Fascinating stories connected with these Wigan gravestones...
Our top columnist Geoffrey Shryhane looks back at the tale of the loyal donkey 'Ould Bobby'.
Many years, not to say decades, have passed since I went on the bus to Appley Bridge to do a story on a grave stone. A donkey’s gravestone to be exact.
I didn’t need to ask for directions – all the good folks knew exactly what I was looking for. The small stone told how the donkey had pulled his owner William Stopford around the village in a small cart in the 1870s.
Sadly “Ould Bobby” died aged 34 and the stone now rests at a garden centre near Ashton. With cremation now uppermost, there will be fewer gravestones in the future, so let’s look at some of the more interesting ones which have stood the test of time.
It would be good to report that our very own George Formby’s last resting place was in Wigan where he was born at the long gone No3 Westminster Street. But no, he’s buried alongside his equally famous dad in a grave topped with an impressive memorial.
It’s said that when her husband was buried, Mrs Formby – who lived to be over 100 – used to sit for hours by the grave.
In St David’s Churchyard in Haigh, the monumental mason didn’t have a calendar to hand – and chipped out the date “April 31.” Whoops.
Over in Hindley, there’s a fascinating gravestone in the shape of a stubby-tree trunk. Word has it that this memorial has a twin in a cemetery in Canada.
Long away, down in Ince Cemetery there was a more than impressive grave “stone” made from three-inch thick glass. You can imagine just how eerie it looked when light was falling on it on a winter afternoon.
I’m sad to report that very few “famous” folks are buried on our patch. The one that comes to mind is Lance Todd, the rugby player. And if you’re not interested in the game, then it won’t mean much.
Little schoolboy Stephen Shepherd of Ince achieved “fame” when he was found dead in the strawberry fields of Newburgh when the Beatles song “Strawberry Fields Forever” was at the top of the pops.
Stephen’s death remains a mystery. He was bullied at school and many think he made his own way to the field, lay down and died.
He is buried in Ince Cemetery. Now we go to St Luke’s churchyard in Orrell where the first man in the country killed by electricity is at rest.