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Service held after graves found

14 June 2012

by a staff reporter

THE remains of hundreds of infants and children have been found in unmarked graves in a churchyard in Merseyside.

The burials were carried out at St Bartho­lo-mew’s, Roby, between the 1850s and 1950s. Some are buried singly, but, in others, up to 18 children are buried in one plot.

Most of the graves contain infants who died at birth, or shortly afterwards, but some are of older children, and a few are of adults. The remains of about 450 children and adults have been found.

The Vicar, the Revd Tim Gill, said that the graves were discovered after he was ap­proached by women who were looking for the graves of their babies, buried decades ago. A search through the church registers led to the discovery of the unmarked graves, as well as the existence of many more.

Mr Gill said: “These women wanted to be buried with their babies, but, because of where the graves were, it wasn’t possible. So some soil from each grave was put in the earth of the new plot, when they died.”

Many of the unmarked graves of infants are placed at the head or foot of graves of adults — even those who are not related.

Mr Gill said that it was possible that the graves were unmarked because of the cost of gravestones, but that it was more likely that it was “common practice in those days”.

Two of the mass graves are just outside the entrance to the church, and the congregation has put up a stone, with an inscription from Colossians, as a memorial to all who are buried in unmarked graves in the churchyard. A dedication service was held at the spot.

No parents attended the service, but a sister of one of the buried babies was present.

Mr Gill said: “I suspect that many churches in the north-west, and possibly elsewhere, have a number of unmarked graves, too. And I suspect we have more graves of stillborn babies, who weren’t even on our registers; so we don’t know where they are buried.”

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