Tombstone found in garden of pub

WRITTEN IN STONE ... Ralph Milburn was buried in his own garden.
WRITTEN IN STONE ... Ralph Milburn was buried in his own garden.

SOUTH Shields MP Emma-Lewell Buck set the record straight the other day over her recent reported comment that people were burying relatives in their gardens.

She said no such thing: the phrase had been hijacked, she said, while she sought to open up debate over the high cost of funerals.

Well....um...there is actually at least one person in Shields buried in his own flower beds.

Not that you would know it today, but the picture here is of the gravestone which originally marked the spot.

I’m very obliged for it to Adam Bell, assistant curator of social history at South Shields Museum, among whose collection the stone is now preserved.

The man in question was Ralph Milburn and his story is told in the venue’s Changing Faces gallery.

Ralph Milburn was an owner of salt pans in Shields, also ships. He was also a co-owner of the Lay Farm, from which Laygate takes its name, although he is described on his tombstone as a draper.

George Hodgson in his history of the borough records that the tombstone was found in the latter years of the 19th century during alterations in the garden of the Adam and Eve pub on the corner of Laygate and Frederick Street - an older building than the pub that stands on the site today.

The rectangular stone slab, originally the horizontal top part of a table-top tomb, says Adam, incorporates a coat of arms at the centre top, comprising what’s described as “a chevron between three escallops with an escallop for a crest”.

Below this is an incised inscription relating to Ralph Milburn, who died on January 14, 1668 and Grace Woolf who died on January 16, 1705-6. She was widow, who later married another salt-maker, Henry Woolf, whose death, in 1709, is also recorded on the stone.

Hodgson notes one authority saying that the arms were similar to those of the Milburns of Hullerbank in Cumberland, who were known to be Quakers - the reason why Ralph was buried in his own garden, as opposed to St Hilda’s churchyard. This was not unusual. Hodgson notes another leading Quaker locally, Robert Linton, who lived in West Pans Way - now Laygate Lane. The garden of his house was the Quaker burial ground for the locality ( as was the orchard of an old hall at West Boldon, lived in by another Quaker, Charles Trewithwaite).