Jonathan Harmer – terracotta gravestones

Jonathan Harmer (1762 – 1849, Old Heathfield)

Harmers Cottage, Old Heathfield
Harmers Cottage, Old Heathfield

Wife – Mary Chapman (1759 – 1841)
Henrietta (born 1783, Heathfield, Sussex)
Joseph (1788, Heathfield – 1798, died in New York, America)
Juliana (born 1790, Heathfield, Sussex)
Edwin (1792 – 1793, Heathfield, Sussex)
Edwin (1794 – 1851, Heathfield, Sussex)
Columbianee (1797 – 1798, New York, America)
Columbianee (1798 -1799, New York, America)
Urania (born 1801, Heathfield, Sussex)
Sylvan (1803 – 1884, Heathfield, Sussex)

Jonathan’s father (Jonathan Harmer 1723 – 1800) was a Stonemason living at Portland Square, Heathfield, Sussex and on his death in 1800 he bequeathed to his two sons ‘all such Portland and other stone, together with my working tools and utensils belonging to the trade of stone mason, brick layer and land surveying books.’

Jonathan who had emigrated to America in 1796 returned to Heathfield and took over the family business running it until 1839 when it was taken over by his sons.

In the difficult times of the 19th century, those living locally and were poor could only afford a simple headstone and Jonathan, taking pity on these people came up with the idea of ornamental bas-relief terracotta memorial plaques from the local red clay from Heathfield Park, sometimes combined with paler imported clay. These plaques were then affixed to the gravestone and many have lasted for 200 years. To keep costs down he made his own clay moulds and could therefore turn out many identical panels rather than each being carved individually.

He devised a method where he cut the outline of the terracotta into the stone, then cut about 3/4 inch deeper into the stone creating a cavity. The terracotta plaque of the same or slightly thicker depth was made, then the plaque was glued into the cavity using a mortar.

example of a terracotta
example of a terracotta

There are different designs varying from baskets of fruit and flowers, cherubs, urns of flowers and angels. They were fashioned in the same way as the marble stones he carved. Customers could also choose their own designs and some individual designs still remain alongside the more usual ones in graveyards around the locality.

Churchyards where his work can still be seen: Hailsham, Cade Street, Mayfield, Framfield, Brightling, Burwash, Warbleton, Herstmonceux and Salehurst. Other Plaques can be seen at the Brighton Museum and the Anne of Cleeves House Museum in Lewes.

Sylvan's gravestone, Old Heathfield
Sylvan’s gravestone, Old Heathfield

Although it is reputed that Jonathan’s method died with him in 1849, his son, Sylvan has been said to have carried on the manufacturing of the terracottas after Jonathan’s death although in the 1851, 1871 and 1881 census records he is recorded as being a Land Surveyor. I have been unable so far to find any records of any of Jonathan’s grandsons taking over the business, however, Sylvan’s gravestone dated 1884 at Old Heathfield Churchyard is the latest terracotta I have found, therefore someone must have carried on the tradition for a little while at least.

© Kerry Baldwin 2015

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John Fuller – three wives and too many children!

John Fuller married Ellen Harmer my great x 3 grandmother.  Ellen was his third wife.  I recently spent some time researching their children and looking at census returns I found children I could not account for which caused me to research his history and a very interesting history that turned out to be!

Brightling Church
Brightling Church

John was baptised on 30 May 1813 at Brightling, to Rose and Priscilla Fuller.  His first marriage was to Keturah Russell on 25 December 1840.  (A good Sussex name).  They were found together on the 1841 census living in Brightling, she was known as Kitty.  They had two children, Phoebe Ann baptised 6 February 1842 and Catherine baptised 20 October 1844, both at Brightling.  Keturah died in 1844 and by the time of the 1851 census John was with his second wife, Jane.

Jane Wickham is said to have come from Wadhurst and before she married John on 25 February 1850 in Burwash, she had had four children, Mary Ann born 1842, George Humphrey born 1844, James born 1846 and Edward born in 1849, baptised in Ticehurst or the poorhouse in Flimwell.  John and Jane had four children of their own; John baptised 7 December 1851, Stephan baptised 6 February 1854, Naomi baptised 1 March 1857 and Thomas John baptised 4 September 1859, all at Brightling.  The three younger of these children appear on the 1861 census along with some of the older children, although a mystery is William aged 16 (born 1845).

Jane apparently died at the end of May 1863 and was buried in Brightling and John married Ellen, my ancestor on 16 February 1866 in Brightling.  Ellen already had three illegitimate children; Ann Harmer baptised 10 April 1861 in Ashburnham, (she had died in 1863) James Frederick Samuel Harmer (my great great grandfather) baptised 3 November 1861 in Ashburnham, Harriet Rosina Harmer baptised 2 August 1863 in Ashburnham.

John and Ellen had six children between them; Philadelphia baptised 21 October 1866, George Thomas baptised 5 July 1868, Robert baptised 4 September 1870, Mary Louisa baptised 3 December 1872 (she died in Feburary 1873), Charles William baptised 1 November 1874 and Rachel Ann baptised 1 July 1877, again all at Brightling.

I am currently searching for marriages, burials and other records for these children.   John died in 1886 and was buried at Brightling.  So between him and his three wives there were 19 children born to this family.  Just imagine some of the later Christmas day gatherings!


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Soldiers’ effects – Percy Harmer and Henry Baldwin

The recent addition of these records to Ancestry‘s many and varied databases proved interesting in my family research.  I looked for both Percy Harmer and Henry Baldwin and found their entries.

Soldiers'effects for Percy Harmer
Soldiers’effects record for Percy Harmer

Percy and Henry were both Great Great Uncles of mine, killed in WW1 and I have been slowly collecting available records about both soldiers to enable me to tell their stories.  Neither man married or had any descendants and so were forgotten as time passed.  But now with the information I have found once again these two young men who sacrificed their life for their country can be remembered.

With this aim in mind any records are useful.  The Soldiers’ effects do not really tell me much I didn’t already know except that it confirms who they were, where and when they died, their Service number and the regiment they served in.  The useful addition to this is the amount of their effects of course and who it was authorised to.  This information is very useful as a check that the soldier is who I thought he was, in the case of Percy to his father James and in the case of Henry Baldwin to his mother, Jane Elizabeth.  Both these facts tally with the information on my family tree.

I will now spend some time searching on surnames on my family tree to see if I can find any other family members who might have fought and died during WW1.

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World War 1 heroes – Henry Baldwin and Percy Harmer

This year, 2014, with it’s big anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, I have thought a lot about my own ancestors and their own involvement in the war. Research into the available records have revealed that a number of my ancestors fought.  For instance I found service papers that revealed that Albert John Terry, my great grandfather didn’t enlist until 1917, and unfortunately he forfeited 7 days pay for leaving his kit hanging up in the kitchen!

It would appear that most of my ancestors who were involved returned from the war except for two great great uncles:

Gravestone of Henry Baldwin
Gravestone of Henry Baldwin

Henry James Baldwin born 30 September 1885 in Hoxton, Middlesex.  He was my great grandfather, Reuben Baldwin’s eldest brother.   From service records found so far it would appear that Henry and his brothers were sent from London at an early age to train at the naval base of Portsmouth.  Henry became a regular soldier and he appeared on the 1911 census in Hong Kong as a Gunner with the 87th Company Royal Garrison Artillery.  From the little I have managed to learn so far they were called back to Europe at the beginning of WW1 and he died at the 4th siege battery at Ypres on 16 June 1915.  His informal will leaves all his personal belongings to his mother.

Gravestone of Percy Harmer
Gravestone of Percy Harmer

Percy Harmer on the other hand was born on 28 January 1899 in Dallington, Sussex and he was only 15 years of age at the outbreak of war.  The 1911 census had him living at home with his family and he was still attending school, no doubt at Dallington village school.  It is likely that by 1914 he had followed his brother’s example and was working as a farm labourer on one of the many local farms nearby.  I haven’t managed to find his service record but from information found on the web it appeared he was probably one of ‘Lowther’s lambs’ and enlisted early 1916 at the age of 17.  He was in the 11th batallion of the Royal Sussex Regiment, one of the Southdown Batallion.  More information can be found at

Unfortunately he died on 3 March 1918 in the Somme during the last great push by the Germans.  He was 19 years of age and his name appears on the memorial in the Town Hall in Eastbourne.

With both these young men dying, any potential family lines ended and when their close family died they became forgotten.  Through my family history research I have resurrected their existence and through telling their stories once again they can be honoured for fighting for their country.

For more information about the war dead from Dallington check out the Dallington village website.  Roy Iremonger has researched the names of the young men from Dallington who fought and his book can be found here:

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