Beckett Street Cemetery and the Leeds General Cemetery Company
While I was writing the page on the Sheffield General Cemetery, it ocurred to me that there, are
a couple of interesting little cemeteries in Leeds that deserve a mention in their own right. Neither
are on the scale of the Sheffield one, but they're both interesting.
Beckett Street Cemetery
This is situated straight opposite St James' hospital, better known as Jimmy's, and the Thackray
Medical Museum. It was opened in 1854 as an early example of a municipal cemetery, and was
conveniently situated on 16 acres opposite the workhouse, with separate areas and chapels for Anglicans and Nonconformists. As if going to
The Workhouse wasn't a frightening enough thing, the vision of the cemetery opposite
must really have completed the experience for the poor incumbents.
The really interesting feature of the cemetery is the "mass graves", where numerous names of unrelated
people are inscribed on the headstones. Local folklore used to say that these were cholera graves,
but they're nothing of the sort. They were common graves, no doubt about that, but burials were sold for
a Guinea (21 shillings) a time, including an inscription. At a time when the poor were generally buried in
unmarked graves, or at best graves marked with a wooden cross (as was my Grandad), this was a remarkable innovation, allowing
the grave to be properly marked. Strangely enough it seems to be unique to this cemetery.
Leeds General Cemetery Company
As most students at Leeds University know, there is a burial ground and chapel within the campus. In fact it's
hidden away behind high walls at the rear of the Henry Price Flats - they're the monstrously ugly ones with the carbuncle on the end
situated between the old Woodhouse Library and the old Grammar School. I must be getting old, as I remember
both those venerable institutions in their prime. In fact, I even remember old men in Woodhouse referring to the
"Eldon Arms" as the "Cemetery Tavern".
Anyhow, the few remaining memorials and the lovely Classical styled chapel are the remains of the Leeds
General Cemetery founded in 1833 as a private company. The driver for this being the dreadful state of
parish graveyards in the newly industrialised cities.
Again I presume the word "General" in the title
indicated it was for the benefit of Nonconformists as well as Anglicans. The cemetery filled up by the late
1930's, and was acquired by the University in 1956, who in 1968 removed most of the headstones to create an
open public space.
The chapel was listed and left in-situ. If you ever visit, reflect on the fact that in this small area still lie the remains of
nearly 100,000 souls.