Gallery Assistant Tamsin writes about a personal connection to St George’s Field:

St George’s Field, a peaceful green area tucked away on campus, was Woodhouse Cemetery from the 1830’s until the 1960’s when it was taken over by the University of Leeds. Using the Leeds General Cemetery Collection on the Special Collections website I have found my own family have a connection to the space I have often wandered through on sunny days.

Copies of a burial plot map of the Leeds General Cemetery site, 20 June 1967. Image credit University of Leeds.

An old briefcase handed down from my Grandad contained family documents including a receipt for the 1932 funeral of an Agnes Blue Murdoch which required the reopening of burial plot number 2167 in Woodhouse Cemetery. In the cemetery register I found that Agnes Blue was buried in plot 2167 with her husband James and two adult daughters, Maggie and Agnes, as well as Annie, James’ sister.  Census searches showed James and Agnes Blue had four other children – James, William, Marion and David.  This was where I found my family connection – Marion was my Great Grandma, who had lived until she was 80, dying not long before I was born.

Leeds General Cemetery burial register, including the record for Agnes Blue Murdoch. Image credit University of Leeds.

Men’s entries in the burial register list their occupation and James was registered as a Draper who had died in 1901, but women’s only show their marital status, with Agnes Blue registered as a widow.  Her daughters Maggie and Agnes were spinsters, both with cause of death given as consumption. They died two years apart, in 1915 and 1917, each aged just 26. From the 1911 census I found that the sisters were more than simply spinsters – Maggie was listed as an asylum nurse, Agnes was also an asylum nurse and was at work at the West Riding Asylum in Burley in Wharfedale at the time the census was taken. The census entries for the Asylum include 281 patients, all registered only by their initials and listed as ‘lunatics’.

I was struck by the terms lunatic, asylum and consumption which define Maggie and Agnes’ lives and deaths and connect them to earlier times.  In contrast their sister Marion was employed as a clerk in a clothing factory in 1911, then married, had a family and lived right through to the 1970’s. Her husband J.P. MacArthur, my Great Grandad, registered Agnes’ death in 1917 so I have been able to see his signature in the cemetery register. I also found that both families had moved from Scotland to Leeds in the late 1800’s; in 1911 the Murdoch family lived at Mount Preston Street, and the MacArthur family lived round the corner at Clarendon Place, both now part of the University of Leeds campus. Over lockdown I had been looking forward to a sunny stroll through the campus again, but I will return with a new feeling of connection as restrictions ease.