On Wednesday, March 6, I had the pleasure of giving a presentation to about 60 members of the Lightcliffe and District Historical Society, the title of my new power point presentation was ‘Lightcliffe Cemetery and some of its residents’. This of course was a title intended to draw the curiosity of the members to the meeting and possible new members to this great little society.
The whole presentation was 50 separate stories about some of the people who have been interred at the cemetery dating back to the early 1700s. It is one particular story that does stand out even though there is no grave, no body or headstone but what happened to 18-year-old Midshipman Alfred Ripley RN and over 450 of his ship mates is not forgotten.
Alfred Ripley was the sixth son of 11 children of the Yorkshire wool dyer and politician Sir Henry William Ripley who lived at Holme House, Wakefield Road, Lightcliffe.
Such was Sir Henry’s standing in society that in 1865 he and his family met the Prime Minister Lord Palmerston at Lightcliffe railway station and drove him down in a horse and carriage to Holme House where he stayed for three days. The purpose of the visit was that Lord Palmerston had been invited to lay the foundation stone at what was to be the new Bradford Wool Exchange.
Having joined the navy Alfred was originally on the HMS Royal Oak but transferred to HMS Captain just three days after she foundered.
The first news of the ship’s loss to reach the Admiralty was a telegram from Gibraltar dated September 10.
To make matters even worse Alfred’s mother had gone down to the docks (thought to be Plymouth) to meet the ship several days beforehand and to be there to meet her son on his return.
It was known in the family that she did not like Alfred being in the navy and was determined that he should leave on his return.
News to the Admiralty reported that only one Warrant Officer and 17 seamen had survived, which meant that 49 officers and 402 men and boys had drowned. Such was the tragic loss Queen Victoria was reported to have been informed of the loss with great sorrow and wished to be kept informed about it.
On Monday September 19, 1870, The Times reported another message from the Queen –
“The Queen has already expressed to several of the widows and near relatives of the unfortunate sufferers in the late shipwreck Her Majesty’s deep sympathy with them in their affliction, but there are many others equally deprived of husbands and relatives whom the Queen is unable to reach except through the official channel.
“Her Majesty, therefore, desires that measures may be taken to signify to the widows and relatives of the whole crew, of all ranks, who perished in the Captain the expression of Her Majesty’s deep sympathy with them, and to assure them that the Queen feels most acutely the misfortune that has at once deprived Her Majesty of one of her finest ships of ward of so many gallant seamen, and which has inflicted upon their wives and other relatives looses which must forever be deplored.”
Through the generosity of the officers of HMS Royal Oak Alfred’s previous posting a memorial tablet was erected inside Lightcliffe Old Church.
The inscription reades:
To the memory of Alfred Ripley, Midshipman RN, youngest son of Henry W. Ripley Esq., who was drowned in the 18th year of his age in HMS Captain when that ship capsized in the Bay of Biscay on the night of September 6th 1870.
This monument is erected as an expression of affectionate regret by the officers of HMS Royal Oak in which he served for two and a half years from which he exchanged four days before his death. I WILL BRING MY PEOPLE AGAIN FROM THE DEPTHS OF THE SEA.
In 1879 the Ripley family left their Lightcliffe home to live in Bedstone, South Shropshire, and had the memorial taken down from the church and taken to St Mary’s Church Bedstone where it was erected and is still there today.
The crew of HMS Captain are all remembered in a memorial in St Paul’s Cathedral and in Westminster Abbey where there is a stained glass window in the North Transcept which was erected in 1871 by Clayton and Bell. It shows scenes from the Old and New Testaments, including the passage through the Red Sea, Jonah’s deliverance from the whale, and Christ walking on water. A brass on the floor below the window commemorates Capt. Hugh Burgoyne V.C., Capt. Cowper Coles and the officers’ men and boys who died.”
There are also at least 14 other memorial tablets in churches across the country north and south. The ship’s crew including a local youngman from Lightcliffe has not been forgotten.