Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Radnor Street Cemetery

The Cross of Sacrifice 
After Evensong at St Mark's Church on Sunday July 31, 1881, the Rev Ponsonby reminded his congregation that the churchyard would be close for burials as of the following day.

The question of a town cemetery had been raised as early as 1869 but, as on so many previous occasions Old and New Swindon Local Boards failed to reach an agreement.

In 1870 the Kingshill estate came up for sale following the death in 1868 of Swindon brewer and businessman John Harding Sheppard and during the 1870s some 300 houses were built climbing the hill.

Eventually the two local boards reached an agreement on the long running cemetery issue and the minutes of the New Swindon Local Board meeting held in November 1879 revealed that the two districts would fund a joint enterprise. 

Advertisements were placed in the local press for offers of suitable plots and on February 4, 1880 the Advertiser reported that the Cemetery Committee had unanimously agreed to recommend, subject to certain conditions, the purchase of the site offered by New Swindon Local Board member, Mr James Hinton, for £3,907.

With a small, unconsecrated chapel at the centre, the burial ground occupied a site of more than 10 acres.  Horse drawn hearses entered through the Radnor Street gates and left through the Dixon Street ones.

A decent funeral placed a considerable financial burden on working class families and most paid into a friendly or burial society to cover the cost.

With the opening of the new cemetery, James Copleston Townsend, solicitor and clerk to the Burial Board, published a list of fees in the North Wilts Herald.

William Hooper view of the cemetery

Burial in a common grave cost 5s with an additional charge of 3s for the Sexton's grave digging services.  The use of a hand hearse without attendants cost 2s 6d, which was a considerable expense for a labouring family.

Moving up the social scale, a headstone cost 15s and a footstone 3s 6d.  There was a charge of 10s 6d for every additional inscription added to a gravestone.

'For a vault in perpetuity, to contain four corpses abreast, not exceeding 9ft deep,' the charge was £4 4s.  A coffin shaped tomb or flat stone came in at £1 1s with palisading, not exceeding 8ft by 4ft £2. 2s.  For 'tolling Chapel bell if required, 1s' and a further 1s for every additional hour.

The first burial at the new cemetery on Saturday August 6, 1881 was that of Frederick Gore, 54, of 4 East Street, a former house painter recently employed at the GWR Works.  Buried on the same day was one month old Albert Edward Wentworth, the first of 32 children interred at the new cemetery between August and October 1881.

Radnor Street Cemetery closed to new graves in the 1970s although burials in existing family plots still take place.  A Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, there are 102 war graves, 88 from the First World War and 14 from the Second World War.

William Hooper Edwardian view of Radnor Street Cemetery is courtesy of Paul Williams

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