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PUBLISHED: 16:45 03 May 2010 | UPDATED: 11:27 12 August 2010

HISTORIC: Dr Samuel Johnson.

HISTORIC: Dr Samuel Johnson.

RECORDS of thousands of people who have lived in the borough over the centuries have become available to the world after going online for the first time. Gravestone inscriptions of Bromley residents, including the teacher of Prime Minister William Glads

RECORDS of thousands of people who have lived in the borough over the centuries have become available to the world after going online for the first time.

Gravestone inscriptions of Bromley residents, including the teacher of Prime Minister William Gladstone and Dr Samuel Johnson's wife, are now viewable after being transcribed by Kent Archaeological Society (KAS).

They come from St Peter and St Paul's Church in Church Road, Bromley, and will prove an essential resource for anyone interested in genealogy.

Vice-chair of KAS, Ted Connell, said: "Researching family history has taken off enormously in the past 10 years. The BBC programme Who do you think you are? has played a large part."

Records reveal how Bromley residents have had major roles in history - Mary Ann Gayton, the schoolmistress who taught four-times Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone to read is buried in the churchyard.

Another parishioner was Elizabeth 'Tetty' Porter, described as the "beautiful, elegant, talented, dutiful" wife of Dr Samuel Johnson, the lexicographer and essayist, who died in 1752 although her gravestone bore the date 1753.

Before the Oxford English Dictionary was printed some 150 years later, Dr Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1755, was seen as the most comprehensive to date.

He and Elizabeth were married in Derby when he was 25 and she was 46, much to the displeasure of both of their families.

He wrote her inscription but was so overcome by grief when she died that he could not bear to attend the funeral. Instead, he kept her wedding ring close at hand in a wooden box for the rest of his life.

The ambitious project by KAS has been the culmination of work which has taken decades to complete by prominent antiquarians and researchers who painstakingly undertook an historical labour of love by typing up thousands of detailed epitaphs.

Records in the form of memorial inscriptions on gravestones, tombs and monuments were first noted by an anonymous antiquarian who visited the church in 1829 and by Richard Holworthy, a former Kent County Council archivist who transcribed the inscriptions about 90 years ago.

Since then, many of the memorials have been lost, rendered illegible or were destroyed when the medieval church, within which there were about 100 monuments, was bombed in an air raid on April 16, 1941. Only the tower survived.

Fortunately, Holworthy's transcriptions were published in The British Archivist in 1915, a copy of which survived among the papers that Leland Lewis Duncan of Lewisham, antiquarian and author, left to Kent Archaeological Society when he died in 1923.

Until now, the transcriptions could be read only by those who visited the KAS library in Maidstone but all are now on the website.

To search the records, see www.kentarchaeology.org.uk/research.

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