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Hannahs Story

Published on Sunday 3 October 2021

A project by Belper& Duffield Rotary to clear overgrowth in the oldest part of Belper Cemetery has revealed many graves from the mid eighteen hundreds including that of Belper woman Hannah Spencer, who died at the age of 31 years.  The revealing of Hannah’s grave provides a very interesting story.


The project, to clear the oldest part of the cemetery has been ongoing through the late summer and early autumn. After an approach from Rotary the owners of the cemetery, Amber Valley Borough Council, agreed to the work to recover the area where most of the graves were inaccessible and untended. It was evident that years of brambles were hiding some exquisite examples of Victorian memorial stonework. Rotary member Dave Ashley organised the project along with other Rotarians and volunteers recruited from the local community through social media. 

The Victorian cemetery, opened in 1859 with two burial chapels and a lodge house,  was beautifully landscaped in the form of an arboretum with trees from across the globe. The fifteen acres lie on the northern side of the town adjacent to the A6 at Broadholme, overlooking the River Derwent. Many people enjoy the cemetery using the public footpaths through the beautiful woodland appreciating the historic buildings and stunning landscape.  In addition, many relatives of the deceased find it a place for peace and contemplation. Not only is the cemetery full of history, but it is also located within the Derwent Valley UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Dave Ashley said, “We knew the cemetery is much loved by local people but recognised that the oldest parts needed some tender love and care. So, over several weeks and much hard work by a dedicated bunch of volunteers, we’ve cleared about an acre, filling around 180 builders’ bags with bramble brash that had been disposed of by the council.  We revealed many Victorian graves including Hannah’s grave which was carefully uncovered by volunteers Vicki, Linda, Penny and Charlotte. It was a grave we felt we wanted to know more about – so there began ‘Hannah’s Story’”.

Vicki Colabella, one of the volunteers, carried out research using internet access to census and burial data. This shows that Hannah was born in Belper in 1859, died and was buried in Belper Cemetery in 1890 aged 31, only 31 years after it opened in 1859.  Hannah was the daughter of Walter and Selina Spencer of ‘Hunger’ Hill, Belper, but the handwritten census records are indistinct so the ‘Hunger’ may be incorrect but a ‘Hunger quarry’ is recorded elsewhere (any suggestions anyone?). Hannah’s father was a horse nail maker. supporting three other children, Julia, Reuben and Emma, of course nail making was a very significant industry in Belper during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and from which Belper Town FC take their name ‘The Nailers’.  We also know that Hannah married miner George Smales-Cresswell in 1880 at Duffield and they lived on Bullsmoor Belper with Hannah’s parents, later having children Julia and Lily. The name Julia presumably had some sentiment as both Hannah and George had siblings named Julia. 

Hannah was 31 when she died, without her death certificate, we do not know yet the cause of her death. Being alive in that era exposed the public to many diseases such as typhoid and tuberculosis which ran rife through communities. Due to her age, her death could also have been a result of complications during childbirth, which was sadly not uncommon at the time.  

We are noticing recurring surnames which are still in use locally today, such as Spencer, Cresswell, Hall, Cooper, Jennison, Taylor and Walker and for anyone who is interested in those surnames, get in touch with volunteer Vicki by email: v_colabella@hotmail.com
 
Project lead Dave said, “Saturday 25th September 2021 is the 131st anniversary of Hannah’s death so we are proud that Rotary’s Belper Cemetery Project is almost at the stage where grass and wildflower seed will be sown around the revealed graves to continue a sense of nature, peace and tranquillity for residents, past such as Hannah, and present. We still need volunteers to help, please get in touch through the Belper and Rotary website, www.belper-rotary.co.uk.”  
 




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