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Illingworth House: 33 - Putting On A Good Show

Wealthy folk in Keighworth were expected to put on a good show on public occasions, especially at funerals.

In the latest chapter of John Waddington-Feather's saga of a Yorkshire mill-owning family Abe Illingworth buries his wife Rachel.

Upper-crustians in Keighworth such as the Illingworths were expected to put on a good show on public occasions, especially at funerals, for Keighworth loved a good funeral. They were not disappointed at Rachel Illingworth.s.

It took place in the great Methodist chapel where Sam Braithwaite had his memorial and for which Abe's grandfather, Amos, had contributed much money. Its size and its style were designed to parade upper-crustian wealth as much as to honour God. It was the biggest church in town out-vying all the others in size if not age.

And it was there three generations of Illingworths had gone to thank God for blessing them with wealth and status. After their final rite of passage from this world to the next, it was from there that they had made their last worldly journey for interment in the family sepulchre in the graveyard at Utworth.

The church was packed, as was the funeral route leading to it, for Abe had chosen to have his wife buried on a Saturday, when his mills and offices were closed for the morning. Because they had the morning off, Sir Luke made a point of telling Denton to inform the staff that he expected them to be at the church to pay their last respects and to keep a sharp eye for any absentees.

The mill masters and engineering magnates present were in mourning dress, but among them was a sprinkling of service men in uniform, including Abe Illingworth and Henry Johnson. Mary Calow attended, shepherding young John, who clung to her throughout the service. Victoria was there escorted by Major Kingham-Jones, but her daughter Rosemary remained at home with her nanny. She hardly knew her aunt.

The long-standing girlfriend of Rachel turned up unexpectedly, but was greeted kindly by Abe who asked her back to Illingworth House for refreshments after the interment and made sure she was looked after.

Though his marriage had been dead for years, Abe gave Rachel a good send-off. Three hearses headed the cortege, one holding the coffin and the other two filled with wreaths. A long procession on foot followed them to the chapel and packed the church. Along the route mill-workers stood in their Sabbath black looking suitably grave and doffing their hats as the coffin passed. Those near the church door pulled their forelocks as old Sir Luke and Colonel Abe passed by into the church.

It was a long drawn-out service, taken by a minister who didn't know Rachel but made a meal of telling the congregation all about her: that she'd been a devoted mother and wife, that she had taken an active role in the life of the town and church, that she had done her bit for the war effort enlisting as a volunteer nurse, and that tragically her life had been brought to an untimely end, like so many, by the flu epidemic.

The sympathies of them all went out to her husband and his son, but Abe throughout the service kept his eyes downcast and looked at the floor. He had had his bellyful of canting during the war.

By chance, Mary Gibson was burying her parents the same day. The gravediggers were working overtime in Keighworth Cemetery where there were several burials taking place. The Illingworth cortege had to pass the Greenwoods' grave on its way to the family sepulchre which stood high above the surrounding graves of their workers, overseen by their masters in death as in life.

As the long cortege drew near, Joe and Mary stood to one side to let it pass. Between them stood little Helen Greenwood in a black frock and hat, over-awed and bemused by it all. Walking with his father at the head of his mother's cortege was John Illingworth. Helen was the only other child there, and he glanced across and smiled. She smiled back shyly.

Mary Calow remarked afterwards what a beautiful child she was, but Abe hadn't noticed her. He had seen Joe long before he reached him and stared stonily ahead as he passed. There was no forelock pulling from Joe. Only a long bitter look as the Illingworths went by.

Only the immediate family followed the coffin into the sepulchre, ranging themselves around its walls while the casket was lowered into a gaping hole in the centre of the floor where paving had been taken up. Below, the pale faces of the gravediggers peered up, waiting to wheel the coffin away when it was lowered, to be set in place with the family dead in recesses out of sight.

When the minister had finished intoning, "Earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes..." they wheeled Rachel's coffin away, leaving the living reflecting on death as they stared into that black hole before them.

That done, Abe Illingworth's wife and marriage were buried for ever. He was now free to re-marry, but he never did. Before Rachel's coffin was wheeled away, he walked up to the edge of the hole and stood a moment lost in his own thoughts, then he turned abruptly and walked away dry-eyed.

The others followed him one by one till they, too, dispersed to their waiting carriages. Last in the line was Rachel's girlfriend and companion, weeping quietly, the Angela Abe had met in London. She stood some time gazing into the hole and when all had left, she threw a red rose into the opening, asking the gravediggers to place it on Rachels coffin.

As soon as she'd gone, the crypt was sealed. It was opened again five years later for old Sir Luke and many years later, it was opened for the final time for his son, Sir Abe Illingworth, the last of the family to be buried there.


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