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

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!

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!

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!

The Hugessen Monument: Uncovering & Restoration

At the beginning of our first week, we were told the there was a special project waiting for us out in Section R: The Hugessen Monument. After a few days of getting out conservation bearings, we headed over to check it out, shovels in hand, excited to begin what would turn into a four-week project with a lot of surprises!

The monument, a large, simple marble gravestone with a curved top, is dedicated to Richard Hugessen. The stone reads:

IN
MEMORY OF
RICHARD ASTLEY KNATCHBULL HUGESSEN
LATE CAPTAIN 57TH REGt
THIRD SON OF THE
RIGHT HONble SIR E. KNATCHBULL [BAR.]
OF KENT, ENGLAND
AND FANNY CATHERINE
HIS SECOND WIFE.
BORN SEPTEMBER 9th 1832.
DIED AT SAN FRANCISCO AUGUST 29th 1875.
______________
In the midst of life we are in death.

Portrait of Fanny Catherine (unknown painter)

According to the burial records, both Capt. Hugessen and his mother Fanny are buried within the plot, but the records state that Fanny’s burial was ‘undocumented’, and there is no gravestone on the site to mark her burial there. Find A Grave indicates that she is buried with her late husband in Goodnestone, Swale Borough Kent, England The only mention of her, sans married or maiden names, is as the second wife and mother of Richard, named above. Woodland’s burial record books from 1882, the year of Fanny’s death, do not indicate that anyone by that name is buried at the cemetery, however our digital records show 2 burials within the plot. What this could indicate, we aren’t 100% sure, but is either an error in our records or perhaps Fanny was buried here for a time before being returned to England or visa versa.

Woodland boasts quite a few famous people and the Hugessen-Knatchbulls are no exception. Fanny Catherine was the niece of Jane Austen! Fanny’s father, Edward Austen (later Knight) was one of Jane Austen’s brothers and Fanny was his oldest child. Jane wrote how fond she was of her young niece in several letters, and she was immortalized in paintings and sketching befitting her title of ‘Lady or Dame’ after marriage to Sir. Edward Knatchbull. A newspaper article from the London Gazette in England dating to 1849 states that ‘Dame Fanny-Catherine Knatchbull…may take and henceforth use the surname of Hugessen in addition to and after that of Knatchbull, and bear the arms of Hugessen quarterly with those of their own family.’ This indicates that a title had been granted to the family, and the Hugessen name appears on the gravestone as the final portion of her son Richard’s name.

Richard Astley died of typhoid fever in San Francisco California on August 29th, 1875. His family paid to have his body returned to London so it could be buried in the family plot. The Woodland burial records indicate he was interred on September 9th, 1875 at St. Paul’s Cathedral churchyard, and would have been transferred to Woodland in/after 1879 when the cemetery opened. What Richard’s connection to London is, we are still trying to figure out, but we do know that he served in the British 57th Regiment of Foot as an ensign in 1851, was made lieutenant in 1854, and Captain by 1855. The regiment became part of the Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex Regiment) after the army reforms of 1881.

Richard was married to Lummey Minter(?) Kelly in 1857 in Middlesex, England, but we have been unable to find anything about her in the records, regarding where they lived and why Richard ended up in San Francisco at his time of death. If you know anything more about their story, please leave us a comment!

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The North curb exposed

We knew we had to reset this wonderful gravestone, but after ages of probing around the area, it was no where to be found. However, what we did uncover during the search was the buried curbing which once surrounded the entirety of the burial plot! Ornate on the north side facing a relic pathway, the large sandstone pillars and heavy curbs between them must have imposed an impressive sight on the landscape when they were new. This project had shifted from a simple resetting of a gravestone to a large undertaking…we had to reset the curbs too! Unfortunately for us, that meant a lot of digging because those curbs are deceptively deep underground.

Once we had the curbs loose from their pits, it took a lot of effort to raise them out of the ground and set them on the edges, ready to be reset again. While the north side of the curbing was very ornate and large, the rest of the sides were thinner and shorter, which made them much easier to move around! With all the curbs out of the ground, we cleaned up the ditches and Joey brought us several loads of limestone gravel to put below them. We raised them several inches, so that the tops of the stones are peaking out above the grass, similar to how they would have originally been set.

This is a labour-intensive process, and we were glad to have three people on site to help with it…those stones get pretty heavy, especially near the end of the day!

With all of the curbs back in place, we filled the sides almost level with the surrounding sod with the limestone gravel and stomped it down between shovel-fulls in order to compact the material and make sure the curbs don’t slump one way or the other while settling. Soon, topsoil and grass seed will be added to cover the gravel and repair the lawn! We are pretty excited to see the entire curb above ground again, especially when we all had no idea it was below the surface when we started this project.

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The reset curb (southeast corner is missing)

The next step was prepare the actual Hugessen gravestone for resetting. This involved getting a new key made for the marker. This process is carried out by the wonderful team in the garage, who have created a form which can be filled with cement to the correct dimensions for the gravestone in question. While the base is cement, it will not be attached to the gravestone with cement, but rather fitted in place with lime mortar, negating the potential damage from the other material.

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A mould to create cement gravestone keys.

After taking measurements to ensure we made the right sized base, the stone was cleaned several times in order to remove some of the dirt and discolouration caused by months of laying face up and exposed to the elements (and lawnmowers). It is almost scary how well D2 ends up working, especially when it is actually sunny outside! The sunlight allows the product to react and foam up, eating away the biological material on the surface of the stone. Even after it is rinsed off, it continues to help protect the stone from discolouration for ages afterwards. (if you’ve visited our Scottish stones, you’ll know that they have stayed gleaming white since they were brought to the surface and cleaned!).

 The next step was to get the new key (or base of the gravestone) outside and dig the hole to put it into. We decided, due to the immense size and weight of this gravestone to employ the use of Gridforce tiles underneath the ground. After digging a hole the size of two tiles, we filled it part way with packed limestone screening to create a solid and level foundation capable of good drainage. Over this limestone we placed the gridforce tiles, and filled it just to the top with additional screening. The tiles create a permeable but solid foundation, rather than having a heavy cement platform underground, which will not sink and allowed water to pass through while distributing the weight of the gravestone above. It’s amazing!

The site, ready to have the new foundation installed.

Once the limestone and grid were in place, we rolled the cement key into it’s new home! Now, we talk a lot about how cement isn’t good for gravestones, and that is still veeery much true, but this cement isn’t directly attached to the gravestone, but rather simply supporting it. The gravestone itself will be held in place with lime mortar!

Once the key was in place and level, a process which too longer than we all expected it to, it was time to mix up the mortar and call a few extra hands (i.e. Thomas and Meagan, our historians/archivists) to help us lift the monument into the new key. Placed on a board to keep it from being ground into the dirt and to spread the weight a little while lifting, four of us including Joey, carefully angled the gravestone up and placed it into the lime mortar while Thomas took photos of the historic event. The Hugessen monument has been waiting years and years to be standing again, so this was a historic occasion!

Once we had the monument standing and safely in the key, it was important to make sure that it dried as level as possible, so we took a few minutes (and shovels) to ensure it was braced on both sides to keep it level and safe while the mortar set. It might not be the prettiest option, but it keeps our gravestones from falling down in the middle of the night, so we’ll take it!

After the mortar has completely set (don’t want to push against it while it’s still damp) we will go back and clean the back of the gravestone…which has not seen the light of day in quite some time, and fill in all the dirt sections around the gravestone and the curbing with ‘black’, otherwise known as topsoil, with grass seed to revitalize the area which has been chopped up substantially by our shovels and covered by piles of soil for the last 4 weeks. But at this point we are excited to say that the monument has been restored, and is standing! You can visit Hugessen and potentially his mother, Fanny Catherine, in Section R behind the crematory, on the crest of the hill.

Thank you for reading!

The Hugessen monument, reset with curbing. June 2019

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

Fixing Stones: Our First Solo Expedition

On Thursday, May 30th, Robyn and I gave a marker conservation demonstration to a class of thanatology students from King’s University College. This was their last stop on their tour given by the cemetery’s public historian and archivist team! We wanted to give them a glimpse into how exciting our job is, so we raised a fallen marker near the Hugessen monument. This marker was broken across the middle into two pieces. As they were leaving, we probed near the base of the marker to find a key- but we found something much cooler!

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The base of the gravestone was completely underground

Just below the broken marker, we found a 1.5’ piece of marble that continued straight into the ground! This means that the marker never had a key, and was made long enough to stand freely.

Seeming as we had just learned to fix monuments the day prior, we decided to tackle this stone as our first solo project. We began by digging out the bottom of the stone, while making sure our hole didn’t get too wide. (Don’t want to disturb anything when you’re digging that deep!) Next, we pulled the stone out of the ground, and poured limestone screening in to prevent the marker from sinking in the future. Once this was to our desired height and levelled, we put the marble slab back in the hole, and pressed limestone screening around the sides to keep it from falling forwards or backgrounds. Finally, we covered this with a few inches of topsoil to allow the grass to grow flesh to the stone.

Now that the stone was raised and sturdy, we were ready to put it back together! To start, we had to clean the stones. When they dried, we marked 3 dots along the top with lipstick (in the shade cherry frost!), and pressed the two stones together where they are supposed to meet. This transferred the lipstick to the other stone, to indicate exactly where we’re supposed to drill. We used lipstick because it was in the drill kit, and was standard practice here. However, we soon learned (not really to our surprise…) that lipstick is not good for the stone! It seeps into the stone, and changes its colour to pink! We’ve decided that for all future projects, we will dispose of the lipsticks and use calibers and pencils.

Next, we cut wooden dowels to size and started drilling a couple inches into each mark. You’d think this would be the easiest step, however our drill died after every couple of holes! So, this project involved a lot of driving up to the shed to exchange drill batteries. Once we ~finally~ drilled three holes in each slab of rock, for six in total, we filled the holes with a sealant and pushed the dowels in. The upper piece of rock was small, so it was easy for Robyn to lift it, while I crouched next to it to guide it on top of the dowels. Then, we sandwiched the setting stones between pieces of wood, and pressed them together with a bar clamp.

We let this sit for the night before taking them off and filling the crack between the two pieces with lime mortar. Lime mortar is packaged as a powder, which we add water to until it forms as a paste. This gets smoothed into the crack to seal the stones together. Attentiveness to detail is super important at this stage, because this dries as a stark white colour, so we don’t want it smeared across the marker where it doesn’t need to be. This needs to set for about a day before we can continue working on the marker. Lime mortar can be used to reconstruct parts of the stone, including inscriptions, but only if the person applying it is sure they’re only reconstructing, and not adding new elements. If unsure, that part of the stone should be left alone.

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The finished product! 

Now, because the stone was broken into three pieces, we repeated this process the next day! We finished by reconstructing the top corner of the stone, because we could compare the corners and be 100% sure that we were not adding historical inaccuracies. Once everything is set, dry, and sturdy, we can clean the stone. As much as we wanted to clean while waiting, it was important we kept the mortar moist…but not too moist, to prevent it from running down the stone. So, we used this time to explore nearby stones! Thankfully (depending on how you look at it…), there is always work for us to do! We found and reset two small markers within two meters from the stone during this process.

We look forward to probing and resetting more sunken graves in this small area- it already looks completely different from when we started!

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

In Memory of: Resetting children’s gravestones at Woodland

It is always a somber moment when we uncover the gravestone of a child. The size is usually a give away, or the iconography, but especially when the dirt falls away and reveals their age. These gravestones often fall and are buried, and we are grateful for our position to be able to bring them back from below the surface, clean and restore them, and bring their names back into the public memory. In doing so, we are able to research the individuals and learn a little more about their lives, however short.

Today we’d like to discuss two infant gravestones that we have been working to restore over the last week. They are both made from marble, but are completely different styles and required different types of repairs to ensure that they can stand for decades to come.

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Billie McFarland’s gravestone before conservation

First, we wanted to repair a gravestone that we came across on the first day of our orientation here at Woodland. Located in Section EC amidst many other graves to infants and children from the early 20th century, this small marble cross had snapped in half cleanly, and was laying on the ground beside the base. There is a stuffed dog sitting by the gravestone, and we knew we had to fix it as soon as possible!

This stone was a ‘complex’ fix, meaning it would require a pin, but compared to other, larger gravestones, this one only needed a single pin. We decided to use wood pins, so that if the same crack failed again, the pin would break with the stone rather than remaining stiff and potentially causing additional damage. Groundskeeper Joey had done this kind of repair before, and taught us the basics!

First we marked the gravestone base with lipstick and positioned the top over it to mark both sides. We would like to be clear that after this stone, and one other, we will not be employing this technique any longer as the lipstick is extremely difficult to remove from the stone’s surface. We strive to learn about conservation at the cemetery, and while this process was employed in the past we feel that it is no longer acceptable.

Next we drilled the holes, after measuring and cutting the wood pin. After several tries, since the holes should be an even depth to house the pin, we put sealant inside the holes, as well as small dots inside the broken area and reset the stone. You can see it above being held in place with a clamp and two pieces of wood, since the sealant needs about a day to harden!

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Finished repair!

We returned later the following day to remove the wood and apply lime mortar to the crack, in order to create a cohesive surface on all sides of the gravestone, and to keep water from dripping inside the crack. It looks wonderful, and we are so happy to have been able to restore this child’s gravestone to the monument to them that it was meant to be all along.

Second, is the Wright gravestone, located in Section R. This marker wasn’t broken, but we found it completely underground beside the Wright family monument while excavating a piece of curbing. As we brushed the dirt away, we saw the image of a sleeping sheep at the top of the stone, and immediately knew that it was a child’s gravestone.

The gravestone was laying flat below the sod layer, directly next to the family’s larger granite monument. Because it dated to 1854, we could immediately tell a few things about the stone. Firstly, the early date indicates that the child, Eliza, was originally buried at St. Paul’s churchyard in downtown London. Her grave was relocated to Woodland due to by-laws restricting burial inside the city limits, after it opened in 1879. It appears that the family has continued to use the same plot for decades!

Luckily, this gravestone was in one piece! The early date gave us another interesting clue about the marker: it likely did not have a key! If you look closely at the gravestone image above where it is still laying in the ground, the final lines of the poem end over at least 1 foot above the bottom of the gravestone. This suggests that the gravestone did not have a key, and was instead set directly into the ground. The long base of the marker provided stability in case of frost heave or other natural processes which can cause the sediment to move. Next time you’re at Woodland, take a look at how close the text gets to the bottom of gravestones with keys for comparison! 

This meant it would be an easy fix, so we set to work carefully moving the marker so we could clean it with D2 and water. Markers that have been underground for ages are a lot easier to clean than partially buried ones, because they typically aren’t covered in lichen or moss! This one was easy to clean, and we quickly set to work digging the hole to reset the stone into. Once this was measured and dug, we packed the bottom with limestone screening for stability, to prevent sinking, and to allow drainage around the gravestone. After placing the marker in its new home, we packed all sides with additional screening to support it, and covered the top layer with sod. Due to the matching names on this marker and the adjacent one, and it’s location, we knew approximately where it should stand in the plot.

Now that Eliza’s gravestone is back up, we can return to raising the corner stones of this plot, along with the decorative curbing on one side of the monument. This plot is adjacent to several others we are working on at the moment, and the area is going to look completely different when we are done this summer. If you are in the area, take a moment to visit the graves of these children, and think about how different life must have been back then.

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

 

 

Resurrecting gravestones with intact keys

Hello readers, and welcome back to another monument conservation blog post! Our historian counterparts are off at the archives today (I’m sure we can expect some really cool updates from them) so we are hiding from the rain and writing today. Not a bad way to start out a Wednesday if you ask me!

Today we wanted to talk about a project we worked on yesterday: resetting gravestones with intact keys. The ‘key’ of a gravestone is a fancy way to describe a base to support an upright monument (think stereotypical gravestone shape) that has a slot in the middle, which the grave is then placed inside. It holds up the stone without needing a very long stone buried in the ground, which is the way that older historic gravestones were constructed (think 17th – 18th centuries). If we find a fallen gravestone and are able to locate the key, it is a very lucky day for us!

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Mary’s gravestone in three pieces, preparing to be cleaned

This project involved two stones that we reset yesterday, both of which are located in section R of the cemetery, directly north of the crematory, and had fallen from their keys years earlier. The first marker was a cross on a decorative base, carved to resemble a pile of stones with a plaque on the south side and a scroll on the north, dedicated to Mary Mc C. Wood, who died on November 27, 1883 at the age of 18. The second stone, knocked over by a fallen tree years ago, featured Gothic points and tracery at the top, a hand pointing skyward, and two placed for names. It was carved for William Winslow who died September 4, 1877 and his wife Mary Ann Winslow, who died one year and one day earlier, on September 3, 1876. Both stones were made from marble, a very soft material.

Once we identified that the stones we wanted to work on resetting had intact keys, it was time to get to work!

Step 1: Level the gravestone key. Often the reason that the gravestone has fallen is because the ground has slumped and/or the gravestone itself has sunken unevenly, causing the upper portion of the marker to tilt and eventually fall. In order to level the key, we dug around the key to loosen it from the surrounding sediment, before raising it up in order to place limestone gravel below. The gravel will help level the marker, as well as provide drainage below and keep the stone from sinking back into the ground as quickly. It provides a hard base, and an alternative to pouring concrete into the ground!

Step 2: Clear the debris from the key & gravestone base. This is an important step, although it sounds mundane. By cleaning out things like moss, lichen, dirt, and pine needles, we can ensure a better and title seal between the gravestone, the key, and the mortar we use to attach the two together. If the mortar sticks to moss instead of stone, it isn’t going to hold the marker up for long.

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Brienna chiseling the base of the Winslow gravestone

Step 3: Prepare the base of the gravestone. Sometimes the bottom of the gravestone isn’t level, and it would take a lot of mortar to repair that issue, so we have to take chisels and hammers and carefully remove some of the uneven pieces of stone, so the marker will sit correctly in the key. We only do this if there is no inscriptions on the face of the stone that would be impacted by the process, however. We don’t want to chip away any last words, or the name of the gravestone carvers! Marble, despite being such a popular material for gravestones is actually quite soft, especially when it has been outside exposed to weathering for over 100 years, and it didn’t take much to level off the base of the Winslow stone. Don’t worry, we took our health and safety precautions, wearing gloves and safety glasses the entire time.

Step 4: Mix & place the limestone mortar. Before we can put the gravestone back into its newly leveled key, we need to prepare the lime mortar. Limestone, chalk, coral, sea shells, etc., are mainly composed of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). When heated the carbon dioxide (CO2) is burned away, resulting is calcium oxide (CaO).

  • CaCO3 + heat = CaO + CO2

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Applying lime mortar to the key of the cross. 

“The oldest uses of lime exploit its ability to react with carbon dioxide to regenerate calcium carbonate. When lime is mixed with sand and water, the result is mortar” (Lime: Calcium Oxide). Lime mortar is made from lime (limestone) and aggregate (typically sand) which is mixed with water to cause a chemical reaction forming calcium hydroxide, a process known as slaking the lime.

  • CaO + H2O = Ca(OH)2

The mortar can then be used to secure bricks, stones, and yes, even gravestones for years. It is vital to the survival of historic construction, as lime mortar draws moisture into itself and out of the material it is attached to. Eventually (>50 years) the mortar will start to crumble, and need to be re-pointed between the cracks. This might seem like a lot of work, but in the long term it will allow the stones or bricks to last longer (think 1000+ years, like the castles in Europe!). It has been common in the past for cement to be used during gravestone repairs, but this can be detrimental to the stones and by no means do we recommend this. Cement traps moisture inside the stone and can cause faster weathering as a result. You can see this phenomenon on many historic buildings as well.

Step 5: Carefully slot the gravestone back into the key. This process takes several people, and often the aid of a saw-horse or other supporting structures if the stone is large enough. When we get to this stage, the mortar has already been placed inside the key, ready for the gravestone! Several people tilt the gravestone up while someone guides it into the slot. Once the gravestone has been checked so we know it’s level, we grab a few masonry tools and point mortar into the spaces at the base, smoothing it out to ensure a clean finish. If the stone is very large, we might have to support it overnight to make sure it doesn’t slip out of place during the curing process.

There you have it! These are the first two gravestones that we have reset into their original keys during the 2019 season, and we could not be more pleased with the results. Once the mortar is set, we will be able to clean the stones properly and restore their colour a little closer to the original bright white that they once were. For now, however, we will admire our handiwork, as we continue working in Section R!

If you have any questions or comments about this project or any of the work we are doing this summer at Woodland, please put a comment below or send us an email! Thanks so much for your continued support.

(Photos in this post were taken by Robyn, Brienna, and Joey, 2019) 

Uncovering Chinese Gravestones: First Gravestone Restoration 2019

Hi everyone! This is the first blog post from Robyn and Brienna, the 2019 Monument Conservators here at Woodland Cemetery. We hope you enjoy following along with our work this summer, as we work to restore and conserve many of Woodland’s historic gravestones.

We decided to start out the summer working in the northeast corner of the cemetery, where several Chinese tablet markers were visible, scattered across the area. There was some semblance of rows, and while none of the existing stones were very close together, there had to be more that had sunken below the surface. How do gravestones sink, you might be wondering? Well, there are a number of factors that could cause it! If the casket or coffin below ground has collapsed, or the walls of the grave have been disturbed in any way, it can cause ground slumping, which often pulls the gravestone with it, causing it to lean or fall over. Natural sediment deposits and foliage growth will also collect on top of fallen monuments, eventually burying them underground.

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Map of Woodland Cemetery. The Chinese immigrant section is located on Cedar Rd, Section U.

The northeast end of the cemetery, as you can see on this map, is very close to the Thames River, which runs along the north boundary of the cemetery. There is quite a steep cliff here (stay far away from the cliff edge when you are visiting Woodland, the ground is not stable!) and the continued rain and hill-slumping in this area may cause quicker soil erosion and movement throughout the areas closest to it. There are many fallen and sunken monuments in this area…see if you can spot them when you’re walking through the site!

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Pin flags are used to mark potential buried markers

In order to find the sunken monuments, we have been using T-shaped rods, affectionately called ‘pokey sticks’, to carefully (carefully!!) prod the ground at an angle to see if we come in contact with anything buried below the surface. You can’t push too hard or the stones will be scratched! Once we notice something below the surface, we carefully dig towards the point to see if it is a natural rock…or an inscribed grave marker, if we’re lucky!

On our very first day, we uncovered not one, but two Chinese burial markers. These markers had not seen the light of day for many years, and it was exciting to bring them to the surface again for visitors to see. While we had spent the morning prodding the land, we actually found the first marker sitting on the ground and noticing a flat corner (too flat to be natural rock) poking through the earth. After uncovering, lifting, and cleaning the marker, we probed next to it, where we hit the second stone.

To clean the marker, we started by wiping the loose dirt off with paint brushes, and scrubbing the crevices with soft bristle brushes and water. We then sprayed the marker with a mixture of D2 and water. If you are attempting to clean a monument of your own, it is important that you only use these natural substances. If not, the stone will deteriorate much more quickly. For example, using soapy solutions will result in the chemicals seeping into the pores of the stone, which will expand and destroy the stone over time.

Also, any powder you pour onto a marker to read the inscription to make it more legible will help the monument erode more quickly. If you would like to read a marker with a nearly ineligible inscription, you can wash it as best you can, and take a photo, which you can zoom into or lighten to read.  Furthermore, if you hold a flashlight on an angle close to the marker, you can also illuminate parts of the stone that you might not otherwise be able to read.

After cleaning the markers, we reset them back in the ground on a bed of shale. This helps to prevent future sinking, and allows the water to drain underneath the marker. You can’t see it but it’s working to help keep  the markers visible and preserve this precious piece of history!!

We’re off for more digging probing, but stay tuned for more updates on these markers, and our future uncoverings!