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!