Answers to Questions


STEVENS, Hoddesdon, 1882-1903

September, 2008


Rachel Wright (stevensfamilyhistory @t of Port Sunlight writes: My Great-Great-Grandfather, Dr Robert Ingram Stevens was the Doctor in Hoddesdon until about 1898. [See Rathmore House, Hoddesdon]. We recently visited Hoddesdon and tried to find his grave and that of his first wife, Mary Jane Stevens (nee Randall), with no success. Do you know where they might be? I subsequently discovered that he retired to Guildford with wife number two, but my attempts to get an answer when contacting the cemetery authorities in Guildford have not been successful, so I wonder whether in fact he stipulated that he wished to be buried wife his first wife - who we couldn't find. Can you help us find the graves?

You don't give details of the relevant sources you have consulted - so a brief summary of where to look for information on the burials of the well-to-do is appropriate. While sometimes you can be lucky and find the grave you want simply by visiting the local parish church there are often problems and it is always worth checking records (or ascertain their location) before you go if you are travelling any distance.

The death certificates for his first wife, Mary Jane Stevens (registered at Ware in 1882) and Robert Ingram Stevens (registered at Guildford in 1903) will give date and place of death, although I note he was living with his second wife at Surbiton in the 1901 census which suggests another possible location for his burial. [Barry Stevens (stevensb @t emailed to say Mary Jane Stevens died on 15th March, 1882.]

Mary Jane (as a wife in the Victorian period) probably did not leave a will, but as a professional gentleman Robert almost certainly did, and it may have included instructions for his burial. I suspect that if he had wanted to be buried with his first wife this would have been recorded explicitly in the will.

Using the date of death you could look in the local newspapers of the time. When Mary Jane died there would probably be a brief notice in The Hertfordshire Mercury or the Herts & Essex Observer  (but there might be other papers which covered Hoddesdon better in 1882). The death notice would probably would not give the time and place of the funeral - and a detailed report of the funeral is less likely for Mary - although a prominent local man dying at this date may have got press coverage.

By 1900 most local papers were larger than they had been around 1800 so longer reports of events appeared. If Robert had died in Hoddesdon there would probably have been a detailed account of the funeral of a well-known and much loved doctor in the local press (possibly with lists of mourners, etc.). However he had left Hoddesdon some years before. If he was buried at Hoddesdon the press may have mentioned it - but in less detail. If he was buried in Surrey the local Hertfordshire press would only cover it (briefly) if someone supplied details. Unless he was very active in the local community in Surrey there could be minimal coverage in the local Surry newspapers. However there may well have been a death notice (perhaps with funeral details) in The Times.

Where, within a district, Mary and/or Robert were buried would depend on their religious denomination, and whether there was a council-run cemetery. (I don't think there was a public cemetery at Hoddesdon during the relevant period - but if there was the current Borough Council should have the details and be able to give a plot number relating to the cemetery plan.) Some non-conformist chapels had their own graveyard - and the religious affiliations may lead to a burial outside the Church of England parish. If Robert was an active member of a local church or chapel (perhaps he was a churchwarden) it is just possible that there is a memorial tablet or even a stained glass window inside the appropriate church or chapel. A check of the burial registers of relevant churches or chapels might turn something up - although these will record the location of the service and not automatically give the location of the grave.

The Herts Family History Society have published details of memorial inscriptions for many Hertfordshire parishes including Hoddesdon. Not all graves had memorial stones and some have been tidied up (see The Condition of Hertfordshire Graveyards). Most wooden grave boards have decayed with time, and the very few that still exist, and are still readable, have been restored/repaired (possibly more than once). Some stone memorials - particularly ones made of a patent artificial "everlasting" stone [a real joker when you find that the stone is perfect except where the surface has fallen away where the engraved inscription had weakened the hard surface] - are no longer readable.

There is a web page for Hoddesdon

Page amended October 2008 -