WHEN men digging up the roadway near the bottom of Parkinson Lane, Halifax, in 1859, came across human bones within 18 inches of the surface much excitement was aroused and the discovery became a sensation.
A new drain was being laid to the junction with King Cross Lane from a building recently erected for the storage of gardeners’ implements etc near the corner of People’s Park, itself then only two years old. The road workers dug up a skull as well as the bones and the relics were duly pronounced those of a female by a surgeon and by the curator of the Halifax Literary and Philosophical Society’s museum.
Investigation led finally to the belief that the remains were those of a woman known as Nan Beverley, whose last home was a cellar dwelling in Woolshops. It was known that she had poisoned herself about the year 1798, when about 40 years old. In those days burial in consecrated ground was denied to suicides and unorthodox sites had sometimes to be used for burials.
Nan, whose real name was Ann Beverley, was reported to have lived “ a bad life” , yet, whatever her reputation she appears to have been given a remarkable funeral. A spectacular procession proceeded to her resting place, for it is recorded that her body was placed in a cart, driven through the streets accompanied by an immense crowd of people.
Behind the improvised hearse walked the parish beadle, Joshua Milner, staff in hand and bedecked with cocked hat and gold lace, while on each side of the vehicle walked the constables of the day.
The body was interred in the “grave” outside the town and references place this at a point about where the bones were unearthed in 1859.
This locality where Parkinson Lane approaches King Cross Lane had already for a century held some mystery in the local mind as being the site of “Goldsmith’s Grave”. In 1738 the Rev Thomas Wright had recorded in his history of Halifax how a man - whose name later was said to be Richard Commons, a goldsmith by trade - had “set fire to straw in the four corners of his house and hanged himself in the midst”, and how he had been buried a little above the town in a place where four ways met.
This was thought to have taken place during or before 1597 for the parish church register records his widow’s burial in June that year.
Even as late as the 20th century it was written of “Goldsmith’s Grave” that many people believed that Commons’ bones still lay beneath King Cross Lane...