Edward Utting, 1850-1943

Edward Utting

Superintendent and Registrar of Ryecroft Cemetery from 1893 - 1924

Edward UTTING (my great-grandfather) was born in Downham Market, Norfolk, on 27 June 1850, the second child of William UTTING, an ostler, and Sarah SMITH, a seamstress. Although Edward's birth certificate gives his place of birth as Paradise Lane, Sarah and William were just ordinary working people, and it is unlikely that his early life was easy. Infant mortality was high in the mid-1800s, and Edward's younger sister, Hannah, is documented as having died of rubella in the Union Workhouse, Downham Market in 1855.

Edward's parents, William and Sarah UTTING

Not a great deal of information exists concerning Edward's young life; however, his obituary states that "Mr. Utting was a native of Downham Market, Norfolk, and it was there he served an apprenticeship to the nurseryman’s trade." Downham Market was also home to Joseph Harrison, one of the great nurserymen of his time and, although I have no proof at this stage, it seems possible that Edward may have been apprenticed to Harrison.

In April 1879, Edward married Lucy WILLIAMS, daughter of Edward WILLIAMS, also a gardener. The marriage took place in Matlock, Derbyshire, where Edward and Lucy's first five children were born. Despite a problem with her heart, Lucy eventually bore Edward 11 children, between 1880 and 1896.

Edward and Lucy

Edward and his family moved to from Matlock to the West Midlands at some point between October 1885 (the date of their son Leonard's birth in Matlock) and April 1887 (the date of their next son Arthur's birth at Harden Farm, Bloxwich).

According to his obituary, Edward "... found his way to the Midlands, managed nurseries at Blakenall and Aldridge, and planned and laid out the gardens at quite a number of the larger residences of Walsall, before he became a servant of the Walsall Corporation."

In 1892 Edward was charged by the Corporation "... with the creation of [Ryecroft] cemetery from a tract of ugly pit-mound land and its ornamentation with trees, shrubs and floral beds and borders. As an example of the difficulties he had to contend with in reclaiming such land, it may be mentioned that on one occasion a number of garden frames suddenly disappeared when one of the old shafts gaped and swallowed them. Eventually he was given the supervision of all the other cemeteries in the town."

The formal resolution of the Cemetery Committee was that "Mr. Edward Utting, of Aldridge, be and he is hereby appointed Cemetery Keeper and Gardener at Ryecroft at the wages of 22/- per week, with the Lodge and coal, the engagement to be subject to one month's notice on either side".

There is an illustrated report of the opening of Ryecroft Cemetery, taken from the Walsall Free Press, dated 14 April 1894.

Edward, Lucy and their daughters

The photo above shows Edward and Lucy with their daughters (and one daughter-in-law) about 1916. I suspect that the photo was taking in the garden of the Lodge, Ryecroft Cemetery.

A relative who knew Edward when he (the relative) was a child, remembers him as "... a real martinet; funeral processions would have to wait outside the cemetery gates until he was ready to let them in. He wouldn't allow any smoking in the cemetery."

In autumn 1998 I paid a visit to Ryecroft cemetery; although Edward is long gone, few people leave such a lasting monument for their descendants to see a century later. The site is large, complete with a chapel and crematorium (both long closed).

Edward died in 1943, after a short illness, at the age of 93. With the help of a friend, I located Edward's grave, which is shared with Lucy. Two of his daughters, Ethel and Hilda are commemorated in the same plot.

If anyone has comments or further information on Edward or Ryecroft Cemetery, please let me know.