Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Gravestones, ghostly passengers, and trams

Today started murky, turned into beautiful sunshine, and stayed that way until the sun hazed over around 4.00pm. I decided not to go beachcombing but to visit some churchyards instead, looking for dead Dommetts. This was 'work' in connection with Dad's family genealogy.

I went to Kilmington and Shute. It was rather pleasant, methodically peering at every gravestone, camera ready to record anything interesting. I was certain that I scrutinised all the legible gravestones in both churchyards. Some were of course too weather-worn or lichen-encrusted to say who might be buried there. I did have something to show for my efforts. I not only rediscovered Henry Dommett's grave at Kilmington, but found one for John Dommett. And at Shute I came across Robert Dommett's grave. These were all prominent local farmers in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Their gravestones are probably the only tangible things left of them. And only because their families could afford to have a stone memorial carved and erected. Many in Dad's family had no money at all, and were presumably placed in unmarked graves that I won't be able to find. I will only (at most) have birth, marriage and death certificates for these people.

It's sobering to think that, even today, few people will have enduring memorials to remember them by. That's partly due to the popularity of cremation and the high cost of the alternative, a traditional burial.

Mum and Dad set up pre-paid funeral plans, which included cremation. I had to abide by their arrangements. Consequently there are no graves to visit. Their ashes are scattered (and mingled together) in my rockery, but if I ever move house there will be no access. It's just not the same as a definite burial place in a country churchyard open to the public, with an inscribed stone that will always be there. The family children of the far future might feel this even more keenly than I do. My brother was also cremated, and there is a plaque in the ground where his ashes were interred. But it's accessible only through the London church he worshipped at, and by special request. I can't just turn up there and have a few quiet moments with him whenever I might want to. Nor can his son and daughter.

I intended to look in Colyton churchyard next. On the way, I stopped at the former Seaton Junction station. This was closed to passengers in 1966, when the branch line to Seaton was shut. It was an imposing station with a handsome red-brick main building and at least three platforms. There were two very long concrete footbridges across the tracks, one for passengers hurrying to change trains, and the other carried an ordinary country footpath across the railway from lonely fields to the south. Both footbridges still stand, although the one for former passengers can't be reached except by ghosts; it connects the main platform next to the station building - the old 'up' platform for London-bound trains - with an island platform, now choked with brambles. No doubt, if they cleared the brambles, they would find the skeletons of those passengers who missed the very last train to Seaton and were left stranded, complete with luggage.

The station building is eerily intact, and looks as if it could be brought back into use very easily. But it won't be - I saw a notice about Planning Permission being sought, to convert the building into residences. Hmm. The occupants will have a country view compromised by two indestructible concrete footbridges that lead nowhere. Plus the luxury of a nicely-preserved main platform from which to watch the hourly London-Exeter trains flash by. These trains can't stop - when they singled the track, they moved the rails many feet away from the platform. Of course, if the double-track is ever restored, the sound of the trains will come closer. Buying a station property is always a dubious idea, unless you really like noise and vibration for eighteen hours each day.

Approaching Colyton, I abandoned my proposed scrutiny of the churchyard on seeing signs to the Seaton Tramway. This follows the line of the former single-track railway between Colyton and Seaton, with a new terminus at the Seaton end, as the original (a classic Southern Railway seaside terminus station designed for teeming pre-war holidaymakers) was bulldozed after line closure. A tramway enthusiast got hold of the land and opened a first section of 2'9'' track for miniature trams in 1969. The full length from Seaton to Colyton was open by 1980. Although not full-sized, these trams have a proper upstairs and downstairs, with spiral stairs at each end. I was just in time to board the 3.00pm Seaton-bound tram, sitting upstairs to enjoy the view. I will tell more - with pictures - once home again. I can say it was one of my better sudden impulses, to buy a return ticket. It was far more exciting than looking at gravestones!

1 comment:

  1. When the time comes, I've requested to be cremated. I'm leaving it to my children to decide how they wish to mark the spot - plaque, stone or rose bush, it's up to them. Or they may just wish to scatter me in the River Wye. Sue, incidentally, is leaving her body to medical research.

    Having said that, I'm thankful that my mum, who died when I was only 8, has a grave with a proper headstone, as I've been drawn there many times over the years.

    Yes, the Seaton tram is good fun. When we travelled on it, we broke the journey at Colyford and feasted at the White Hart. The food was good and the tramway platform is almost in their garden.

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