HISTORIAN Dr Christine Alvin looks at the story behind Thackley’s private graveyard:

IN the area once known as ‘Thackley End’, surrounded by modern houses and gardens, is a small walled plot of land. On the wall is a carved stone, recording that “This place is set apart by William Smith, 1790, for a burying place for his own family for ever”.

Local historian J Horsfall Turner described it as “...nearly circular, and the base of the wall is built up to make seats all around. There are about 17 grave-mounds without gravestones. One grave has rough edgestones without inscription, another has a table gravestone unlettered, and a third stone is prostrated but may have an inscription on the under side.”

This graveyard came to be built because of a decision made by the local Society of Friends, commonly known as Quakers. It was a decision which nowadays seems inexplicably unfair and unfeeling towards those affected at the time.

William and Ann Smith, devout Quakers who lived at Thackley End, had an only daughter, Lucy Ann. In 1785 she married the son of another local family, Dr John Rawson, the third successive apothecary/surgeon of that name to work in the Thackley and Idle area. But the Rawsons weren’t members of the Society of Friends.

Dr Rawson and Lucy married ‘by licence’ at Calverley Parish Church in March 1785. Parish churches would be made use of by anyone, not just members of the Church of England, for marriage ceremonies. A marriage by licence was uncommon, but could take place for various reasons. The marriage could be arranged quickly, without the delay needed to publish and read the banns; it could be kept secret or it could simply mean that either or both the bride and groom were dissenters, not members of the established church where the marriage took place. One reason for a quick marriage could have been pregnancy, but John and Lucy’s first child, Martha, wasn’t born until August 1786.

Members of the Society of Friends would normally be married in a simple way, as part of one of their regular meetings (services) in a licensed meeting room, or in the open where members met. However, if a member of the Quakers married a non-Quaker in a church ceremony with a priest they were disowned by the Society. This is what happened to John Rawson and Lucy Ann Smith.

The couple’s first son was William Smith Rawson, who sadly died aged one, in 1789. Local Quakers refused to let the infant be buried in their Idle burial ground because his parents were married by a Protestant priest and his father wasn’t a Quaker, so his mother was disowned by the Quakers.

It is difficult to appreciate why the Rawsons’ infant couldn’t be buried in Idle’s official Quaker graveyard without understanding the history of the Quakers. It seems probable that the Society of Friends in Idle might have been determined to keep strictly to their rules; an important part of their beliefs because of past experiences. In the not too distant past the Friends had been subject to suppression and unfair treatments, such as having their possessions confiscated and being imprisoned, for not attending the established church. At a court session at Wakefield in 1661, Zachary Udall (Yewdall), and Ephraim Sandall, both of Idle, were sentenced to imprisonment for præmunire (refusing to take the Oath of Allegiance). Not swearing an oath was a central tenet of Quaker values. They believed in speaking the truth at all times, so swearing an oath promising to tell the truth in court implied that they were hypocritical. Later, in 1683 many members of the Society of Friends suffered from claims made upon their goods for fines imposed upon them for absence from the national worship. In 1686 several Idle Quakers were fined for holding a conventicle, a secret or unauthorised meeting for religious worship: James Marshall was fined £20, Ephraim Sandall, £20 and John Adcock, 5s.

So, the establishment of the small Thackley burial ground was probably the result of the Friends’ firm rule stipulating that Quakers could not marry outside their faith. This wasn’t the first occasion something similar had happened in Idle. When local historian and journalist William Cudworth explored the Westfield Lane graveyard he noted that the earliest inscription on a gravestone was from 1690, commemorating Jeremiah son of Zachary Yewdall of Idle, the same year as the date at the entrance. He added that “From this circumstance, and the fact that there was no meeting-house at Idle, we infer that the Yewdalls gave the ground for this quiet resting-place, not only for their own family circle, but for others of the persuasion called Quakers. Several of the Yewdall family have been interred at this Westfield Lane burial-ground...”

The Yewdalls appear to have been the leading members of the Society of Friends in Idle and surrounding area. However, in the mid-18th century, Jeremiah Yewdall married Mary Adcock, and after her death married Sarah Ogden. They were disowned by the Quakers because their marriage was performed by a priest. But three of their children, aged 16-23, who died in 1770 and 1771 were buried at Idle, although listed as non-members. Records show other non-members also buried there.

Maybe the case of little William Smith Rawson arose from a disagreement between the Smiths and Yewdalls, erupting into a long-lasting difference. According to HR Hodgson, author of The Society of Friends in Bradford - a record of 270 years. published in 1926, aspects of the little Thackley graveyard such as “the ornate stone...and unusual gravestones, the use of heathen names of the months would seem to indicate that the Smith family subsequently left the Society.”

Clearly it was a significant event for the Smiths. But one has an uneasy conviction that the rules should have been applied equally. It seems a callous decision, at odds with the Society of Friends being notable for its compassion; exemplified by the opening of William Tuke’s Retreat, a York asylum far ahead of its time in the care of the mentally ill, and later by Elizabeth Fry’s prison reform campaign.

Despite Lucy’s disownment, her parents, William and Ann Smith, had been devout Friends members and must have been deeply offended by the seemingly heartless decision. As well as leaving the Society of Friends, they took this other action, as Wright Watson observed in Idlethorp: “It was decided to make little William Smith Rawson a grave in a corner of one of his grandfather’s fields at the edge of West Wood; and so began that little burial ground in the wood at Thackley End, the field corner enclosed by the grandparents as a final resting place for their family...Barely a year later Dr Rawson himself, aged 30, was laid to rest with his son.”

Lucy, widowed, married woolstapler William Brown and had a further seven children. Both the daughters with Rawson and the later children lived long lives, eventually buried in the little Thackley graveyard, as were Lucy (aged 77), her second husband and her parents who had established the burial ground.

According to J Horsfall Turner, the last burial there was in 1905. The graveyard still exists, hidden from view by tall trees and tangled undergrowth, a curious corner of Thackley’s history.