The Friends of St. Peter's Berkhamsted

Friends of St Peter's, Great Berkhamsted

Edward Harvey Bedford (d.1903), Sarah Jane Bedford (1903) and family

Grave Number 968 and 877

Dogs you can find, but in this Cemetery you won’t find many graves displaying people or human anatomy such as corpses, unlike in the C18th.  There are however, a few representations of clasped hands. These two headstones are close to each other, are almost identical, and record the sad deaths of five members of the Bedford family – the father and mother on one, and three of their children on another. The Bucks Herald of 14th May 1904 reported that ‘within a year or two have occurred, it is believed of hereditary consumption, 5 deaths in one family – that of the late Mr Harvey Bedford, a well-known jobmaster etc. First a daughter died, and subsequently the mother, father and two sons. The funeral of the last, George Bedford, age 21, took place on Saturday at the Cemetery, the Rector, Rev H.C Curtis officiating.  A large gathering of sympathizing spectators assembled at the graveside, and among the followers were Mr. Bedford of Uxbridge, and Mr. H. Lee, the executors. A number of choice wreaths were laid on the bier.’

Both stones illustrate the right hand in a grasp with fingers overlapping the other hand while the left hand is open. Look at the cuffs to distinguish between the man and woman’s hand, the latter having a frilly cuff. (Placing the male on right and female on left is a deeply entrenched symbolic representation of male/female roles). Holding hands in this way indicates the couple’s unity and affection even after death. Clasped hands are also symbolic of a farewell or last good-bye.  In the case of Bedford (968), Edward (on the right) died a fortnight after his wife, so the latter would appear to be welcoming or greeting her deceased partner.

On the other headstone, it might be the sister who died first who appears to be welcoming ‘our dear brother Harvey BEDFORD, d. 31st December 1903, aged 23, his brother George, who died 1st May 1904, aged 21 and finally Frank, a third brother who died 10th March 1918 aged 27. In both cases, the male hand’s little finger is pointing downwards, perhaps signifying they are the last to go.

The stones are nearly the same, but not quite.  In the children’s version, the banners don’t quite meet. One further thing to note is that Harvey Bedford was a Freemason – the handshake is clearly a key component of the Freemason’s greeting.


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