Jean Mary Ramsden nee Batley 23 April 1926 - 4 September 2012

“A woman in a Man’s World”

Jean Mary Ramsden nee Batley 23 April 1926 - 4 September 2012Jean was a female pioneer in the cemetery and cremation industry. This might seem an odd choice of occupation as when she started only men were involved. In fact she was the first woman member of the Institute of Burial and Cremation Administration (IBCA) joining, probably after being a successful student member, on 10 May 1952. She was also, from 1963-1970, the first female secretary of its Yorkshire Regional Council and its Chairman three times from 1962. She was the first woman to represent Yorkshire on IBCA’s National Council, first female Secretary of the National organisation (1971-1980) and the first woman to become its President – a post she held 1976-1977. She was elected a Life member in 1979, meaning she did not have to pay the annual subscription - an honour in recognition of how much she had contributed to the organisation.

The IBCA –“the Institute” changed its name in 2003 to become the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management (ICCM). It is a membership organisation dating back to 1913 when it was set up to professionalise the sector. Training those in the industry (e.g. by correspondence courses) was and is a key function. Providing updates on new legislation and developments through the Journal is another. Providing a forum…social or educational where one can meet up with others in the industry, ask questions and get answers from those tackling the same issues, is also a great benefit to members. Jean wrote in 1976 “I have found that the friendship and encouragement received from many Members has helped me to surmount the difficulties that could have seemed too much if faced alone.” Acting as a body representing the views of the organisation to Government, local authorities and all those proposing changes in the industry is important to ensure that working conditions are as good as they can be.

So why did Jean end up in this career? A simple answer is she was born into it! In 1926 she was born in the Lodge of the Upper and Lower Wortley Cemetery (more commonly known as the Oldfield Lane Cemetery) where her father was superintendent for almost 30 years. She certainly followed in her father’s footsteps regarding the Institute – he was Yorkshire Branch Secretary, three times its Chairman, on the National Council for twenty years and was honoured by being given Life Membership too. Her close bond with her father came home to me when I read her Presidential address to branches published in the IBCA Journal in which she quotes from the 1963 Golden Jubilee Brochure outlining the sacrifices of previous officers:

“Officers and members of the National Council travelled the length and breadth of the country completely at their own expense. Many often arrived past midnight at their nearest main line station and had several miles to walk home.” During the war an emergency committee functioned and “they travelled hundreds of miles, in the greatest discomfort under black-out conditions and in unheated trains, often on bitterly cold nights. They arrived at their termini, especially in London and in certain other towns and cities, to the sound of air raid sirens and falling bombs, with the knowledge that the next few miles were to be fraught with danger to life and limb, added to which was the sickening thought of what they might find when they eventually arrived home.” This powerful description was used to exhort members to support their Institute.

I felt a strong bond between father and daughter and wondered why. A little basic research showed that Jean was the only surviving child of his second marriage born when he was about 42. He had two young children, a daughter and a son, from his first marriage. His first wife’s death is registered in the same quarter as the birth of their son, so I suspect a link. They had previously lost twins and another baby. Jean’s younger sibling died as a baby two years later. No doubt the pregnancy, birth and sickly child kept the mother occupied and the two year old probably gravitated to “Daddy “. No wonder he had a strong bond with his youngest child! The brother became a joiner, so perhaps did not have the aptitude for a career in administration, having more practical skills and I do not know about the sister, except that she married.

Another strong influence on Jean and no doubt the whole family was Methodism. They attended Tong Road Methodist Church, Mount Pisgah where the young Jean was organist, treasurer and circuit steward. I assume this will have involved organisational skills - arranging the visiting clergy rota and sorting out which members of the congregation would host the visit/provide a meal. The church had a Girl’s Brigade and Jean became its Warrant Officer. No doubt discipline and obeying the rules was well drilled into the girls and I can see traces of that in her later career! But it was not just something she did growing up – when she was in employment she was inducted in 1951 as a local preacher. This must have boosted her ability to speak in public to large audiences, superb training for being a President of a national organisation! Methodism was an influence throughout her life – her funeral was held in Burton Fleming Methodist Church, East Yorkshire in 2012. A tribute informed us that “it was typical of Jean that she had arranged the order of service, hymns and prayers for her funeral”. (ICCM Journal winter 2012)

In 1944 aged 17 she obtained her first job, as office assistant to Walter R. Pearson, superintendent of Lawnswood Cemetery. (The dates, ages and job tiles vary according to the account. I quote the facts as reported in the Yorkshire Post (31.1.1964), when she was interviewed on becoming Superintendent of Lawnswood). As the school leaving age was then 14, one assumes she took her national certificate – a forerunner of “O” levels, said to be harder as one had to gain a pass in six subjects, two of which were English and Maths. As it was a two year course, it is not impossible she did an extra year on a shorthand typist course at another institution…she is said to have arrived “straight from education” rather than school and one version has her as a short-hand typist to Mr Pearson…afterwards she did become his personal secretary, suggesting some secretarial ability, before becoming Assistant Superintendent in 1960. She took over as Superintendent aged just 37 in 1964 on the death of her boss in post. She was the only woman superintendent of a big cemetery in Britain at that time.

Four years later, in 1968 and aged 43, she married Alan Ramsden, Lawnswood’s Head Gardener. He was a great support to her throughout the next 17 years of her career and no doubt afterwards. She paid this tribute to him at the end of her year of National office: “Last year I said it was not an easy thing to be an Institute widower and I honestly thought that the duties of President’s escort would be more arduous still for him for by nature Alan is a shy person and I know he was not particularly looking forward to my year of office. But no one will ever fully know the tower of strength he has been to me”.

Walter Richmond Pearson, N D Hort, F. Inst BCA was another important influence on his young employee. By the time she arrived he would have been in post for about six years, starting in January 1938 from Birmingham. He too was a leading figure in the national cemetery and cremations industry. He worked with NEGas and Dowson & Mason Engineers in the development of the first Lawnswood Cremator, built at Lawnswood – no doubt when the crematorium doubled in size in 1946 and two new incinerators were installed. After this he became the technical advisor to the IBCA and the Federation of British Cremation Authorities (now Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities) – an organisation similar in motives to the Institute but the owners of cemeteries.

One of the problems she inherited in the cemetery was how to keep it financially viable. A former deputy, Peter Bollard (1968-1971) recalls how publicity was important and that sometimes he and Jean had to wait for money to come in before they got paid. Under these circumstance it is no surprise that the cemetery was taken over in 1972 by Leeds City Council. She was appointed to head up the Cemetery and Cremation service – with three crematoria and 28 cemeteries. This she did from the Merrion Centre, Leeds city centre to start, before relocating to Lawnswood – probably to the offices in the centre of the cemetery, recently demolished. In 1985 she took early retirement and moved to Wold Newton, East Yorkshire. She is remembered today with affection. She was a very kind lady devoted to her job. “Our work may be that of burying and cremating the dead, but I do hope that for all of us, officers and councillors, it is a task which above all is ministering to the bereaved. Surely that is the job satisfaction we are all seeking, for to me there I nothing more soul destroying than burying and cremating the dead if through it we are not able to help the living.” She (no doubt aided by the gardening staff under her husband) kept the cemetery immaculate. “No flowers (certainly not plastic ones) were allowed on the grass lawns even at the point of the kerbside memorials” “No cars were allowed except in a cortege, never to come in to park for a funeral”. (M.J. Dodgson, Funeral Director) who used the word “redoubtable” to describe her. I have no doubt that behind that kindly exterior there was a formidable strength of character. She was a trailblazer in the cemetery movement which we should be very proud to have associated with our cemetery and our city, where her whole career was based.

Ann Lightman
September 2022