FRANCIS AND MARIA BARKER
BROUGHT ‘HOME’ TO REST IN LEIGH
Has anyone, like me, walked down Church Hill, and noticed this impressive gravestone with the Celtic Cross? I often wondered about the family buried there, for their names appear in the Leigh Parish registers, but they were not from Leigh and they were clearly wealthy.
The grave is that of Maria, the wife of Francis Const Baker. The gravestone tells us that Maria was from Blackrock, County Dublin and lived in Leigh between 1864 and 1875. On her death in Dublin, where the family had returned, and in line with her express wish, her husband brought her 'home' after 30 years and she was buried on St Clement's Day 1905 and the Cross was erected by friends of her Leigh Bible Class.
The family appears in the Leigh Parish registers because most of their children were born here. Francis was a Gentleman land owner. He was born in Fitzroy Square, London, one of the original Georgian Squares, in 1831. Fitzroy Square was a speculative development intended to provide London residences for aristocratic families. In 1861 the family were at 14 Fitzroy Square which is now St Luke's Hospital for the Clergy.
Maria Henderson was the tenth child of James Henderson and Anne Peacock, and she was born on 26 December 1839 at Blackrock. As a young woman she lived with her brother, James Alexander and she taught his younger children. This was where she met her future husband Frank Const Barker. Frank Barker was one of James Alexander's business friends. All the Barker family used the middle name Const after a Mr Const of Piccadilly who was a barrister and wealthy business friend of Frank's father and who had left the family money when he died.
Frank and Maria were married in Belfast on 15 September 1862 and lived at Sorrento House, Dalkey, Co. Dublin. Within 2 years they had moved to Leigh where they eventually brought up a family of eight children.
Their eldest child, Margaret Frances Const Barker (Meta) founded St Christopher's College for Nursery Nurses at Tunbridge Wells which was later taken over by Barnardos. She died in 1934 in Hastings. She was also a National Heralth Society lecturer on on Child Life for the London County Council. The report of her death carried many citations and conmendations on the life long work she had done for nursery training from trainees and parents alike.
Their fifth child, William Gerald Const Barker died in 1884 in Australia and is also commemorated on another face of the Leigh gravestone.
The family were living at Leigh House in 1871 and had a governess, head nurse, cook, housemaid, nursemaid and footman.
When Francis himself died in 1916 wehilst at his daughter's house in Tunbridge Wells, his body was brought back to Leigh for burial. The local newspaper reports the clear affection with which the family was held in the Town.