsicles and freezies in the break room, and eating those made for fun breaks!

Robyn: Get yourself an ‘archaeology’ hat (ugh can you hear me groaning at that joke from here?) to keep the sun off your face, ears, and neck! Trust me, it will save you! Also, look up the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke so you can take a rest if you feel one of them coming on. Heat is dangerous, especially if you aren’t prepared!

Most surprising part of working in an active cemetery?
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Section R, our home away from home

Robyn: I study burial grounds so I wasn’t concerned about being around graves at all. In fact, I find them rather peaceful! However, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel being around the contemporary deceased, since everyone I research has been dead for a long time. When we got a chance to shadow in the crematory, I was a bit surprised to find that I’m fairly comfortable in that environment as well (archaeologists often don’t go beyond bones), and was/still am very interested about that kind of work. The burial process is fascinating.

Brienna: There were a few times throughout the summer I’d forgotten that we were working in an active cemetery. When you’re working on monuments from the Victorian Era, dating as far back as 1851, it’s so easy to remove yourself and forget that those were people just like us. We often referred to the stones as if they were the people they commemorated (“Robert, why are you so dirty!?”), or spoke of them as if they were still alive. I found myself being reminded that the people of the monuments we were working on were deceased when we could see services nearby, or when we visited the crematory.

How do you feel about death & dying after working at Woodland?
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The wildlife at Woodland is amazing!

Brienna: I think I’ve started thinking more about how sudden my death could be. As I just stated, it’s easy to remove yourself from situations at the cemetery, and to create a mental dichotomy between the dead and the alive. But that could change at any moment! This hasn’t made me more worrisome or cautious, because life happens, it’s just made me think about it.

Robyn: I’ve always heard that it is healthy to think about mortality, that considering your own finite time on earth allows you to live more fully. I didn’t come into this job scared of mortality, but I feel like I’m leaving with a better understanding and respect for the individuals who work in the funeral industry, providing support, compassion, and guidance to bereaved families during their time of need. It takes great strength to work in this industry, to be with these individuals during their last moments on the surface, or before cremation, and those moments are also part of the death & dying process in our world today. I feel privileged to have had this experience and a chance to be part of those moments too.

Thank you so much for joining us on this journey in monument conservation. We’ve loved working on these blogs and bringing the history, and the conservation processes to you this summer! Keep up with Woodland Cemetery History here on the blog, and on social media all year round to find out more about the exciting work being done at the cemetery, and to get info on upcoming tours and talks. Au revoir!

-Robyn & Brienna, 2019 Monument Conservators

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Cementburg: The Tale of Maurice Baker

Maurice’s grave, before edging and uncovering

Unlike most of the stories we’ve told this summer, this one doesn’t have an ending quite yet. This is because like any good research or fieldwork, you always find the most exciting thing right when you’re about to run out of time. Our last-minute project appeared in the form of Maurice Baker, his four children, and his monumental (hah) gravestone.

It was a find day on our last week at Woodland, and Brienna and myself were busy finishing up some projects and finding a couple easy ones to do along the way. We had just finished resetting a broken stone in some limestone screening on the ground, and moved over to a large broken gravestone nearby in Section K. We thought we were just going to be able to reset the stone on the ground, and began edging around it. Boy, were we ever wrong there! This gravestone would turn out to be one of the most challenging, and certainly the largest, of the stones we’ve worked on this summer.

After the two visible pieces of the gravestone were removed from the ground, we realized that the base of the stone was in situ to the west of the main portion of the monument. Since the stone dated to the 1853, we thought that it must have been the style that goes deep underground, rather than having been set in a key. Excitedly, we started digging down into the ground to get the base out, in order to reset it and get the stone standing.

Joey trying to free the key from the cement

We hadn’t gone down very far when our shovels hit cement. Cement! What was that doing there? Luckily, it was full of large inclusions and the roots of the surrounding grasses had grown down into the cement, weakening it, so it was relatively easy to break apart. As the cement kept going father and father down, and our hole got larger and deeper, we were left wondering what kind of a gravestone this was going to be! Suddenly, we saw a smooth surface below the cement…a tell-tale sign that there was a key down there. This was a surprise, especially when we were approaching 2-feet below the ground surface! We freed the cement and removed all we could, before we realize that the key itself was set into a base of even more dense cement, lower in the ground. No wonder this stone had sunk!

It appeared that the Baker family, who have a monument adjacent to Maurice’s, likely had the stone moved to their new plot in Woodland after St. Paul’s, and apparently set the stone in cement in an attempt to preserve it. As we tried to free the base from the key, the weakened marble snapped off in our hands (see above photo of me looking sad). Unfortunately this happens, especially with decomposing, damp stone, but we can fix that. Once freed from the encasing cement, we were able to pull the remainder of the stone free from the key…but then it was time to call in the back-hoe.

You see, it appeared that the key was still lodged within the cement. With the help of the back-hoe, it easily came free and could be rolled to the surface. Once the key was free, we filled the hole with limestone screening and laid two pieces of gridforce to prevent sinking or tilting in the future. Once the key was level, we used lime mortar to secure the bottom portion of the gravestone back in the key.

While cleaning the stone, we also noticed some abstract designs carved into one of the lower pieces. It appears that the carver was practicing or testing his tools on Maurice’s stone!

Now that the base was reset, it was time to prepare the rest of the gravestone for raising. This involved drilling holes with the masonry bit, as we have done many times before this summer, and planning how to reattach several very large pieces of stone. It took several battery charges to get through all of the pieces, and the help of Tom and his crew from Memorial Restorations to lift the final piece into place. Maurice’s stone is staggeringly large, and we are so happy to have had the chance to finish raising it again! All that remains is to mortar the last break, but we were too excited to wait before showing you all!

The (mostly) completed stone!

Sacred
to the Memory
of
MAURICE BAKER
who departed this life
May 27, 1853
Aged 38 Yrs.
And also of his four Children
Who lie here with him.

Rest though with loved ones gone before
To join the ransomed throng above
Thy spirit called by God did Soar
To swell the ceaseless song of love
We mourn thee not though often here
Thy absence makes a lonely heart
Yet still thy Saviour’s here to cheer
Through him we’ll make no more to part.

We don’t know much about Maurice or his children. The 1875 ‘McAlpine’s London City and county of Middlesex Directory‘ available through the Library and Archives of Canada, lists an Eliza Baker, widow of Maurice Bake, who lived at the corner of Waterloo and St. James Street, London. She may have continued to reside in their family home after her husband’s death. Beside Maurice’s gravestone at Woodland is a stone with two Eliza’s names…potentially his wife and daughter? Hopefully further research will reveal more!

Don’t forget to visit Woodland Cemetery for Doors Open London, this September 14th & 15th. Brienna and myself will be there to do monument conservation demonstrations and answer all your burning questions. See you in September!

Secrets of the Gravestones!

During our time at Woodland, we have come across many odd little happenings that we would not have noticed in the cemetery without working here. For example, we met a small squirrel that crawled up our (clothed) legs and opted for a ride on our backpacks. We also watched a deer give birth, which was the coolest, but perhaps not the best lunchtime entertainment. And, we recently realized the purple markings on our white marble monuments is actually mulberry bird poop. We’ve had daily, if not hourly, instances where we’ve exclaimed something along the lines of “what! that’s so cool!” And, we’ve even had a few moments where we’ve flipped over a monument to be reset, only to uncover something even cooler on the back.

Marion Phillips’s gravestone, 1851.

We found our first monument surprise while preparing the stones for Meagan and Thomas’ tour, “A Newcomer’s Guide to Resting in Woodland.” This mainly involved cleaning the monuments they planned to talk about, but we also wanted to reset a monument that had fallen directly in front of a tour stop, Thomas Phillips, M.D. Upon edging and pulling the grass back from the stone, we realized it was the daughter of Phillips, Marion Phillips, who died in 1851. The entire monument was there but broken into three pieces, so we initially thought we would raise it again. That was until we realized this was the coolest stone we’ve ever seen!

While we were scrubbing away at the stone, Robyn started freaking out in excitement- the stone had carved faces in the bottom! She had initially thought the unfamiliar patterns were from root markings, but soon recognized them as ‘carver doodles.’ There are two full faces, complete with eyes and lips, and an extra set of lips to the left of them carved into the bottom of the stone. This monument was a long slab of marble without a key, which meant at least a foot of it was to be buried underground to anchor it. Apparently, when a carver knew that a portion of the stone was to be buried and hidden from sight, they would practice lettering, or in our case just doodle, on that portion of the stone.

Because this was unprecedented in any of the stones we found, it was quickly decided that the historical significance of these doodles outweighed our original desire to erect this stone. Instead, we filled the hole where it laid with limestone screening, and placed in back on top. This way, everyone can enjoy the carver’s doodles. If you want to find them, they are along the road in the back of Section S, to the west of the large ornamental sandstone ring cross) monument. They are most evident when you angle a flashlight across or pour water on them.

Robyn and I found our next monument with a secret in section EC, one of Woodland’s old children’s sections, while we were randomly edging up tablets while waiting to get our drill. I noticed a tablet to ‘Baby Sloman’ was stained green and on its way to becoming sunken, so I decided to pull it up to pack limestone screening underneath and dig out a frame for it. But much to our delight, there were inscriptions on the back!

The monument had crystal clear iconography of a lamb underneath a willow, and it read, ‘IN memory of SARAH Daughter of,’ before it broke off in a perfectly straight line. We think that the carver discarded Sarah’s stone, for unknown reasons, and recycled the slab of marble to use the front! I get the logic, why not reuse material if it’s going to sit as a tablet in the ground, anyways? This sitting in the dirt is actually why the iconography was persevered so well. Even though Sloman’s stone was erected in 1912, the back was protected by dirt and obviously not exposed to the regular substances that stain marble stones in the air.

Unfortunately, since the nature of a tablet only allows one side to be showing at once, we had to rebury the back of the monument. The good news however is that we were able to document this, so that all of you lovely people can see it on the Internet, instead!

Strange zig-zags on Maurice Baker’s stone, 1853.

On one of our final gravestones, we found another little carver doodle in the form of some squiggles. They are fairly uniform, but do not appear on both sides of the stone so are likely from a tool, rather than being lifted by machinery, etc. This could have been carved on the stone before it was a gravestone, or maybe was the result of the carver testing their tools? This particular stone was carved by one Mr. Thomas Francis, a gravestone carver here in London. If only he was still around to ask about this!

Our final gravestone surprise was occurred while we worked on the many fallen monuments lining the south end of Section K. We decided to work in this area mainly because it was shaded by a tree on either side, so we had coverage throughout the entire day, but also because this was along the tour route, and we had decided to give our demonstration here.

Contemporary hidden writing!

While we were primarily working on older stones, I also realized that there was a sunken granite tablet, which turned out to be from 1983. We have no idea how it sunk a few inches underground in such a short time frame! I needed the assistance of Thomas to help me pull the tablet out of its hole, because granite is a heavy material, and the tablet was quite large in a cement frame. We flipped it onto the grass, and realized there was black writing on the back! This indicated the size of the stone, and that the maker of the monument was Ideal Monuments. This seems like a rather mundane discovery, but this was the only time we had ever come across this! Usually tablets are straight and flat across the back, with no indication of where they came from. Standing monuments, on the contrary, sometimes list the carver on the front of the bottom on Victorian Era monuments, and on the back of newer monuments.

The results of a rusted pin…

There are a few secrets to the ‘typical’ stones we’ve worked on, too. First, many of the multilayered marble stones have metal rods that connect the pieces together. However, many of these rods have eroded, and only gravity holds the stones up. When we drilled wooden pins into stones, we make our own holes, as the old ones are too wide for us and have metal bits left them. And finally, most of the marble stones we’ve pulled out of the ground have peculiar dirt patterns covering the side facing down. This is because of all the ant tunnels! We’ve unfortunately learned that ants like to nest, and make egg pools right underneath stones. As a result of this, we’re usually cautious to raise stones, quickly looking to see if any ants are too close for comfort!

Isn’t it amazing, what secrets can lie just below the surface? Gravestone hold more than just information about the people they memorialize, they carry the personalities and work of their carvers, family ties and faiths, personal interests, history, and sometimes clues about the environment in which they stand. We feel extremely lucky to be the first people to see some of these ‘cemetery secrets’ in decades, and we hope you have enjoyed learning about them with us!

Perfectly Preserved: Baby Ida Grace

This summer we have uncovered and rest many gravestones that belonged to infants or children. Unfortunately, due to high mortality rates in the past, this is not all together unusual. This doesn’t make it any less jarring when a stone comes out of the ground and we see the tell-tale lamp carving, or see the abbreviations of ‘months’ and ‘days’ at the base of the stone. Through our work here at Woodland, we are happy to have been able to raise many infant stones and remind people of these young individuals who didn’t get to experience a full life, and perhaps a little of what life was like back then.

Today’s post is about a gravestone that has been near to our hearts all summer long, that of baby Ida Grace Laing. We uncovered her stone at the northeast side of Section R, near the tall granite monument with the polished ball on the top, near the beginning of our time at the cemetery. Like many of the small gravestones we have worked with over the last eight weeks, Ida’s stone was completely underground. Luckily, Brienna is the queen of finding buried monuments like these, and while probing a row with a suspicious break in it, came across the stone!

Once we knew there was a stone there, we started the exciting task of edging and uncovering the stone. This is always the most exciting part, because we have no idea what we are going to find below the sod layer…will it be a natural rock, a tree root, a section marker or pin (ugh not again), or a stone? Will the stone be intact? Will it have a key? Will it even need one?? It’s always a surprise!

When we peeled back the sod, a wonderful sight befell our eyes…the perfectly preserved and intact gravestone of Ida Grace, complete with a tiny lamb on the top, barely weathered inscription, and to our delight, no major staining. It is likely that the stone sunk or was covered fairly quickly after it fell over (or was laid down), and biological grown or chemical weathering were not given the opportunity to discolour of otherwise adversely affect the surface of the stone. This is wonderful news, and meant that when we cleaned the stone it would come out beautifully.

D2, water, and a little elbow grease, and Ida’s stone was cleaned without too much trouble. If you look in the photos, you’ll see that the base of the stone has a tab sticking out of it. That was set into the original key, which we were unfortunately unable to locate in the area. Instead, we decided to have a new key made from cement! This does not mean cementing gravestones in place. This is a bad idea and is detrimental to the stone.

Preparing the key was a relatively simple process. Joey made a simple wood frame, and we used the measurements of the frame to dig a hole in the ground for it to be set. We dug farther than the base of the key would sit, in order to fill the hole with limestone screening to help keep it level and provide drainage. One the frame was in place, cement from the bucket of the back-hoe was shoveled in, and a little mould was screwed in place to create the slot for the gravestone. This piece was covered in plastic, so it could easily be removed from the cement after it had set.

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Joey, putting cement in the frame. Ida’s gleaming white stone is in the centre of the image!

Two days later we returned to the area, and removed the mould. Unfortunately the cement wasn’t completely dry yet, so we would have to wait a little longer before we could reset the stone completely! While it could probably have been set at that point, we didn’t want to take any chances with the gravestone leaning and putting unnecessary pressure on the tacky cement, potentially causing it to crack and/or fail.

Luckily we only had to wait 2 more days before the cement was cured enough to work with! To set Ida’s stone, we mixed limestone mortar and applied it to the slot in the newly-made key. Then, we carefully lifted Ida’s stone and lowered it into the slot. The stone was then braced on both sides (once we checked that it was level of course) and left to dry. After the limestone had dried, we used some more mortar to point the base of the stone to prevent water from getting inside…and voila! Ida Grace’s stone was finished! Her inscription reads:

In Memory
of
IDA GRACE
Infant Daughter
of
George & Caroline Laing.
DIED
Aug. 29. 1872,
AE 1 yr 2 Mo’s & 4 Dys
________
Suffer little children to come
unto me, and forbid them not.
Luke. XVIII. 16

Powell & Son.

As always, thank you for reading and following along with our conservation journeys at Woodland Cemetery! If you are interested in visiting Ida, or any of the stones we have talked about on the blog, staff at Woodland would be happy to assist you in locating their graves.

Sharon’s Field Placement in Thanatology

*This post was written by thanatology student Sharon Swiderski.*

On May 30th, our thanatology class from Kings University College visited Woodland Cemetery. This was one of our prearranged agency visits, where we visited various services in the community dealing with persons/families living with life threatening illness, bereavement and possibly, death. We were greeted by Roula Drossos, the manager, who visited with our class and answered our questions before we were taken on a walking tour conducted by Thomas Sayers and Meagan Fillmore, the Historian and Archivists. During the tour we were introduced to Brienna French and Robyn Lacy, monument conservators, employed as summer students to conserve and sometimes restore gravestones that have sunken into the ground or been damaged. Walking through the park-like setting of the cemetery, the storytelling of these enthusiastic tour guides introduced us to a few of the notorious lives here at Woodland. We also visited the mausoleum, were entertained by deer dancing among the trees, which truly presented an interesting and enchanting visit that afternoon.

Well, as fortune would have it, I am the student who has been spending time with this group at Woodland Cemetery, “hands on” (on a shovel, that is!) with Brienna and Robyn learning how to edge around a gravestone from having sunken into the ground, raise it by filling the hole with dirt, clean it and erect it again in honour of the person below. On one occasion, Robyn and Brienna were trying to teach me how to chisel old mortar off a stone to make it smooth again. Being a “mature student,” I secretly marvel at their patience with me! One day last week we were shown the cremation process, another day Woodland’s arborist gave us a walking tour to introduce us to the magnificent trees that have grown here over the years. To be given this opportunity to observe firsthand what occurs beyond the front gates is such a privilege and I am looking forward to the remaining time I have here to enjoy these people and learn more.

Buried together: The Carter Sisters

Today’s story of gravestone conservation is actually about a pair of gravestones that we repaired simultaneously, as is only befitting of young sisters. These marble markers, in Section K beside the crematory, were both transported over from St. Paul’s Cathedral churchyard. The sisters, Margret Matilda and Caroline F., died in 1855 and 1859 at young ages. Their parents ordered large, ornate gravestones to commemorate these losses, and our story today details their uncovering and restoration…all 2 weeks of it!

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The Carter stones before cleaning.

Initially, we though that these stones were both part of the same monument, perhaps a large ledger that had cracked under the weight of years of lawnmowers driving over it. Once we removed the sod layers, however, it became apparent that it was actually two gravestones laid to rest side by side!

As you can see in this photo, there is a base to Caroline’s stone on the left, still sticking up out of the ground. This suggests to us that a) her gravestone was not the style that included a separate key, with the 1850s dates a good indication that neither of them had keys, and b) these stones were once erected directly beside one another, after were laid in the same location after they broke.

This was both an exciting realization and a troublesome one, because while it meant that we would be able to raise the stones without making new keys, it also meant a *lot* more excavation to remove the two bases of the stones, still buried in the ground. And yes, once we removed Margret’s stone and probed below, it was evident that the base of her stone was still in situ below the surface as well. It was our lucky day!

Once the bases were excavated (which took ages) and the stones were cleaned, it was time to start digging out the ‘foundation area’ in order to reset the stones. We decided to go about this by digging down further than the gravestone bases were buried to, in order to pack the bottom with a level foundation of limestone screening. Once the limestone was in place and level, we made sure the bases were placed with the break just above ground level (for repairing) and packed limestone up to ground level to ensure they couldn’t budge out of place. Then…the difficult part began.

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Breinna attempting to drill a dowel hole.

You might be thinking, what difficult part? Surely hauling massive pieces of marble out of the ground with little more than your bare hands was the difficult part? Not so, my friend, not so. Normally when we get to this part of a restoration case, it’s a simple job of spending an afternoon measuring and drilling holes into the stone with a masonry drill, inserting the dowels, and clamping support boards around the crack until the sealant sets. Unfortunately, these gravestones were not so agreeable and turned out to be the hardest marble ever! Our drill skipped, the batteries were eaten almost immediately, and we called over auxiliary help (Joey) to make sure the sun hadn’t weakened us and it was actually fine but no, no this was the toughest marble that any of us had ever seen!

In a day, we were driving to and from the mechanical/tools compound to charge batteries multiple times, although the masonry drill bit we were using looked fine. It was slow going, until Grant the crematory operator suggested we use his drill, which was typically used to remove metal casket handles before the caskets went into the retorts. It hadn’t been used much and was nearly new, and we happily took the shiny, blue power drill outside. From there on it was mostly smooth sailing, and we only had to recharge the drill about once a day!

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Gravestones nearly finished, with Brienna checking out the broken corner.

With the better drill, we were able to finally move a little quicker, but it did take a total of two weeks from start to finish to locate, uncover, clean, and reset these gravestones. This includes limestone pointing on the cracks after the dowels had set in place. Initially, we had attached the top corner of Caroline’s stone with just some adhesive, due to the small size of the piece, but unfortunately because of the state of the stone’s weathering the surface was sugaring. The adhesive stuck to the detached grains of the stone and the piece broke off again in the same place! Second attempt included a dowel and it reattached with some ease.

Once the final two cracks were repaired (Caroline’s stone took longer, as it was in 4 pieces rather than just 3), it was just a matter of removing the final braces, pointing the breaks to protect the interior and the dowels, and voila!

We are very happy with how these two gravestones turned out! After the Hugessen monument, this was absolutely the largest (or at least most time consuming) project we have undertaken this summer! The stones are beautifully preserved due to their time underground, with Margret’s stone depicting a rose in the centre with additional foliage around the edges, with a Gothic arch. Caroline’s stone depicts a woman mourning, a tree with a bird in the branches, and a small lamb curled below it.

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Margret died when she was just about a year old, and her sister Caroline when she was just 6 years old. It’s clear that they were deeply missed by their parents, and it’s lovely to see that they can stand together even still, having been relocated from their original resting place to Woodland Cemetery.

Margret’s stone ends with a poem which reads:

Sleep on sweet babe and
take thy rest
God called three home, he
thought it best’ 

Catherine’s stone reads:

Farewell dear friend
this world is vain
in heaven hope
will meet again’

So often the poems on gravestones are difficult to read, due to the inscriptions being much shallower than the main body of the inscription, but these stones were partially covered, protecting the wonderful epitaphs. We think they are fitting tributes to these young girls.

As always, thank you for reading! We’re looking forward to bringing you more posts about Woodland’s history and restoration!

Crane* Day! (*Actually a Backhoe)

All of the projects Robyn and I have worked on up until this point have been challenging but we’ve only recently started using machinery in our work. This week, we’ve raised two monuments using a backhoe, which we’ve gleefully dubbed our ‘crane.’ This is because the monuments were too large for us to lift safely (or at all, for that matter).

This is why you don’t lean on monuments!

The first stone we raised with the backhoe was a marble ring cross monument to three women: Jane Gildersleeves, Olive Eastty, and Jane Booker. Their death dates ranged from 1907 to 1919. Unlike most of the stones we’ve worked on this summer, this stone was standing when we found it. However, we realized it was incredibly unstable, to the point of being dangerous, while we were visiting the monument to Paul Peel and his family nearby. I touched the 1.45m monument, and it wobbled like it was about to fall over!

In no time, Robyn and I had laid wooden planks against the base of the monument, and leaned the cross onto them. We learned that the cross had a metal rod at one point, but this had rusted and broken long ago. This is why we now work with wooden monuments, as the rust can harm the stone! We also learned that the cross was sitting on lead spaces, and had globs of old, hard sealant. So, we put on our masks and safety glasses and started chiseling away! Both the base and cross needed chiseling, and we managed to flatten the remaining bits of the metal rod, too.

Cleaning, drilling, and chiseling the monument!

Since it’s dangerous to have too many people chiseling in one area (you know, all the flying stones and whatnot), I started to clean the cross while Robyn and Sharon chiseled the base. I even had enough time to edge out and raise a nearby sunken tablet! Once the chiseling was complete, we were able to drill the base and cross. We do this by drilling the holes on the base first, and measuring where to drill the holes on top with calibers. After this, we had to wait for Joey, who has helped us on many previous projects, and Bruce, the backhoe operator to help us raise the cross.

A few days later, Joey notified us they were ready to help us finish our project! We met them at the monument, and cleared the cobwebs out of our hardhats, ready to learn how to guide the cross back into it’s base. First, Joey strategically wrapped a loop shaped strap around the cross, so that it could easily be lifted by the hook of the backhoe. Bruce gave us a fright here, as when we turned around to see how he was doing, he was wearing a monster mask! Haha. We’ve since learned he must have a costume store’s worth of supplies hidden in the cab of his backhoe.

When Bruce raised the arm of the backhoe, he was able to dangle the cross directly on top of the base, while we guided it into place. Here, we fixed it in place by matching our drilled holes on the bottom of the monument to the dowels in the holes in the base. The holes were filled with a cohesive substance to keep the cross mounted to the base.

And with that, it was standing again! We supported it by propping wood planks on either side of the cross, and came back the next day to fill the rest of the crack at the base of the monument with lime mortar.

A few days after setting the ring cross monument, we decided to raise another cross using the same method! A tall granite cross had broken into two and fallen from its base in Section K, and we wanted to raise it. However, granite is practically infinitely harder to drill compared to marble!! We naively decided to try drilling it, but gave up shortly when we realized we were going nowhere.

Instead of pinning this cross, we glued it together with our adhesive. Because of the weight of the monument, Joey helped us put the cross back together on the ground. We tightened ratchet straps around it to support it as it dried. A few days later, Bruce helped us raise the granite cross with the backhoe on one of his “sandwich breaks.” There was no way we could have lifted this without a machine!

Once the monument was upright in its proper position, we filled it’s base with adhesive. This position was difficult to determine, because the base was circular and the cross had no text to indicate the front. But we eventually figured it out with some trial and error!

This monument is ridiculously tall and heavy, and we felt the need to add some extra protective measures to ensure it could dry without falling and harming any people or wildlife. Joey made some interesting yet sturdy supports to hold it in place (I can’t describe them… just reference the images and see for yourself), and we wound caution tape around the area.

After a few days had passed, Joey took the supports down, and shook the monument to ensure it was secure and safe. If it wiggled in its base at all, we would have taken it down and waited for someone with a drill thats capable of drilling granite to pin it up. Thankfully, the monument is sturdy in place, and we were able to leave it standing for everyone to enjoy!

The final product.

Tavernkeeper on the Green

Every cemetery is filled with stories, some large and dramatic (like Robert Cooper’s story, that we brought you last week), and some are smaller. Some stories are hard to tease out, such as those of the everyday people of London, whose names might not have been written in lights, or had articles written about their achievements. We try to tell their stories through the conservation of their gravestones, as we unearth them, clean, and stand them up so visitors can see them too!

Today’s gravestone story is one of these stones. We don’t know much about the individual named on the stone, but through the restoration of his grave…and it was quite the restoration project, we were able to bring his name to light once again, and learn a little bit about the individual behind in in the process.

The gravestone of John Murphy was nearly completely buried below a mat of fine grasses and wild oregano, which gives section K a lovely aroma as you wander through the area. After we pulled back the sod, it was discovered that the stone was actually in fairly good condition…meaning that it was only broken in two pieces, rather than a million! That’s an easy fix, right?? Right! The base of the stone wasn’t long enough to bury right into the ground, so we probed around for a key. Luckily, we actually hit something below the gravestone itself, and quickly moved it out of the way!

To our great joy, there was a key below the stone! It was made from sandstone and the most irregular shape we’d seen so far. The top of the key was rough, and as we pulled it out of the ground the entire stone split in half in our hands! This was a very good example of the devastating effects of biological weathering on stone. Something that we typically think of as so strong and long-lasting can be eaten away by the roots of tiny plants, force the stone to split. Luckily, there was a remedy for it…in the form of Adex (?), a construction adhesive. We know that this material isn’t exactly conservation-savvy, but sometimes it works in a pinch, especially when you are repairing the base of a stone and really need it not to fall over again…or split in two!

Once we were certain the key had set, we placed it within a bed of limestone screening (for support and drainage, you know the drill), and pointed the remainder of the crack with limestone mortar to protect it from moisture and from sediment settling inside and providing a place for plant life to thrive. Sorry plants! To set the gravestone in the base, we added more mortar to the slot in the key and squished the bottom of the stone into place, checking to make sure it was level before bracing it with boards and leaving the stone to set overnight.

The next step was to drill holes to set the wood dowels into, and attach the top of the stone! We switched from the lipstick you may have heard about earlier to pencil and a set of calipers to carefully measure in the location of each dowel hole. This ensures accurate results without exposing the soft, absorbent marble to a staining substance such as lipstick. Luckily for us the marble was fairly soft. The stone aligned easily, and we had it set in record time (with a waiting period overnight to make sure the stone was set), with mortar to fill in those pesky cracks.

The stone features clasped hands bidding farewell, with delicate foliage in the top corners and a border of abstract leaves or peddles down the sides of the inscription. It reads:

IN
Memory of
John Murphy
WHO DIED
Apr. 2. 1866
AE. 36 yrs.
-.-
Requiescut in pace

John Murphy’s stone doesn’t tell us much about him, but his death date allows us to look him up in the St. Paul’s burial records book here at the cemetery. Our records show that he was buried the following day, on April 3rd, 1866, and that he was 40 years old at time of death. Either our records got his age wrong or he was lying about his age a little? The records also show that he was from London and worked as a tavernkeeper. We only wish we knew a little more about him…like what tavern he worked at!

Unfortunately, the 1861 Canada (Ontario) census does not list anyone named John Murphy that matches up with either potential age provided by his gravestone living in London at the time of the census, and he died before the 1871 census. It is possible that John arrived in London after 1861 from another part of Canada or another country, and died before he was included in the official census records. However, with the resetting of his gravestone at least visitors to Woodland will be reminded of his name when they pass by.

If you are interested in visiting Tavernkeeper John Murphy’s grave, head to Section K beside the crematory!

As always, thank you for your support of our heritage work at Woodland!

Thank you for following our progress so far this summer! Keep an eye out for more information on our walking tour, which will be held on July 6th, 2019

Tragic Death – Explosion at Bilton’s Soda Water & Pop Works

The cemetery is filled with endless stories. Stories about individuals that we will never meet, stories that have been passed down through the ages, ones that have been lost to time, and ones that we are able to tease out of the archives and records to tell again. Today’s story is one of those that has been pieced back together to be told again. This is the far-too-short story of Robert Cooper.

As far as the records show, Robert Cooper was born in England in 1854 to Mary Ann Cooper. At the moment, we have been unable to figure out anything about his father, as he died prior to the 1871 Ontario Census. Mary Ann arrived in London sometime between 1861 and 1871 (due to her not appearing on the London 1861 census), and we can narrow that date further to between 1861 and 1871. She first appears on the 1871 census as living in London as a widow.

It is possible she moved to Ontario to take a job as a servant after her son was born and her husband had died, leaving her with no other option than to take work overseas to support her family. Neither her nor Robert are listed on any Ontario census records prior to 1871, suggesting the arrived in the 10 years between between then and the previous census.

The W looks a bit like an ‘M’ as well, but other records of clearly married people had a different looking M, so just trust me on this one. A clear indicator that a woman wasn’t married either, along with the W in the census records, was that she wasn’t listed below her husband’s name. Mary Ann was listed alone, suggesting she may have been living with the family she worked for. Her son Robert, who was 17 in 1871 (she would have had him at age 28), is listed on a separate page of the census.

Earlier this week, Brienna was probing in a large open section of Section K and uncovered the most curious headstone that we had ever seen. As we pulled back the sod we were met with a gravestone image that was both confusing and exciting! We rushed to uncover the rest of the stone and clean it, hoping that it would reveal something about the image.

The gravestone turned out to belong to one Robert Cooper, and it read as follows:

In Memory of
ROBERT
Son of
WIDOW COOPER
who was accidentally killed
by the explosion of a
Soda water Cylinder
July 31, 1871.
Aged 17 years
____
POWELL & SON

The image on the top of the gravestone was a soda water cylinder, which would have held carbon dioxide or ‘carbonic acid’ which was forced into water to make it fizzy. This process was discovered by Joseph Priestley in the late 18th century, naming him the ‘father of the soft drink’, and became very popular! However, highly pressurized tanks are subject to explosion if the conditions aren’t right, or the tank is damaged in some way.

Robert was listed in the year of his death as having worked as a servant, but it does not say where or to whom he was in service. Records from the Ivey Family London Room at the London Public Library state that at Bilton’s Soda Water & Pop Works on Dundas Street, London, a ‘soda fountain’ exploded, killing Robert Cooper instantly. A newspaper article from the London Free Press, August 1st, 1871, states that he was an employee of the soda works.

Bilton’s was one of many soda works in London in the 1800s, and was near the intersection of Dundas and Wellington Streets. We haven’t been able to find out much more about the company, but are definitely looking to fill in the gaps. It may have looked similar to the water works of J. Tune & Son, which was established in 1882 on York Street. As you can see in the background of this image, there are many large tanks which would have been used to carbonate the water in the bottles. Robert was working near a similar tank, as part of his job was to ‘fill and wash the vessels’ during the soda water making process (London Free Press 1871).

The 1881 revised 1888 Fire Insurance Plan, showing the ‘Pop Works’ at 263 Dundas Street (Western Archives). Today, the ‘Rotary Reading Garden’ occupies the space.

“It was a jar-shaped utensil, and stood upon its bottom. While it was in this position Cooper and another young man named Welch approached it and were about to lift it by the handles. Cooper has no sooner bent over it than the fountain exploded with a terrible force, rising like a rocket and striking against the ceiling with a ford which broke through the ….. and shook the whole building. In its upward flight, horrible to relate, it struck young Cooper in the chest and under the chin, and bore him bodily up with it. His head struck against the ceiling about three feet distant; and also broke the plaster. He fell lifeless. His companion Welch was forced by the outflying gas across the floor amongst a lot of the bottom, and narrowly escaped the same fate. Dr. Fluck was at once sent for, and appeared five minutes after the accident but too late to be of service. The body was carefully removed to Mr. Bilton’s dining room, overhead, and coroner Moore notified. In the afternoon at four o’clock, an inquest was held.
-London Free Press, Aug 1, 1871.

The tank they were filling belonged to a J.E. Baker on Richmond Street, which indicates that stores could bring their tanks/fountains over to the Soda Works to have them refilled, and that the tank in question had been repaired before for leaks. In short, it could easily have been faulty. The deposition of witnesses and owners concluded that Robert’s death was an accident due to faulty repairs of the tank, and that when tanks are leaky after that point they are to be condemned in order to prevent further tragedy (London Free Press 1871).

J. Tune & Son, London, ON, 1890. (Image from Ivey Family London Room). The interior of Bilton’s may have been similar.

Our burial and death records here at Woodland list Robert’s burial as having taken place at St. Paul’s on August 1st, 1871, and that his body was transported there from the ‘City Hospital’. This indicates that he was brought to the hospital after the accident. Later, his burial and gravestone were brought to Woodland Cemetery post-1879.

Robert’s cleaned and set gravestone, Section K

It is curious that the gravestone shows a carving of the cylinder that killed him! It is not a common motif, to show on a gravestone what ultimately ended one’s life…unless that something was a boat. Additionally, his mother’s name is only listed as ‘Widow Cooper’ on the stone, an interesting choice to make as his only family.

Robert’s death was a tragic accident, but through the resulting inquest into what happened, safety precautions were brought into place to protect future soda men in their places of work. We packed the space with limestone screening to allow drainage without letting the gravestone sink as quickly, and made a buffer of screening around the edges to keep the grass back as long as possible Robert’s stone can be visited in Section K. We remember Robert through his curious gravestone, which gave us a glimpse into his life in 1870s London.

Thank you for following our progress so far this summer! Keep an eye out for more information on our walking tour, which will be held on July 6th, 2019

Curious about the newspaper article?

If you are interested in the rest of this article, check out the London Reading Room or download the sections below:

Want to see the stone for yourself?

Here’s a helpful map to aid you in your search. Let us know in the comments if you have any trouble finding the stone!

Stand at the southeast corner of the crematorium - you should see a sign for section K. Face that sign and head in towards the gravestones - you'll need to walk 20-30 steps to find the stone, but it might be less!
Stand at the southeast corner of the crematorium – you should see a sign for section K. Face that sign and head in towards the gravestones – you’ll need to walk 20-30 steps to find the stone, but it might be less!

Testing Alternative Setting Methods: Derusha Setting Compound

This week we’ve raised two stones using a method we’ve never tried – we applied a latex sealant from Derusha Supply to the base to hold them upright.

After cleaning up our last site in Section R, where we had raised three stones and uncovered many tablets, Robyn and I decided to venture off into other sections. When we decided to set up camp to fix these stones, we thought we were exploring a whole new section of the cemetery! But, we soon laughed when we realized we had just found more work in Section R… only slightly over from where we were!

The stone we started with here was short, and the different components of it had separated from each other. This included the marker, base, and foundation. Luckily for us, these components were all intact with no scratches, cracks, or missing chunks. To begin piecing these pieces back together, we dug them out and moved them from the site, so that we could level the hole and raise the monument. Once we dug out the hole, we dumped in a few buckets of limestone screening, to prevent the monument from sinking in the future. This is probably my favourite part of the process, because you get to jump in the hole to compact it!

When we were happy with the new, shallower depth of our hole, we carried the foundation back in, and laid a roll of Derusha sealant on it to match the circumference of the base that we’d be placing on top. We placed dimes in the four corners to act as spacers, and then lifted the base back in place. Gravity may have sufficed in keeping this upright without the Derusha, but we wanted to add these extra measures just to be sure. You never know what could knock a monument – we’ve even heard of deer jumping into stones!

Once the base was in place and we had scraped away the excess sealant that seeped out the edges, we were nearly ready to raise the monument. We noticed that the monument used to have a metal rod attaching the monument to the base, however it was no longer attached. So, we drilled holes in both ends and used wooden dowels as pins to keep it upright.

Usually this is when we are able to pat ourselves on the back and let the monument sit to dry before adding mortar… but not this time! Somehow the monument’s back had chipped just along the base, which made it almost curved and very difficult to stand straight. Luckily for us, we always have an excess of tools and materials in our cart, and we realized we could cut up the leftover wooden dowel and jam it underneath! This kept the monument perfectly straight while the sealants set, and we shoved as much mortar as we could fit the next day to further support it.

The second monument we erected with Derusha

We decided to stay in this section for a couple extra days after finishing this monument, because there were a few other easy fixes, and this area is visible from a well traveled cemetery road. We cleaned a few monuments with D2 and water, edged around a tablet, probed for potential markers, and fixed two other monuments. We used Derusha for one of these monuments, because the crevice in the base for the marker to sit in was quite shallow. This monument involved the same processes as the previous one, such as levelling the ground with limestone screening. However, this stone did not require pins, because it’s stable and not top-heavy.

Our final fix in this section involved attaching a small marble urn back to the top of a monument. We found the urn resting against the base of the monument, and feared it might sink or get lost if we left it. Since the monument was under a tree with thick foliage, it was covered in lichen and moss. There were five pieces made from marble (!!!) and two from sandstone. We sprayed the whole monument in D2 to kill any plant matter and roots leaching into the stone and breaking it, but we only scrubbed the marble, because sandstone cannot really be cleaned. After the top had dried, we drilled one pin into it, and reattached it with a wooden dowel.

Now it’s time to pack up and find a new section… perhaps something outside of Section R this time?

Thank you for following our progress so far this summer! Keep an eye out for more information on our walking tour, which will be held on July 6th, 2019