Burslem are proud to have played a part over the years in helping to conserve and enhance the Victorian cemetery at Woodbury Park in Tunbridge Wells. On a regular basis we are commissioned to repair and conserve memorials to individuals who are buried there. The memorials serve as constant reminders of some of the fascinating local characters of the town in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
A recent repair project for the memorial to Major-General Lawrence Fyler provides a good example of this, but before describing this it might be worth briefly recounting the history of the cemetery itself.
The cemetery was laid out and consecrated in 1849 in Woodbury Park on what was then the northern edge of the town. Originally known as Trinity Cemetery it was needed as the churchyard at Trinity Church (which had opened in 1829) was full. It was an early example of a garden cemetery with a design based on an informal and imaginative layout of paths in the Picturesque style.
The cemetery was described by William Bracket in his Descriptive Illustrated Hand Guide, 1863, “This resting-place is beautifully laid out as a mortuary garden. Shrubs, trees, flowers, evergreens, moss-covered graves, and sculptured tombs, impart to it a pleasing aspect.”
By 1870 the three acres of the cemetery were virtually full, and thereafter the only interments allowed were of relatives to those in existing graves. The l
ast such interment was in 1934. In 2003 English Heritage designated it as Grade II on its Historic Register of Parks and Gardens. In 2006 The Friends of Woodbury Park Cemetery were formed, and ever since they have worked tirelessly to conserve and enhance the cemetery for public benefit and enjoyment.
In late 2017 Burslem were contacted by the Friends as the handsome headstone erected to Major-General Lawrence Fyler had been knocked down, sustaining accidental damage during works in the cemetery. Our masons removed the Portland stone memorial for repair to our workshop here at Stubby Grove Works, Frant, where they pinned together and secured with resin the shattered Celtic cross at the top of the gravestone. In January 2018 the memorial was restored to the cemetery by our team and re-secured in place. It was given only a light surface clean to ensure its patination remained consistent with the mellow weathered look that is a part of the picturesque charm of the cemetery as whole.
Born in Twickenham in 1809, Lawrence Fyler started a distinguished military career when he entered the 16th Lancers as a Cornet by purchase on 7 September 1826 . He soon after purchased the rank of Lieutenant in July 1828, and Captain in February 1834. Two years later he married Amelia Byng in Hampstead.
They had no children.
Fyler served with the 16th Lancers during the 1st Afghan War under Lord Keane, including at the siege and capture of Ghuznee in 1839 and the battle of Maharajpore in 1843. He went on to serve in the 1st Sikh War in 1846, including in the battles of Buddiwal and Aliwal.
At Aliwal he was severely wounded by a musket shot whilst charging with his squadron at a large body of infantry with three guns to their front. His squadron broke through and dispersed them, these being the last of the enemy’s infantry which had stood their ground; for this service he received the Brevet rank of Major.
He gained the rank of Major by purchase in April 1848 and served in the 2nd Sikh War with the 3rd Light Dragoons. He then served in the Crimea with the 12th Lancers from 17th May 1855, and was present at the battle of the Tchernaya, and the siege and fall of Sebastopol . He received the Brevet rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in June 1854 and was promoted to that rank in July 1857 and attained the rank of Colonel in October 1858. He retired at the rank of Major-General in 1860 and was awarded the Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) by Queen Victoria in 1869 before dying in Tunbridge Wells nine years later.
Lawrence Fyler was clearly a man who played an active part in many significant activities of the British Army in India and the east from the 1820s to the 1850s, and whose career highlights the changing nature of the conflicts the British were involved in during the period immediately prior to the Indian Mutiny of 1857. His milit
ary medals have found their way into the collections of the Fitzwilliam Museum having earlier been purchased by the collector Lester Watson from a dealer in 1929.
The memorial stone in Woodbury Park Cemetery conserved by Burslem and the surviving medals both provide tangible connections to a fascinating and controversial period in our history and an individual in Lawrence Fyler who was a participant in some key episodes of this history.
Neil Walters, Memorials Adviser at Burslem