Undercliffe Cemetery and Nancy De Garrs

The article here was kindly sent in by Steve Lightfoot, Undercliffe Cemetery Volunteer and author of the recent publication ‘The remarkable story of Nancy De Garrs Charlotte Brontë’s nurse’

Recently the Undercliffe Cemetery Charity have been building a team of volunteers to research some of the more well known occupants of the cemetery. The first task was to install QR codes on the six listed monuments so that visitors to the cemetery could find out more about the people to which the monuments were dedicated. The volunteers then moved on to the so called Bradford Worthies, of which there are many. These were some of the most important people in Bradford’s history, including more than twenty of Bradford’s Mayors, who are buried at the cemetery. As new research is completed the information is posted on the Undercliffe Cemetery website under the history section. So far approximately thirty of the Worthies have been researched. Some of the grave sites have magnificent monuments but others are unmarked. Regular tours of the cemetery take place to raise funds for maintenance. The volunteer guides take visitors to some of the most interesting grave sites to tell the story of Bradford’s history and the people who made Bradford the place that it is. At one time of course it was the wool capital of the world.

During the research the location of Nancy De Garrs grave was finally found, underneath some undergrowth, and unmarked. Nancy was Charlotte Brontë’s nurse, she served the Brontës for eight years and helped to bring the Brontë children up at Thornton and Haworth. It was known that Nancy was at Undercliffe but nobody knew where. She died in the Bradford workhouse and could have well have ended up in a paupers grave. After some research it was found she was buried as Nancy Malone. The records showed the plot number and the maps showed the location of this, but who were the other people buried with her, Mary Stocks, James Scholey and John William Scholey. We just had to find out, and why was the grave unmarked? The last twelve months have revealed some fascinating detail about the life of Nancy De Garrs. Having found just how important Nancy was in the life of the Brontës the Charity have decided to launch an appeal for funds for a headstone to be erected and for the area to be made safe. Future visitors to the cemetery will be able to find out more about Nancy and her life with the Brontës and after. A booklet has been compiled and is currently being sold in bookshops in Haworth, in the tourist office in Bradford and in other locations in Thornton and elsewhere. All money raised will go towards paying for the work required to get Nancy a headstone and to make the area safe for visitors. So far we have had good publicity from the Telegraph and Argus, the Sunday Express and the Times but more funds are needed. Donations can be made through the Undercliffe Cemetery website or by purchasing one of the booklets. A provisional date has been fixed for the 9th May  2020, by which time, providing enough funds can be raised, the stone will be in place and a service will be conducted. See website for details of forthcoming events.

Steve Lightfoot
Undercliffe Cemetery Volunteer

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A Review of the Book

The Remarkable Story of Nancy de Garrs, Charlotte Brontë’s Nurse. By Steve Lightfoot. 2019. 32 pages.

Nancy Garrs was born in 1803, the oldest in a family of twelve children. Her father, Richard De Garrs, was a shoemaker of French descent who had a shop in Bradford. Nancy and a younger sister Sarah (b. 1806) went to the Bradford Industrial School where they learnt housekeeping and childcare skills. In 1816, aged 12, Nancy went to work in the Brontë’s Thornton home to look after the three young Brontë children. Three more children later, sister Sarah came to assist, with Nancy promoted to be cook and assistant housekeeper. In 1820 the Garrs twosome accompanied the Brontë family in their move to Haworth. Here they experienced the sad early years there and the coming of ‘Aunt Branwell’ (‘cross like and fault findin’). After serving the Brontës for eight years, Nancy left in late 1824, shortly followed by Sarah, when the oldest Brontë children went to Cowan Bridge School.

Nancy then worked as a dressmaker, marrying John Wainwright in 1830. They had two children, Emily Jane and Hannah. Significantly, Nancy signed her wedding banns with ‘her mark’ (which I found a surprise, Nancy having lived in such a literary household). Husband John, a wool comber, later an engine tenter, died after a horrific accident at work in one of Titus Salt’s Bradford mills. He was buried in the Dr Garrs family plot in Bradford where four of Nancy’s sisters were buried. The 1841 census shows Nancy and a daughter living with sister Sarah and her children, just a few doors away from their sister, Martha, who had married Benjamin Hewitt. Clearly the families were supporting each other, with their parents also nearby. In 1844, Nancy married Irishman John Malone, a warehouseman. After John’s death in 1881, Nancy fell into poverty and three years later she was taken in at the Bradford Workhouse, where she died in 1886 aged 82.

Of her years with the Brontë family, author Steven Lightfoot highlights a number of incidents and myths – of Mrs Gaskeill’s hurtful remarks in her Life of Charlotte Brontë; of the confusing comment of Patrick’s about Nancy leaving the parsonage to marry a ‘Pat’ – not in 1824 she didn’t! And there is new information about the Brontë mementoes that Nancy had, of how they were displayed in a public bazaar in 1885, acquired by John Widdop, a son of Mary, another of Nancy’s sisters, and how they may have been sold to alleviate Nancy’s penury.  Other members of the Dr Garrs family are briefly featured, notably her brother Henry, and sisters Ruth (who married John Binns) and sister Sarah, who married William Newsome in 1829, had five children, and eventually settled in Iowa, USA.

This focus on Nancy and her family circle does a good job of widening our knowledge of the social context of the time.

Bob Duckett
Past Editor Brontë Studies and The Bradford Antiquary.

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