Crime & Punishment
by Rowan Lennon
There was a good turnout on Sunday 22nd July for the Crime and Punishment tour – 31 people having joined, despite the heat. It is a subject that always fascinates people. Each grave shows a different connection with the subject matter, from the criminal justice system to serious crimes like murder.
Bedford has a history of prison reform. John Howard the 18th century prison reformer lived on an estate at Cardington. Unfortunately he does not feature in the tour as he died in 1790 and is buried in the Ukraine, but one of his successors does. Robert Evan Roberts was the Governor of Bedford Gaol from 1853 to 1885, a man who modernised the prison system, from photographing prisoners, keeping detailed accounts and statistics, creating a skilled prison workforce and regular hours and leisure periods. Bedford prison was the only one in the county to make a profit from prisoners’ labour.
Roberts is buried in a very fine Gothic style grave with his first and second wife and several of his children who died very young. Unfortunately the governor’s house [which still stands] was very damp, contributing to his children’s deaths.
Bedfordshire was one of the earliest counties to get a police force, so the grave of Deputy Chief Constable Henry Quenby is visited. He joined the police in 1859 and had 48 years’ service, dealing with crimes such as sheep stealing. (Levi Cook aged 22, stole a sheep to the value of 38 shillings in 1870 and was sentenced to 18 months’ hard labour in the House of Correction.)
Murder features on the tour. One of the most tragic stories is that of a murder and suicide that destroyed the lives of two young people. The grave of Eleanor Evelyn McKay age 20 is close to that of Robert Evan Roberts. Her life was violently cut short one warm July evening in 1882 when she went to play tennis with friends at the paddock at the back of the Ship Inn in St Cuthbert Street. Evelyn, as she was known, was a middle class girl from Cheshire whose family had been involved in the ship building industry. On the death of her father, her mother moved to Bedford with Evelyn and her brother. On this fatal evening, a young man, part of her social circle, entered the paddock and shot her dead, before turning the gun on himself. Hubert Wigram Veasey Vere, aged 22 and educated at Bedford School and Sandhurst, had been a Lieutenant in the York and Lancaster Regiment before resigning his commission after returning from Egypt where he had taken part in the battle of Tel el Kibir. This affected his mind. When he came back he was a changed personality, depressed and morbid. Today we would recognise him as suffering from post-traumatic stress. He became obsessed with Evelyn who could not return his affections. The Coroner’s verdict was that the balance of his mind was disturbed, which meant he could have a burial in a Christian Cemetery. He and Evelyn were buried on the same day, one funeral taking place in the morning, the other in the afternoon.
Evelyn has a striking tombstone. Veasy Vere’s modest one is only a few yards away.
There are many other stories to tell on the tour. Our Cemetery, like every cemetery has countless interesting secrets to be uncovered, all of which open our eyes into the lives of our ancestors.
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