Hempnall – St. Margaret’s Church (Ephraim Thain)

There’s a lot to be said for slate gravestones, they usually retain their clarity so that they can still be read centuries on. This is the grave of Ephraim Thain, a name which somehow requires a clear articulation of the syllables to pronounce. Or maybe that’s just me….

The gravestone also contains the names of Ephraim’s wife, Ann, who died on 21 July 1835 at the age of 35, and their daughter, Frances Ann, who died on 11 June 1835 at the age of 3. Unusually, it seems that the Ann had to wait for Ephraim’s death before the gravestone was placed here, given that his details are on top and he didn’t die until 1860, at the age of 60. The mother and daughter also died very close together, within just a matter of weeks, which seems to tell a story of its own. Or at least, I think they died within a few weeks of each other, it’s quite hard to discern between the ‘3’ and the ‘5’ on the grave due to the style of writing.

Ephraim had married Ann Lettington on 9 October 1824, at Pulham St. Mary. In the same year, and at the same church (which might have caused some comments at the time) their child Sarah Elizabeth Thain was christened.

One difficulty about Ephraim’s name is that the transcribers have struggled to spell it correctly at any stage, which makes things rather more challenging. Ephraim Thain (listed as Shain) appears on the 1851 census, noted as a widower, and he was listed as being a farm servant at the Green in Hempnall.

Ephraim was buried on 19 December 1861. The gravestone that he has been given is expensive and I can only imagine was paid for by the owner of the farm, who took great care to ensure that Ephraim’s wife and child were also listed on it. This likely explains why they hadn’t had a stone of their own, it would be unlikely that Ephraim could have afforded anything. I don’t know why the mother and daughter died within weeks of each other, there are no newspaper reports and no records of the deaths have survived. Cholera was a problem at the time in the country, and indeed in Norwich, but it didn’t affect rural villages in quite the same way.

The element that interested me about this grave is that this family very nearly became anonymous. It’s hard to find records of them due to their names not being transcribed correctly, with some records seemingly missing or so incorrectly transcribed they can’t be readily located. Ann Thain died before the first census took place and the details of her children are also scant. Being farm workers, their lives didn’t trouble the local media, so their life stories are also lost. Without this gravestone, which someone spent some money on, there’s the chance that their lives would not have been remembered at all. It’d be nice to hope that more of this family’s life can be told in the future, but I’d be moderately surprised if the written record has much more to tell.