My Great Great Grandmother Betty Totton passed away nearly eighty-eight years ago, but only a few weeks ago, I was able to directly influence her legacy and help her story be remembered for generations to come. It wasn’t the most impressive thing that I did, but I was able to (with the help of many others) mark her grave and allow her to be remembered properly after all these years.
Why Betty? Well, answering that question is not an easy feat as, after all, I have sixteen Great Great Grandparents, all of who had remarkable lives in a plethora of different ways. I suppose Betty’s life was one of the easier ones to learn about from the get-go as although she was brought up on the Huddersfield/Elland border region of Kew Hill; she lived most of her married life in local areas such as Hartshead and Clifton. We have plenty of lovely photos of her and the wider Totton family, and the research into her life was also relatively easy as there were lots of sources available. I also felt a great connection to her as I saw her as a grandmotherly figure, which hit hard as she didn’t meet most of her future grandchildren. It is also worth mentioning that the plot at Liversedge Cemetery where Betty was eventually buried was also the place of rest of her daughter Lucille, who died during infancy. Therefore, finding and ultimately marking the plot became even more poignant.
Another important aspect of the story we haven’t discussed so far is that back in July 2020, none of this applied to me, well apart from liking and connecting to Betty. I didn’t know where she was buried, nor did I have any idea where Lucille was buried. Towards the end of the month, I think around 19 July 2020, was when I first volunteered at the Friends of Liversedge Cemetery after finding the group on Facebook. I didn’t go prepared, not even bringing any gloves, but sooner or later, I became a regular volunteer at the group.
After speaking to Tina, the group’s brilliant founder, she recommended contacting the Cemetery Office to find out more about where Betty and possibly Lucille was buried. So, sooner or later, I rang up the office, and after a relatively quick search, they were able to provide me with plot details alongside some helpful maps. Furthermore, they also very kindly marked the plot as someone was up at the site the next day.
The plot was literally grass, and there was no real indication that anyone was buried underneath it. Nevertheless, over the next month or so, it became apparent that were was a feeling in the family that we should mark the plot in whatever way possible. After consulting with Tina again, she gave me some great advice, and I contacted the council again. After my conversation with the cemetery office, it became apparent that the process of marking and gaining ownership of Betty’s grave was going to be more complicated than first expected.
The first problem came because the grave owner was Betty’s deceased husband, Richard Totton, who died in 1945. Clearly, it was impossible to transfer ownership from Richard himself. Furthermore, as my grandfather was the son of Betty’s youngest daughter, it ostensibly appeared to be even more complicated than first anticipated. However, after studying the rules and regulations of plot ownership in Kirklees Council and having these explained to me by a wonderful worker from the Cemeteries Office, I realised that my grandfather was first in line in being able to claim ownership. This was a stroke of luck and would make the process a lot easier.
The fact that it took so long to get to the solicitors was down to various uncontrollable factors. First, there was the October 2020 lockdown and then much more prominent January 2021 lockdown, then there were my GCSE exams or equivalent exams as the main ones were cancelled due to COVID. It may seem somewhat draconian to claim ownership of a family plot, as you have to go to the solicitors and sign a legal declaration, and a very formal one at that, but it does make sense from a legal point of view.
In early August 2021, the appointment was finally made to see the solicitors at an excellent firm in Mirfield and sooner or later, the declaration was posted off. Within a few days, the Cemeteries Office returned with confirmation that the family plot was now back in the hands of the living family. It was quite a sobering moment, to an extent, as Betty and Lucille were no longer forgotten.
My own procrastination and life generally got in the way now as we began to consider how we would like to mark the grave. There were the cemetery rules and regulations from Kirklees Council, which we had to follow, but we had to decide upon which way we wanted to follow them. There is a true variety of factors to consider when you finally get to the stage of choosing a monument – you have to consider cost, size, scope and trying to be as truthful as possible to the person whose grave you are marking.
In about October, we went through the list of approved masons by Kirklees Council and finally came across the stonemason we wished to use. There was an irony to this as it was located near Edgerton Cemetery in Huddersfield, the resting place of many of Betty’s family and the wider Totton family’s ancestry. We were lucky enough to contact a lovely lady from the stonemasons who helped us through the process, and sooner or later, the order was placed by early November.
Christmas and New Year passed, and as we approached early February, I was notified that the stone was ready to collect. This was great news, and I looked forward to picking it up. However, down to a few reasons, we had to wait a small while until we could pick it up, and on Tuesday 22 February, we finally made the journey to Huddersfield and collected Betty and Lucille’s stone.
I mentioned that once Betty’s grave was back in the family’s hands, it was a sobering moment, but seeing the name Totton engraved upon the stone truly trumped that moment. It was genuinely spine-chilling to realise that we now had directly impacted the legacy of Betty and Lucille Totton. Now the grave was to be marked, and they were no longer just another pair of forgotten souls in an unmarked grave.
Placing the stone was another interesting moment. We didn’t come adequately prepared and had to make use of a variety of rather interesting tools to ensure it was placed safely and accurately in the plot. Once we were happy with it, some beautifully chosen tulips by my grandparents were placed into the vase. Finally, after nearly 88 years, the lifetime of so many, Betty and Lucille’s grave was now marked as it always should have been.
It was a long process, down to a variety of factors. If I were to give any advice to anyone who wished to undertake a similar process, I would beg you to do the research upfront and not just wing it as I effectively did. Find out what your local council needs, and be prepared to be disappointed, especially if it is an older relative who may have more children/descendants. Churchyards may be more flexible, and although this was the above board method in ensuring that the council does not ‘mince’ or remove your monument, you can always just mark the grave, and I suppose there’s a high chance no one will notice.
Regardless it truly was a privilege in being able to mark Betty and Lucille’s plot. They both deserve to be remembered properly and no longer have to rely upon glass jars or old wooden crosses in being able to be seen. There is nothing necessarily wrong with having an unmarked grave; many of my ancestors rest in unmarked ones. Nonetheless, it seemed wrong not doing something for Betty as I genuinely do connect to her and she is quite literally buried up the road. Furthermore, she’s also not even necessarily that much of a distant relative, being my grandfather’s grandmother.
All in all, I hope that she’s proud of the fact her plot is marked after nearly eighty-eight years.