St. Peter’s Churchyard

The historic parish church of St. Peter’s is the earliest industrial church in Blaenavon, Wales. The attached churchyard which was created in 1805 holds the bodies of 36,000 people.

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It is replete with graves of every social class identified by the owners of the iron industry and the workers who toiled there.



Many headstones identify industrial accidents within the coal and iron industry.
Beneath the rocks I used to toil for bread,
Beneath this piece of rock I rest my weary head.
Till rock and ages shall in chaos roll,
On resurrection’s rock, I’ll rest my soul

Epidemics of typhus, smallpox and measles that caused hundreds of deaths quickly used the available land, and the churchyard was extended in 1882 to accommodate new burials.

As a closed burial site with very old graves and few visitors, the upkeep of the graveyard relies on volunteer gardeners as maintenance is not the responsibility of local councils in Wales. When the maintenance became too much for the volunteers, the cemetery became so overgrown that it was impossible to see many of the headstones.


In 2016, Reverend Rufus Noy had an inspiring idea to use goats to clear the vegetation. Six South American goats were provided by a local farmer to consume the weeds, grass, brambles and other plant matter.

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CWGC Graves

Following the two World Wars, discussion and agreement by Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom (member countries of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) on the burial of the dead created a standardized format encompassing burial sites, layout and size of the gravestones, and the legend on headstones.

Commonwealth countries built burial sites close to combat zones to preserve the link with the battlefield, whereas the United States and France created huge regional cemeteries intended to make a significant impression on people’s minds.

National Cemetery, Los Angeles, USA

The graves were arranged in straight rows and designed to be perpetual and permanent. The material used in the headstones varied due to the requirement of a weather resistant substance or occurrence of earthquakes.

The standard used ensured that every grave was marked with a headstone, originally 76 centimetres (30”) tall, 38 cm (15”) wide, and 7.6cm (3.0”) thick,  with upper case lettering designed by MacDonald Gill.

Graves in Germany. Image Source:

Each stone contained the national emblem or regimental badge, rank, name, unit, date of death and age of each casualty. In the case of burials of Victoria Cross or George Cross recipients, the regimental badge was supplemented by the Victoria Cross or George Cross emblem.

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An appropriate religious symbol was included; most often a cross denoting Christianity, and sometimes a personal dedication chosen by relatives.

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Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind. J. F. Kennedy

Far away in a distant land,
Suddenly struck by death’s strong hand
A loving son, strong and brave,
Lies buried in a soldier’s grave.

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No one knows the silent heartache,
Only those can tell
Who have lost their loved ones
Without saying one farewell.
We pictured him safely returning,
We longed to clasp his hand,
But God has postponed the meeting,
Till we meet in a better land.

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No one knows the silent heartache, 
only those that have lost can tell
Of the grief that’s borne in silence
For the one we loved so well. 

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And when he gets to Heaven,
To Saint Peter he will tell:
‘Just another soldier reporting, Sir.
I’ve served my time in Hell.’ Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland


Do not ask us if we miss him,
There is such a vacant place;
Can we e’er forget that footstep,
And that dear familiar face.

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No loved one stood beside him to bid a last farewell,
No word of comfort could he leave to those he loved so well.
We little thought his time so short in this world to remain,
Nor that from when his home he went he would never return again.


He marched away so bravely, His young head proudly held;
His footsteps never faltered, His courage never failed,
There on the field of battle, He calmly took his place,
He fought for King and Country, And the honour of his race.

…And decades later, the men and women who served are still remembered and accorded the same burial.

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The Sad Tale of Kate McCormick

This nondescript grave marker belies an intriguing and tragic story.


Abortion in Memphis
The Sad Fate of a Seducer’s Victim
Dr. D. S. Johnson Charged With a Double Murder

This was the title of a Memphis Ledger newspaper report from 1876 which told the sad story of an unwed mother and her aborted baby who was found dead in a boarding house on the corner of Second and Winchester streets in Memphis, Tennessee.

Kate McCormick, pregnant and unwed, was attended by Dr. D. S. Johnson of Jefferson Street, Memphis. Mrs. Widrig (the boarding house owner) became suspicious when a dead child was delivered. Dr. Frayser was called to examine Kate and announced that she was going to die. She then made a confession stating that she had purchased medicine from Dr. Johnson to kill the child.

The Chief of Police reported that the mother stated that her name was Kate McCormick (Kate Simpson) originally from Humboldt, Tennessee. She had been seduced with the promise of marriage by her father’s friend, a shoemaker named George Burgess. When she became pregnant, Burgess had refused to marry her, and she had left her hometown in disgrace and moved to Memphis.

Chief Athy notified Mrs. McCormick but Kate died before her mother arrived. A coroner’s inquest was held and the body released to Kate’s mother for return to Humboldt for burial. The mother refused to inter the body near her home and it was turned over for post mortem.

Dr. Johnson denied the murder and stated that the medicine he had provided was to correct a case of diarrhea. An inquest was held, and the jury found Dr. Johnson guilty of murder by committing an abortion whereupon he was arrested and charged with murder.

Kate’s death was recorded on the first of February and she was buried the same day in Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis, Tennessee.  The solitary gravestone is located beneath a large tree. A marker was placed in her memory by an unknown sponsor in 1997. It reads:

Kate McCormick / Seduced and pregnant by her father’s friend / Unwed, she died from abortion, her only choice. / Abandoned in life and death by family. / With but a single rose from her mother. / Buried only through the kindness of an unknown benefactor. / Died February, 1875, age 21. / Victim of an unforgiving society / Have mercy on us.

Although the inscription states that her mother left a rose, it is unlikely due to the fact that she had no wish to take ownership of the body. The interment of Kate was paid for by a newspaper reporter named Fred Brennan and a local saloon owner.

Remember me, my Christian friends,
And, then in charity pray
That God may blot out all my sins
The general judgment day.
With humble prayers then may crave
When you perceive that from my grave
I ask my last request from you
To whom I bid my last adieu.


The Light of Life

Churchyards and cemeteries were once under the direct control of the Church. To overcome the prohibited burial of ex-communicated parishioners in sacrosanct land, burials were often undertaken illegally at night by torchlight that allowed gravediggers to see. It was also believed that the light prevented the appearance of evil spirits and nocturnal scavengers.

The symbolic flame of the torch is associated with the eternal spirit of man and represents immortality and resurrection. 3 images


Inverted torches are the more common version of this symbol of death and a life extinguished. If the inverted torch has a flame, it indicates that life is continuing after death. If there is no flame, it means the extinction of life and mourning.

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This statue of an angel seated with inverted torch is dated 1875. Sculpted by  Giannoulis Chalepas it is located in  Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France.