Wolverhampton's Listed and Locally Buildings

The Foster Monument

Merridale Cemetery, Jeffcock Road

Listing: Monument to Joseph Foster (d.1861), Elizabeth Foster (d.1869) and A. F. C. Gough (d.1892). 1860s. Ashlar. Based on the choragic monument to Lysicrates.

Local listing: The whole cemetery.  Opened in 1850 and extended some time before 1889.  Good example of early private cemetery.  Unfortunately both chapels have been demolished but many interesting monuments and good structural planting survive.

Literature:  the excellent booklet: K. J. West, Merridale Heritage Trail, WMBC, 1981, gives much information about the cemetery and who is buried there, as well as about the wild life to be seen there.  But curiously it does not mention the Foster monument.


Comment: The Foster Monument is the one with columns at the back of the photo. If anyone is interested: a choragic monument is an ornamental base on which, in ancient Greece, was displayed a trophy won by a chorus (a kind of narrator in plays) in competition. The most famous one is that of Lysikrates in Athens. In UK the Victorians adopted its design for any commemorative purpose, especially as memorials for the dead. There is another very similar one in the gardens at Alton Towers.

This monument does something to perpetuate the memory of the Fosters but it seems to have been hijacked. Within the 6 ionic columns is a pedestal with a large urn on it, both inscribed in memory of A F C Gough who, one can only presume, had some connection with the Fosters. On the urn are the words: "Alexander Clement Foster Gough LL.D., died lst February 1892 aged 59 years". On the pedestal these words appear: "The above named A. C. F. Gough LL.D., (a solicitor) was Past Grand Standard-Bearer, England, and Provincial Grand Master of Staffordshire and held other important offices in Freemasonry. He was also formerly Colonel Commandant of the 3rd. Volunteer Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment". One wonders who decided to inscribe this modest statement on the Fosters' monument.

The cemetery contains much of interest. It was a private company cemetery, presumably created under the provisions of the Cemetery Clauses Act, 1847.  The company was empowered to provide a cemetery and funeral services as well - but this they never did, though they did at one time try to reserve to themselves the right to supply all headstones in the cemetery.  The company had 2,000 shares of £5.00 each and the promoters and first shareholders were local business men.  The nearby Pigstye Lane was renamed Cemetery Walk and later it became Jeffcock Road.  Work began in 1849 and the first burial took place on 12th June 1850.  It was of Ann Hutton, the wife of a forge manager.  The two chapels referred to in the local listing abutted each other near the centre of the cemetery.  One was Nonconformist, the other was Church of England. 

With the closure of the disgustingly overcrowded graveyards of the town's churches this private company got an effective monopoly of burials in Wolverhampton.  The company paid a steady 10% dividend.  In 1903 the Labour members of the council started to press for a municipal cemetery and an attempt was made to buy the company's shares.  But the shareholders would have none of it and, after the council had received a soothing letter from the Chairman of Directors, Samuel Loveridge, they forgot about it.  The matter was revived much later and the council finally got control under the provisions of the Wolverhampton Corporation Act, 1936.  

The cemetery now has a much more open aspect than, say, north London's Highgate Cemetery, and much cleaner and brighter than many of its northern equivalents. In fact it's a nice place to walk in, with plenty of trees and grassy areas.