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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

Guinea graves at 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.

Guinea graves at Beckett Street Cemetery 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

The Monuments at Leeds General Cemetery 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".

The Chapel at Leeds General Cemetery 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.

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Comments (9)
great photos
posted by dolly 27/06/2008 15:46:17
a very interesting article
posted by big bill 26/07/2009 19:07:33
I might well be alone in my views here, but I find this sort of thing absolutely disgraceful. To think that people have been buried here since 1835- 1969, that totals 93,569 internments! Do you mean to tell me that the University took the trouble to find ALL the living relatives (and if you think about it, with the last dates of internment being so recent, it could be a VERY close relative lying there) of those 93,569 to give them the chance to record or move the stones before the University plowed over and buried all those people again, along with any possible way of future relatives being able to find them and pay their respects.Pure greed and not much thought for the poor people lying there with no recognition or respect shown. I am such a relative and have been searching for my family, the Lock, Locke's of Woodhouse, Leeds for many years. This sort of thing just makes the whole thing a lot harder and is upsetting too.
posted by Paula Locke 02/09/2009 16:12:54
I can well understand how upsetting this can be, and I doubt very much if all the relatives were contacted. But universities are brilliant at record keeping, and I do recall once reading that all the gravestones were photographed by the University before they were removed. I don't know how far away you are, but I was born in Woodhouse and still have family there, so if you'd like anything special photographing just use the contact form and I'll see what I can do. And in case you haven't found it already www.leodis.net is a great resource for pictures of the area.
posted by Mick 02/09/2009 19:51:56
Firstly, thank you very much for your help Mick. I have been doing a bit if research and it seems that there was a photographic record made of the inscriptions on the tomb-stones at the cemetery, but these were lost in a fire in the 1970's. The negatives were deposited with the Reg General in London and these apparantly cannot be located! I could be wrong. I would be pleased to hear that I am, because then they will be available for all those who wish to view them. I read an article by a lady from the Woodhouse area searching for the burial plot of her twin sister, buried in the 1960's. She apparently contacted the University for the exact location of her sister's grave and was told that it would be 'nigh impossible to locate the exact position of each individual'! That's compforting to all of us who would like to do just that! Looking at an open field, which I gather most of the time is not treated with the due respect, just does not seem right. My family lived at Delph Lane, Ebury Street, Cliff Mount and generally around the Woodhouse area. Yes, Leodis is a wonderful site and I visit it often, thanks for that. I would like to say that the above article was very interesting, if a little sad to discover. Sign of the times!
posted by Paula Locke 03/09/2009 09:32:51
I have about 20 relatives in this Woodhouse cemetery. Although the closed relative was my Gt Grandparents I still find it difficult that their remains are still there with people walking all over them. St George's Field, as the cemetery is now known, does have plaques up at each entrance informing users of the field that it was once a cemetery and to treat it with respect. A large block of student flats flank one side of the cemetery now. A lot of headstones do remain in the field, however, they are now used as the path to walk on. Most of the 'path headstones', I think, were paupers graves as each stone has up to 20 individuals remembered on it.
posted by Shane Lambert 04/10/2009 09:59:21
Our family has approximately 15 relatives buried there and we still have the 1964-65 papers from the University informing the relatives that the site was to be renovated and giving the relatives the option of private exhumation and reburial plus removal of funerary monuments. Of course that would all be at the relatives expense. I well remember to state of the cemetery in 1966 before the clearances started and to be honest it was a bit of a mess, very gloomy with trees growing out of graves, fallen and broken tombstones etc. If you want a sample of how it was go and look at St Marks churchyard in Woodhouse then imagine the state of St Marks 5 to 10 times more untidy. It is regrettable about the loss of the Monumental Inscriptions as I too never quite found the graves in the cemetery or we would have made our own records before the improvement works commenced.
posted by Jim Walker 19/12/2010 14:55:58
I found reference to in Leeds University library to a photographic record of the Woodhouse Cemetery (Leeds General Cemetery Co Ltd) when I was doing research in the early 1980s. Apparently it was lodged with the Registrar General in London. I also read that there were records deposited at leeds Central Library. Check out in Leeds University Library Mr R.E. Fletcher's M.Phil Thesis (1075) Burmantofts Cemetery, p118. for info.
posted by S Ellison 20/02/2011 19:30:35
I am including a chapter on the cemetery in my thesis and am based at the University of Leeds. I am interested to read all the above comments. For those of you who haven't come across this document before on the Leeds General Cemetery Company, I will attach a link to it. I hope you can retrieve it outside the university. I have managed to open it from home without logging in: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/library/spcoll/handlists/040MS421_woodhouse.pdf
posted by Tina Richardson 20/10/2011 15:15:38
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