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!

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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!

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

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