Big Surprises and Bigger Vaults at Laceby Cemetery

Laceby is a tiny unassuming village and civil parish on the outskirts of Grimsby. Known for a 12th century church, a primary school, golf course and a chippy, it isn’t exactly the typical location for an enormous Norwegian funerary monument.

Laceby cemetery was originally designed as an overflow burial space for the nearby churchyard when its meagre grounds became overcrowded with interments. The existing burial records for Laceby Cemetery begin in July 1875, but judging by the scattered nature of the existing stones, one can only presume that over the years, many Victorian headstones were removed for appearance or safety’s sake. However, those that remain are varied in appearance and design, which is rather unusual for such a small village; ordinarily a local stonemason would be the port of call for all bereaved families, resulting in a rather homogenised burial ground of similar designs and materials. Yet for all of the differences in traditional grave symbolism, rising above them all is a markedly un-modest memorial.

Born in Norway in 1837, Peter Hendrick Haagensen moved to England in 1867, becoming consul for Sweden and Norway. While residing in the seaside town of Grimsby, he worked as a ships broker and coal and timber merchant, with premises in both Grimsby and Hull.

The Haagensen family had a large villa built on the fashionable Bargate area of Grimsby. Today, ‘Spring Villa’ plays host to a nursery, while the once-fashionable road is still flanked with large houses, they have been mostly split into flats, business premises, or in the case of some, abandoned entirely. The area remains relatively well-to-do, with two private schools at either end of the road, however the steady stream of traffic into Grimsby Town centre impede any real sense of Victorian grandeur.

Spring Villa on Bargate, their family home

In 1897, Peter Haagensen’s wife Janna died. She had lived with a chest condition for many years, and the family had spent a prolonged period of time in Florence in an attempt to improve her health. Sadly, it was of no use. It was then that Peter set about constructing the large memorial that we see today at Laceby.

The above-ground memorial is surrounded by yew trees and set at the highest point of the cemetery, towering over the modest stones like a sentinel. Carved from a single piece of Carrara marble, the striking figurative memorial shows four children clamouring over a central female figure, said to depict Janna Haagensen and her four children, Henry, Clara, Frederick and Macia.

Janna’s resting place was not a simple burial, nor a simple vault for that matter, but a dramatic and substantial family vault, all carved from the finest white Carrara marble. The vault features a flight of marble steps leading down to the sealed tombs and a mosaic floor. 

The tombs of Peter and Janna also feature marble relief plaques with inscriptions reading:

“Peter Henrik Haagensen, Born at Moss Norway, 3 Aug. 1837, Died 12 May, 1919.  Peter Haagensen was Consul for Sweden and Norway”.

“Janna A E Haagensen, Born Hacerup at Vincer Norway 7 Sept. 1843, Died at Grimsby 11 Decb. 1897”.

All of this is hidden from the public eye by a substantial, decorative iron roof which is opened to visitors biannually by Laceby Parish Council.

Yours truly and the monument

Peter joined his wife in 1919 (following a service conducted entirely in Norwegian) and their four children would eventually follow. Their son Frederick would go on to be a famous artist, renowned for his etchings of high society individuals, including Queen Mary herself. Several of his works are on display at the V&A museum in London.

The Haagensen’s dramatic memorial proved not to just be popular with the people of Laceby, but became a tourist attraction across the county, but particularly for people of neighbouring Cleethorpes. People would travel from miles around to see the memorial (there are few, if any, of its kind in Lincolnshire cemeteries) and locals capitalised on this new draw with a range of merchandise; namely postcards and ceramic replicas. After visiting local tea rooms – which were founded solely from the profits of memorial tourists – Laceby local historians recount how individuals such as Matty Alwood, the village chimney sweep, would spend his weekends selling postcards of the grave. As for the replicas, crested china likenesses of the memorial could be bought at the price of 2s 6d and sold in enormous numbers. 

Judging by the variety of online collections and auctions, there were large numbers of different postcard designs, and a wealth of different crests available for purchase. Curiously, it’s these tourist pieces that document the changing shape of the memorial – postcards and ceramics show a plaque naming the couple’s children, yet since then, this has been removed and the place of Peter’s death added.

Why the Haagensen memorial was chosen to be placed at Laceby, rather than in closer Grimsby or Cleethorpes burial grounds seems to be a curious choice. Judging by the familiar surnames of large Grimsby business families, it was an existing popular choice for many wealthy families, perhaps due to its rural, peaceful location. However, records suggest that Peter originally wanted to construct his vault at Grimsby cemetery, but was denied permission. What was Grimsby’s loss, is Laceby’s gain.

It is thanks to this rural, isolated location that the Haagensen memorial has survived so beautifully intact, and I can say for sure that as soon as those vault doors open once more, I’ll be first down those steps.

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Laceby Parish Council. (2013). Haagensen Memorial Open Day 2013. Available: Last accessed 14th June 2014

Laceby History Group. (2014). The Haagensen Connection.Available: accessed 14th June 2014

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