1997 Study day: Great Gardens of Death: Urban cemeteries of the nineteenth century in England

Saturday 18 May 9:55 AM to 5:30 PM

Price for single attendee: £0.00

A study day organised by The Victorian Society to coincide with National Cemeteries Week 2019, organised by the National Federation of Cemetery Friends, www.cemeteryfriends.com at the Art Workers’ Guild, 6 Queen Square, London WC1N 3AT.

Doors open at 9.30am

Garden cemeteries: the landscape of British cemeteries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries

Brent Elliott

The public cemetery was a form of landscape that had no precedent in Britain. What model should be followed: the English landscape garden, the sublime landscape, or the semi-formal park style recently innovated at Regent’s Park? A variant model — a grid plan with a geometric spacing of evergreen trees — was proposed by J. C. Loudon in 1843, and the availability of his book ensured that nearly every large town in the kingdom had a cemetery in the Loudon style. The last quarter of the century brought a reaction in favour of a return to informal landscaping, flowering trees, and the inclusion in the cemetery of all the fashionable forms of horticulture. 

Brent Elliott was formerly Librarian of the Royal Horticultural Society. He is a member of the Southern Buildings Committee of the Victorian Society, and one of the authors, with Chris Brooks, of Mortal remains: the history and present state of the Victorian and Edwardian cemetery (1989). 

Public celebration and private grief in the garden cemetery

Josie Wall

In the landscapes of newly founded garden cemeteries two competing uses had to balanced: the private feelings of the bereaved and the public display which surrounded death in the nineteenth century. This comparative study of Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and Highgate Cemetery in London, looks at how the design of each reflected ideas about death, and the changing attitudes towards it which had led to their creation. Using data which has been obtained from a combination of fieldwork and archival study to outline the landscape development of both cemeteries, from the initial design concepts through to the end of the long nineteenth century.

Josie Wall works at The Coffin Works museum and is a PhD student at the University of Birmingham. This paper is based on her forthcoming doctoral thesis.

Four cemetery firsts

Ian Dungavell

The Rosary cemetery in Norwich is often said to be ‘the first non-denominational cemetery to be created in England’, which it wasn’t. Rusholme Road Cemetery in Manchester has been described as ‘the first of its kind’, which it was. The ‘Necropolis’ or Low Hill Cemetery in Liverpool was the first in England to have any architectural pretensions. So attractive was it to Dissenters and Anglicans alike that it prompted the formation of the first Church of England Cemetery, St James’s Cemetery, also in Liverpool, and the first to have its own Act of Parliament.

Ian Dungavell is chief executive of the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust and formerly director of the Victorian Society.

The conception of the landscape of the Sheffield General Cemetery (1833–50)

Jan Woudstra

As one of the first general cemeteries in Britain that in Sheffield provides a rare view into the plight and values of a burgeoning middle class in the industrial heartland. This case study reveals how dissenters from the Church of England sought for prototypes in French burial reform, and engaged in the design and management. By looking at this through the lens of a contemporary landscape gardener, Robert Marnock, the processes of design and ceremonies of burial are contextualised as being understood as a community-driven process rather than the work of a single or couple of designers.

Jan Woudstra is a landscape architect and historian at the University of Sheffield, currently working on a monograph on Robert Marnock (1800–89), ‘the most successful landscape gardener’ of his time.

Public display, private grief: some human aspects of cemetery monuments

Roger Bowdler

Monuments range from the starkly conventional to the profoundly personal. In an age of commercialised tomb manufacture and closely defined social mores, branching out in a novel and emotionally disclosing way was a bold decision to take. Cemeteries provided opportunities for an enduring public expression of personality to be made, and represented a major investment in identity. How did pious resignation sit alongside grief? How did appreciation of lost youth and beauty find visual expression in a tomb? Looking at Georgian churchyard conventions alongside early Victorian cemetery ones enables a better understanding of the new directions such memorials (particularly those in the first generation of private cemeteries, from Kensal Green to Brookwood) were taking.

Roger Bowdler, formerly Director of Listing at Historic England, is now a lecturer and consultant. He has worked on assessing cemeteries for almost thirty years, and did a PhD on 17th century church monuments.

Northern provincial cemeteries

Chris Mayes

The beginning of the nineteenth century saw the rapid expansion of our major urban centres, notably in the north of England. Statements of municipal pride and affluence are commonly seen in the town halls, market halls and exchanges of the period. Less regularly recognised is the investment made into resolving the problem of disposing of human remains from the growing urban population. Subsumed rural churchyards, many in use since the fourteenth century, had no remaining capacity and were physically over-flowing.

More than fifty per cent of cemeteries on the Register of Parks and Gardens of Historic Interest are found in the north of England, and principally Lancashire, Cheshire and West Yorkshire – the true great gardens of death.

Chris Mayes is Historic England’s landscape architect for the north of England with many years’ experience in understanding and addressing the conservation of public cemeteries.

A very English building: the cemetery chapel

Brian Parsons

The opening of Burial Board cemeteries required a suite of buildings, which invariably included an entrance arch or gateway, lodges, chapels and ancillary structures. Design was often the responsibility of a local architect, although in some locations a competition was held. In recognition of religious divides, two chapels were provided, both in the prevailing Gothic style, and invariably, but not exclusively, linked by a porte cochère, a feature that has come to be recognised as an ‘English’ hallmark of cemetery architecture. Chapels appeared from the very modest to the substantial. Their fortunes in the twentieth century, however, have been mixed as burials have declined with some buildings finding alternative uses, including conversion into crematoria.

Brian Parsons is co-author (with Hugh Meller) of London cemeteries: an illustrated guide and gazetteer. The honoured dead: London cemeteries in old photographs has just been published by Strange Attractor.

Constructing the grave: competing burial ideals in nineteenth-century England

Julie Rugg

Under the Burial Acts, grave re-use was to be facilitated by effective drainage and by placing just one body in each grave. This ‘ideal’ scientific grave ran counter to a cultural preference for familial burial in perpetuity. A third type of grave was also in evidence. Under the ‘common grave system’ multiple interments of unrelated individuals took place in deep graves, running counter to both scientific and cultural ideals. However, regulation was largely permissive and in practice, further models emerged that provoke re-evaluation of the cemetery landscape.

Dr Julie Rugg is Senior Research Fellow at the Cemetery Research Group, University of York. She has published extensively on the history of nineteenth-century cemeteries, including the monograph Churchyard and cemetery: tradition and modernity in rural North Yorkshire, published by Manchester University Press.

Margravine Cemetery and its reception house

Charles Wagner and Robert Stephenson

Margravine (originally Hammersmith) Cemetery opened in 1869 to the designs of local architect George Saunders. By WWII its 16.5 acres had received 83,000 burials and in 1951 it was declared a Garden of Rest. It has six listed monuments including the Reception House for storing coffins, which possesses all its original equipment. Edwin Chadwick’s 1843 report on interment in towns found that 20,000 families lived in single rooms in London and had nowhere else to keep a body. One of the proposals of the 1850 Metropolitan Interments Act was the construction of Reception Houses. Margravine’s example is planned to be restored.

Charles Wagner, Chair of the Friends of Margravine Cemetery since it started in 2006, was at English Heritage for years and is now a heritage consultant. Robert Stephenson is a trustee of the Friends of Brompton, Kensal Green, Margravine and West Norwood Cemeteries, and Chairman of the National Federation of Cemetery Friends.

The United Synagogue Cemetery at Willesden: ‘the Rolls-Royce of London’s Jewish cemeteries’

David Lambert

Designed by Nathan Solomon Joseph for the newly formed United Synagogue and opened in 1873, Willesden Jewish Cemetery quickly became the preferred cemetery for leading metropolitan Jewish families.  Joseph’s complex of Gothic cemetery buildings, including an ohel (prayer hall), bet tarah (mortuary), Cohanim room and hand-washing facilities for mourners, survives intact, while the cemetery itself retains its original layout with a central tree-lined walk and an unparalleled range of memorials many still in their original gardened family enclosures.  

Now largely full, the Synagogue has recently received a round 2 HLF award designed to help it transform the Cemetery into a place for all to learn about Jewish heritage and funerary practice.

David Lambert is an acknowledged expert on the conservation of historic parks and gardens. He is a director of the Parks Agency.

‘An alternative in their midst’: the early crematorium in the cemetery

Hilary Grainger

Cremation was revived in Britain in the late nineteenth century and between 1885 and 1905, twelve crematoria opened in England and one in Scotland. Golders Green Crematorium (1902), owned by The London Cremation Company, was the only one to occupy a new site, the others were all located in existing cemeteries. It comes as a surprise to many that crematoria are not consecrated buildings and cannot, therefore, be built on consecrated land. Their location in cemeteries tells us a great deal both about the early struggles encountered by cremationists in introducing this new alternative to burial and the issues surrounding this new building type for which there was no architectural precedent.

Professor Hilary J Grainger OBE, is an architectural historian whose book Death

redesigned. British crematoria: history, architecture and landscape was published in 2005.

£55 including sandwich lunch. Booking required.



Event code: 1997

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