Saturday, 17 May 2008


OXFORD: The UK's foremost seat of learning and birthplace of William Henry Butler.

William Henry Butler was born in 1790 and died in 1865. He spent his whole life in the service of his beloved Oxford holding many offices during his adult years including Mayor for the year 1836. He was buried in the little churchyard of St Martins in Carfax Oxford in the grave of his two infant daughters Caroline and Catherine Adelaide and his first wife Elizabeth (Briggs) who died in 1844.

St. Martins Church was demolished in 1896 to make way for a wider road and this meant the remains of William Henry Butler had only been in the grave for 31 years and thus it is most likely the complete grave was left intact and why his tombstone is still in situe.

It is most probable William had business dealing with, if not was a friend of John Gibbs Stone Mason and Statuary in Oxford, and it is probable that through this contact he became aware of John's daughter Elizabeth. In the third quarter of 1855 Alderman Butler, aged 65, and Elizabeth Gibbs, aged 31, were married in Shoreditch and it was in Chelsea that daughter Bessie was born the same year. The three returned to Oxfordshire and settled in Hanborough in 1857 where he and Elizabeth (Gibbs) produced a son named William Henry Gibbs Butler. William junior was baptised in All Saints in 1857.

The graveyard at Carfax is owned by Oxford City Council who lease the land to the Sofi 2 Café where refreshments are sold and consumed. When the lease was drawn up OCC did not include mention of the graves or tombstones that still occupy the site and therefore the lease, in regard to the graves is ‘silent’. As a result of this over-site the café used the tombstones as supports for tables and chairs and this meant the stones were being damaged at an alarming rate. Had this damage continued then it would not have be long before the inscriptions would be unreadable.

But what does this have to do with me?

William Henry Butler was my Great Great Grandfather. So you can probably understand why I was so enraged when I learned of the fate of William Henry Butler's last resting place and in particular his tombstone.

Tombstones are historical documents and it matters not whether they were produced with a fountain pen on fine linen paper, a goose feather on parchment or by a chisel on stone, they are all documents, and tombstones are Originals, just like First Editions.

When I became aware of the desecration I immediately contacted Oxford City Council for their assistance. OCC was very quick to respond and a gentleman (not named here) confirmed what he had seen and began an investigation. Within a few weeks he emailed to say that when the lease for the land had been drawn up there was no mention of the graves and therefore, in respect of the tombstones, the lease was silent and there was nothing OCC could do.

Weeks later I began a campaign to protect the tombstone. Media interest was aroused and this produced mention in the Oxford Times, then a short time later BBC Radio Oxford and BBC Television were kind enough to give me air time. Also involved was the Oxford Mail who published the story in paper form as well as on the Internet.

Let me state here that I have no objection to anyone using graveyards for refreshment. When people do this they are amongst history as well as old dead bones, but this is our history, mine and yours, and it is a history that is very much alive. Many times I have sat down in St Phillips Catherdral graveyard (Birmingham)and joined office workers and shoppers with flasks of coffee, sandwiches etc., and have enjoyed the peace and serenity for a few moments. These places are a respite from the headaches of the office and shops. What nicer places could there be on a sunny day to recreate the mind for a few moments with a cup of tea and a bun than an old graveyard. But don't scrape tables and chairs across the tombstones and don't damage anything, that is desecration because Tombstones are a valuable source of information and should not be damaged. This has nothing to do with bereavement or trying to find a way of dealing with death, it is simple respect and common sense.

The stone was probably made by John Gibbs (stone mason and statuary mentioned above) or by one of his employees and this is probably how Elizabeth Gibbs became William Henry Butler's second Wife and my Great Great Grandmother. (John Gibbs was my Great Great Great Grandfather.) So you see, history is very much alive and kicking. William's tombstone is a valuable piece of Oxford history. Let's leave something for future generations.

Following my appearance on television and radio, BBC Oxford, the cafe owner, out of respect for the tombstone has now removed his tables and chairs for which I give him my sincere thanks, and in a recent telephone call to him he said he had placed a bunch of flowers on the stone. A nice thought but, this does NOT protect the stone. When this business moves on there is a very real danger the stone will again be abused.

The tombstone is in urgent need of permament protection and this can be done with either an Order of protection or perhaps the stone being moved to a more sympathetic site where it will NOT be abused.

The lease for the Carfax site will not expire until 2018AD. This means TEN more years will pass before a full protection can be considered. Please help to keep up the pressure and get an interim protection order enforced.

Please add your voice here and help me protect William Henry Butler's Tombstone:


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