Like many others I went to Askwith School in South Street. But back then I don’t suppose many of us knew why it was called that.
This photo shows the funeral procession for Rev Askwith passing St. John’s church. Notice the fields on the right where County Hall was built in the 1930’s. Sadly all of The Crescent Fields were built on eventually. William Henry Askwith (1843 – 1911) was ordained in 1867 and began his career with curacies at Tidcombe then New Radford. He was Vicar of Christ Church, Derby from 1876 to 1887. He then became Vicar of St Mary Magdalene and Archdeacon of Taunton from 1903 until his death in 1911.
Henry Montague Cooper published a series of postcards showing the funeral procession from St Mary’s to the cemetery. “A large number of the general public were admitted to the Cemetery, where the best order and reverence prevailed. The interment took place in a spot selected by the Archdeacon himself, and next to the grave of his mother.” The service was at St Mary’s “if any proof had been needed of the esteem and respect in which the late Archdeacon of Taunton, the Ven W. H. ASKWITH, was held by all classes of people, by the clergy (irrespective of any “school of thought”), and by his Nonconformist brethren, it was furnished on Thursday, when the funeral took place.
During the time of the service at St. Mary’s Church and at the Cemetery business was at a standstill in the town, all the principal shops being closed. The weather was beautifully fine, and many hundreds of the ordinary people of the town gathered in the streets to pay a last tribute of respect to one who had spent the last twenty-four years of a strenuous, and yet truly Christian life in their midst.
The grand old church was filled by representatives of the various Societies with which the late Archdeacon had been associated, a large number of clergy from all over the Archdeaconry, together with the Mayor and members of the Corporation, and many others. The pulpit was draped in black, and the late Archdeacon’s surplice and cassock were arranged on the desk at his seat “
Clearly the funeral was a major event in Taunton and I wonder if such a spectacle has ever been surpassed. Today funerals tend to be more “downbeat“.
A quick half an hour at the crematorium and maybe a gathering thereafter. My mothers funeral was a bit more traditional as our cars were walked through Trull village that rarely seen today.
In the old days it was customary to draw the curtains as the procession passed by. One undertaker has estimated that when he began working in 1936, 90% of bodies would be kept at home between death and burial; today the figure is only about 5–10%.
Viewing often took place with the open coffin on the table in the best room. The deceased in best clothes and well presented. The twentieth century also saw a significant transformation in the disposal of the dead.
Although cremation was available as a mode of disposal in 1900, less than 1% of bodies were cremated; today the figure is over 70%.
Well I do hope this is not too dismal an account. I suppose its something we all have to face one day and is an area that reflects social ideas and change.
By Nick Chipchase