The story starts as told by Jan Holben: As often happens I get an unknown number call me on my mobile. If it’s a mobile calling me I will answer – and the call often starts with “Is this the Folkestone cemetery” – I smile and say “no, I am not the cemetery – but I do work with a small volunteer group in the old cemetery”. And then we settle down to what is often a very interesting call about finding the resting place of their relative.
Sometimes the caller is calling from another country and cannot visit in person, sometimes the caller is planning to visit the cemetery so they are doing a little research before they get here sand we always help when we can.
On this occasion the caller, Susan, was telling me about one of her relatives named Sarah, and asking me if Sarah was likely to be buried in the old cemetery. I described the cemetery and how it was laid out – and using some information Susan gave me, and after a short search on Ancestry I was able to narrow down where her relative was buried – to my surprise because I often get lost in Ancestrys random miss spellings or family sequencing.
Our old cemetery is not a design masterpiece so it is sometimes not easy to find individual graves because it looks the same whichever direction you are looking in – but using the amazing virtual Google maps (created by one of our technically clever volunteers, James) I was able to point Susan to exactly where her relative is buried, and of course offered to take her right there if she visited the cemetery on one of our volunteer Saturdays.
Susan then asked me about baby Olive – was she also buried in the old cemetery – records are not always perfect for babies or stillborn children – so I knew I needed more precise help and I directed Susan to one of my volunteer colleagues, Carole who is one of our ace research volunteers.
The story continues as told by Carole Moody: A message from Jan arrived in my inbox. She had found a photo of Sarah Balmford’s stone for Susan on Find A Grave. Could I have a look for Sarah’s baby daughter, Olive?
A quick check on Find A Grave showed she was in Plot 28 – not good news. This is a children’s plot with probably less than 50% stones. However, I promised to have a look on the ground and also to check for a buried stone. So, the next time our morning walk took us to the cemetery, I located the grave place. Two rows behind a stone I knew about and one space to the south.
It didn’t look very promising, no stones to be seen. I marked it with my flags to get a photo and then started to probe around. I did appear to be hitting something solid about 6 inches down, in the right area, but couldn’t be sure what it was. It did seem to be a reasonable size, so unlikely to be bricks or rubbish, I thought. We would need some tools to investigate further, so marked the place with several sticks and left it for another day.
A couple of days later, the weather not being too cold and wet, we armed ourselves with a spade, trowel, brush etc. and took our walk in that direction. We made an exploratory trench in the best Time Team fashion. We began to hit stones and bits of brick and I thought that we might have hit a layer of small stones that had been on the grave, or the foundations for a stone. Further careful digging gradually revealed a flat grey stone and even better – it had writing on it. A few minutes work with a water spray and brush revealed the name – Olive Balmford and details. Success!
We will need several people to lift the stone without damaging it, so that will have to wait until the group can meet again. In the meantime we have covered it back up, to preserve it, but we have the photos as proof and a happy lady who has been looking for these graves for 20 years.
Note: As is often the case when we can help a relative to locate a family grave – we find out more about that family – and this was the case here too. Susan told us she had written at length about the family. John Archibald Balmford was the chemist who lived above and had a chemist’s shop in Tontine Street in Folkestone, in the earlier part of the 20th century for many years.
John and Sarah originally came from Huddersfield. Their first daughter, Mary Adela Balmford, was a well-known artist. She had a retrospective exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1984 and Susan told us that she had designed the catalogue and carried out the necessary restoration of some of her works etc.
Susan also said that there is a well-known local sepia postcard of the chemist’s shop on the corner of Bouverie Road, a photograph from about 1907. John Balmford was the chemist there at that date – before he moved to Tontine Street. Quite a coincidence.