Newby Head Quaker Burial Ground

KP and I had some difficulty locating an old Quaker burial ground near the Cumbrian village of Newby Head this autumn. After attempting to follow some old directions and asking local dog-walkers, we found it in a field. Surrounded by walls and covered in shrubbery and brambles, the handful of old gravestones could just about be seen. I climbed over the wall, pricking myself a number of times, and praying I caused myself no injury. We remarked how unkempt it was, wondering why the Friends, or concerned locals, did not come in with a chainsaw and a stout Flymo.

Yet the more I thought of it, the more I concluded that the shrubs and bushes were an appropriate sign of life. Although mown grass and pastures are an important feature of our region's agricultural economy, those tall trees and thick layers of foliage are symbolic of resurrection. Those ancient Quaker cadavers have slowly fertilised the ground in which they have been laid. That place of death and separation is now a little nature reserve where stoats and wrens may creep and hide. While saluting the manicured British war cemeteries of Flanders and Normandy, I rather like the wildness and nonchalance of Newby Head. Where these departed Friends departed to, I cannot say. Sober clothing, ethical dealing and simple worship are not sufficient to gain entry into the Kingdom, only acceptance of Christ’s finished work, an aspect of theology that Quakerism has traditionally neglected.

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt. Daniel 12:2

But were I at rest 'neath yonder tree,

Why would you weep, my friends, for me?

I'm so weary, so wayworn, why would you retard

The peace that I seek in the old churchyard?


Why weep for me, for I'm anxious to go

To that haven of rest where no tears e'er flow?

And I fear not my fate when it's time to depart,

I will sail with the sun in the old churchyard


I rest in the hope that one bright day,

Sunshine will burst through these prisons of clay

And the trumpets will sound on the hills near and far

Will wake up the dead in the old churchyard.