Several months ago I scanned a copy of the funeral card of John William Cripps. It was not until recently that I noticed some faint notes written in pencil on the back of the card. It said ‘grandma died 87 – 8/11/24’ and then the next part looked like ‘Nunhead’ or ‘Lewhead’ and some random numbers. I knew that ‘grandma’ was Mary Jane Cripps (née Woodward) who was John William Cripps’ wife as the death date matched hers.
John William Cripps was buried in a cemetery near to where he died in Jersey. After his death, Mary Jane must have moved back over to London as she would have been an elderly lady with no family nearby. It was known that she died in Blackheath so I knew she must be buried somewhere in south east London such as Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery or Greenwich Cemetery. Seeing what looked like Nunhead on the back of the card and also knowing that two of her children are buried in Nunhead Cemetery, I had a strong feeling that Mary Jane must also have been buried there.
I’ve been to Southwark Council’s cemetery offices before and I found what I was looking for quite easily, so I knew visiting there was the best course of action. I wrote down her death date and walked over to Camberwell New Cemetery, where the building is located.
Once inside a helpful member of staff brought over the correct records for me to look through. She explained the way they’re organised, by first letter of the surname and then the date of burial, and then said to tell her once I find what I’m looking for. I spent less than a minute looking through ‘C’ surname burials between 1922 and 1926 before I found Cripps, Mary Jane. I caught the lady’s attention and she came back over and wrote down the plot number, square number and burial date.
Then she proceeded to get out another record book which lists all the people buried by plot number to see if there is anybody else buried with her, and also to find out who purchased the grave.
She scanned a copy of the crumbling record book for me which showed her son James William Cripps of 29 Cavendish Road, Clapham Common, had purchased the plot for £10.10s.0d and that nobody else was buried with her. Afterwards the lady brought out yet another record book to find out whether or not she has a gravestone or marker sited on the grave. The record confirmed that a marker was purchased but there was a red ‘D‘ written next to it which she was unable to explain. Could it mean damaged? There was also a note in the other record written in February 1954 which said ‘See note in head office register’ but the next word is unreadable.
Then the lady went into her office, printed off a map of the section with each plot detailed and highlighted the location of Mary Jane Cripps’ plot. Luckily, it couldn’t be easier to get to. Anybody who’s visited Nunhead Cemetery will know that finding a grave is difficult but getting to it through the overgrowth is even harder. The grave I was looking for should be less than a minutes walk from the Limesford Road entrance and right on the path.
As it was such a sunny afternoon, I left Camberwell New Cemetery and walked the short distance to Nunhead Cemetery to see if I could find the grave. Once I got to the correct section, I knew something wasn’t right. There wasn’t any graves sited where there should be dozens. I looked for plot #33830 belonging to James Donald Fraser, located directly opposite Mary Jane Cripps which I found with no problem at all.
I rang the on-site cemetery officer on my mobile phone who was able to come over to where I was with his tools to have a look for any evidence of graves. He had a rummage around and found only a stone vase which was on the plot where Mary Jane Cripps’ grave should have been sited.
He told me he was unsure what had happened to all of the graves, but he reminded me that during the Second World War, several bombs were known to have fallen on the cemetery and one of these bombs could have hit this section of the cemetery. This theory is probably correct, as I noticed that there were no older trees in the section, although being completely surrounded by older, thicker woodland.
The cemetery officer told me that I was welcome to clear the plot and put something in place of thorns and nettles such as a flower bed or a memorial which I plan to do in the near future.