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Search for ancestors leads family historian up Barking churchyard path

PUBLISHED: 17:12 09 September 2019 | UPDATED: 17:25 09 September 2019

Ian Wilson (inset) has traced his ancestors to a tombstone in the middle of a path in St Margaret's churchyard in Barking after searching online grave records. Picture: Jon King

Ian Wilson (inset) has traced his ancestors to a tombstone in the middle of a path in St Margaret's churchyard in Barking after searching online grave records. Picture: Jon King

Archant

A family historian's search for his ancestors' burial place has ended in the middle of a churchyard's path.

The tombstone is in need of repair with broken coping and split stone. Picture: Jon KingThe tombstone is in need of repair with broken coping and split stone. Picture: Jon King

When Ian Wilson CBE started researching his history he little expected to find any gravestones let alone one smack bang in the centre of the path in St Margaret's churchyard, Barking.

Ian said: "It was amazing. I had expected hours of wandering along tomb after tomb trying to read worn out gravestone inscriptions, but there it was, smack bang in the middle of the path.

"The hairs stood up at the back of my neck."

The 67-year old wondered how a poor family of farm workers could afford such a thing, but the benefit of a daughter marrying a monumental mason, someone who makes tombstones, then struck him.

That's what Ian's great, great grandmother, Martha - the daughter of William Joseph Tunbridge and his wife Sarah Howell - did when she married Benjamin Faux of Stepney in 1864.

Benjamin was a "letter cutter in stone" from a family of monumental masons working in Stepney and later in Forest Gate.

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The inscription reveals William and Sarah's final resting place, but since their deaths in 1871 and 1877 respectively the coping has broken away and main stone cracked.

However, Essex monumental masons, A. Elfes, established in 1894, has agreed to tidy it up and improve the look of a well-trodden path.

Ian, from New Cross, said: "Because this gravestone had been made and engraved by my ancestors, I was reluctant to replace it with a new one.

"Elfes agreed to do the best they could with the remaining materials at some risk to their reputation if it didn't work out. There is a risk that the stone is too far gone, but we'll see.

"I see this attempted restoration as the monumental masons of today paying tribute to my monumental mason forebears."

Ian, a former director of social services at Tower Hamlets, traces his ancestors back to the Roman emperor, Charlemagne.

The Tunbridge and Howell families of Barking are ancestors on his mother's side with records showing they lived and worked in the area between 1764 and 1848.

A spokesman for Barking Parks Department, which leases the graveyard, said: "We are very grateful to Ian and Elfes for this potentially great improvement to a prominent gravestone."

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