‘I spent 35 years digging graves – I’ve found hidden cash and even a streaker’

A man who worked as a gravedigger for 35 years says he’s seen it all, from finding hidden bags of cash to a streaker who used to ride his bike around the tombstones.

Ian Stokes, 65, is now retired and lives with his wife in a small village in North Yorkshire – but for many years the graveyard was his ‘home’

Ian told the Manchester Evening News, that everyday was different at Stockport Cemetery – which became a ‘playground’ for his children.

Ian hadn’t planned to become a gravedigger, but he took up the role out of necessity after he was made redundant from his job at a furniture shop in Portwood in July 1983.

His kids used to play in the cemetery on their push bikes
(Image: Joel Goodman)

“The kids were only young and it’s a job, so I said ‘I’ll give it a go’. That was all them years ago.” said Ian.

A typical day for Ian involved digging on a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and backfilling on Thursday and Friday.

When he first started there were 10 people working at the cemetery and crematorium but today, it is just half that.

“You could have six or seven burials a day. Now it’s been three weeks since we last had one.”

Not many people would see a creepy graveyard as a back garden to play in, but that was very much the case for Ian’s children Lee, now 39 and Louise, 38.

‘It’s a way of life’: Ian Stokes
(Image: Joel Goodman)

After marrying his wife Gillian in 1976, the kids grew up on the cemetery grounds and even played on their bikes among the gravestones.

For Ian, the main highlight of his career was “helping the public”, so much so that he would go out of his way and work on Christmas Day, Mother’s Day, and other special occasions to empty overflowing bins from wrecking the graveyard with blowing rubbish.

He said: “You are doing a service for them. It’s a big thing for us. I’ve taken a lot of pride in it.”

With pride, also came sadness, as Ian talked about particularly difficult days digging graves for people younger than himself.

“The worst part of the job is the kiddies and babies who we have buried over the years, he added.

'You're doing a service. I've taken a lot of pride in it'
‘You’re doing a service. I’ve taken a lot of pride in it’
(Image: Joel Goodman)

“It affects you sometimes, I’ve come home in tears because it’s such a sad thing. But you have to get on with things. You have to do a job at the end of the day.”

There’s been a few strange situations during Ian’s 35 years at Stockport Cemetery, including a streaker in the 1980s who used to ride around naked on a push bike, or when he found a big bag of money hidden after a nearby building was raided in an armed robbery.

With all of this in mind, Ian will never truly be able to leave the cemetery behind, as that’s where his parents and mother-in-law are buried.

Now that lockdown restrictions are starting to ease, Ian plans to pop to Stockport to say goodbye to his old pals over a pint in the Puss in Boots pub, where they can reminisce on the good (and strange) memories during his 35 years at Stockport Cemetery.

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