A GUIDE TO THE CEMETERY LANDSCAPE AND DESIGN

 

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We hope that you enjoy your walk.

And to make it ever more special we have collated extra information which is impossible to squeeze onto a small leaflet.

 

A LANDSCAPE OF MEMORIES

 

The place where a town commemorates its dead can reveal much about the story of that community and the people who were part of it. Basingstoke’s story is one of a small market town that in the last 150 years has undergone rapid and accelerating growth.

 

The Census of 1801 recorded 2,589 residents living in Basingstoke; by 1851 this had risen to 4,066; 1911 saw this more than doubled to 11,2590 and in 1971 (the last year in which the Census identified the town separately from the wider Borough of Basingstoke & Deane) the population had increased to 52,608.

 

South View Cemetery was first used for burials in 1208.  

The original cemetery or ‘Liten’ occupied the area around the Chapel ruins, roughly a fifth of the present-day site.

 For the next 650 years this area, along with local churchyards and other smaller burial areas, provided enough space for the local population’s needs.

 The 19th century saw many changes. The railway reached Basingstoke in the 1840s and the town grew in population and wealth.

 By the 1850s the old Liten was insufficient for the town’s needs and the newly-established Burial Board purchased adjacent land to the north and east (see map of ‘Basingstoke Cemetery consecrated AD1858’). In 1857-8 two mortuary chapels and a lodge were constructed in the Gothic style and the area enclosed by a fine brick and flint wall.

 

The cemetery was extended again in the 1880s when orchards belonging to John Burgess Soper were added to the site. Despite all this expansion, by the early 20th century the cemetery was once more reaching capacity. In 1913 a new cemetery was opened in Worting Road, which is still in use today.

 

1.       The Lodge – gateway to a Victorian cemetery

Start this trail at the Grade II listed cemetery lodge which, with its original iron gates and ornate bridge, dates from 1857.

It was designed, together with two mortuary chapels built at the same time, by architects Poulton and Woodman of Reading. Now a private residence, it was the home of the cemetery superintendent, who had his own path into the cemetery which can still be seen at the back of the house.

 

Picture copyright and credit: Hampshire Record Office: TOP19/2/94(L)

 

And the Cemetery Lodge today, complete with original wrought iron railings.

Photo credit: R Lutener

 

Photo credit: R Lutener

 

A blue plaque on the lodge commemorates its most well-known resident – John Arlott, OBE (1914 to 1991), journalist, poet, author and cricket commentator – whose father William John Arlott was cemetery superintendent.

 

2.       The Dead House

The small building across the drive from the lodge and linked to it by the footbridge over the drive is shown on the Ordnance Survey map of 1873 as the ‘Dead House’.

Its purpose is not certain, but it may have served as a ‘holding area’ for the dead before they were moved to one of the mortuary chapels for burial rites.

 

Photo credit: R Lutener

 

3.       The Liten

Follow the sunken drive up past the lodge and pause where the hedges either side end and the path emerges into the cemetery. To your right are the ruins of the Holy Ghost and Holy Trinity chapels. These stand in the centre of the original burial ground established in 1208, which was known as the Liten.

This lay between the path from Basingstoke to Sherborne St John (now the public footpath that runs northwards from the railway bridge to Burgess Road) and Chapel Hill.

About 25ft of this original area now lies under the railway.

 

 

Photo Credit: Hampshire County Council Arts & Museums Service.

 

Until the cemetery was expanded in Victorian times, this was probably much like a churchyard in character – an open area of land with just a few trees, as shown in this engraving of the Chapel ruins, looking towards the town centre.

 

Photo Credit: Hampshire County Council Arts & Museums Service.

Print, engraving, Basingstoke from Chapel Hill, Hampshire, drawn by G H Shepherd, engraved by J Shury and Son, published 1840s.

 

In the 16th century a half-timbered school building was constructed next to the chapel of the Holy Ghost (the nearest ruins to where you are standing) for the education of young men and boys within the town. In 1831 there were 12 boys at this Grammar School.

The school subsequently expanded and the foundation stone for a ‘new’ Free School was laid in Worting Road. The School came back to South View in 1940 when the Queen Mary’s Grammar School opened in Vyne Road (this subsequently became the present-day Vyne Community School).

Photo Credit: Hampshire County Council Arts & Museums Service. Painting, 1883. Painting, watercolour, Holy Ghost Chapel, Basingstoke, by Windover Workman, solicitor, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 1883.

  

4.       The Episcopalian Chapel

Carry on a short way further up the main drive to the junction of 4 paths where there is an area of asphalt. Straight ahead of you (behind and to the left of the Turkey oak tree beside the parking area) is a slightly raised, levelled area of grass with no memorial stones on it.

 This is the site of the mortuary chapel that was used for Anglican and other Episcopalian funerals, one of two chapels built in 1857-58. The tombs of the May family and many other prominent citizens of Basingstoke are clustered around this area.

Both this and the second mortuary chapel built for Nonconformists’ burial services fell into disuse after the cemetery closed to new burials in 1912 and were eventually demolished in the 1960s.

 

Reproduced by permission of English Heritage NMR. Photo from 1878 of exterior view looking east at the southern cemetery chapel. The building is constructed in stone and flint chequers.

 

5.       A landscape for reflection and mourning

 

Follow the path to your left, and as you do so, take in the detail of a classic Victorian cemetery. This plan of the area consecrated in 1858 shows how this part of the cemetery was laid out in the popular picturesque style of the period, with curving paths meandering between trees planted in an informal pattern, echoing the parkland landscapes created around country residences in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Cemetery Burial plan

 

 

 

A variety of different trees were planted, but Yews are the dominant species, representing a direct link to ancient churchyard burial sites. To the Victorians these and other evergreen species signified both eternal life and the sombre shades of grief. (Oak and laurel were also commonly used, in reference to the wreaths with which heroes were celebrated in antiquity and which are often found on memorial stones of the period.)

 

 

As the early photo of the Episcopalian chapel (below) shows, however, in the early days the area was very open and bare! Thomas Hardy must have visited Basingstoke (which he later gave the pseudonym ‘Stoke-Barehills’) soon after this first extension of the cemetery, for he included the following comments in his novel Jude the Obscure, which he started to write in 1887 but which was probably based on an earlier visit to Basingstoke:

“The most familiar object in Stoke-Barehills nowadays is its cemetery, standing among some picturesque mediaeval ruins beside the railway, the modern chapels, modern tombs, and modern shrubs having a look of intrusiveness amid the crumbling and ivy-covered decay of the ancient walls.”

The chapels are long gone but the trees and their successors remain – Hardy would presumably have liked this landscape better were he to see it today!

 

6.       A new boundary

Pause where there is a small kink or chicane in the path and look to the left and right along the straight, grassy avenue that runs across the cemetery from west to east.

This path once ran beside the 1858 boundary of the cemetery, which was marked by an ornate brick and flint boundary wall (you can see it in the background of the photo of the Episcopalian mortuary chapel) very similar to the one on the eastern boundary with Vyne Road that survives to this day.

These walls would have been constructed as part of the same scheme as the Lodge and mortuary chapels; enclosure was another important feature of the Victorian graveyard landscape.  

 

Episcopalian mortuary chapel c. 1858, looking north – note the distinctive boundary walk in the background (Photo Credit: Hampshire County Council Arts & Museums Service.)

 

7.       Further expansion

 

Follow the path up to the present-day boundary, now marked by a wooden fence separating it from the Allotments and (further along to your left) a brick wall by the Catholic Church of the Holy Ghost (built in 1903).

 

In the 1880s the cemetery was further extended to take in this area, shown on the 1858 plan as ‘Field belonging to May and Company’ and marked on a later map as Orchards belonging to John Burgess Soper, who had built a fine house called Hillside where Sylvaner Court now stands. The boundary wall that stood beside the grassy avenue you have just passed must have been demolished at this time. The area closest to the Holy Ghost Church is reserved for Catholic burials.

 

When you reach the fence, turn right and follow the path to the end. Note the more regular, grid layout of the paths; this follows more rational, ordered approach advocated by John Claudius Loudon in his influential book On the Laying Out, Planting and Managing of Cemeteries (1843).

While this was less picturesque than the landscape of the earlier extension, it made more efficient use of land and also made individual graves easier to find.

This was important, given the number of burials to be accommodated – records show that about 9,500 people have been buried in the cemetery since 1858.

 This area is less densely planted with trees and it appears that a slightly different range of species was used than in the area around the mortuary chapels.

 

8.       Nonconformists’ or Dissenters’ chapel

At the end of the path by Sylvaner Court, turn right and follow the main footpath down until you reach the bench, just before the curved path that leads off to the right.

On the left, close to the signpost beside the bench, is another raised, level area –

This is the site of the chapel used for non-Anglican burials.

 

Photo credit: Hampshire Library and Information Service. Photograph 1898.

  

This photograph of the chapel from the east side shows the Episcopalian chapel in the background. The distinctive memorial stone with the Anchor carving in the foreground, which survives to this day, gives a clue to where the camera was positioned.

  

9.       Quaker burial ground

Continue down the path until you are almost level with the Holy Trinity chapel ruins. On your left is a distinctive area of low memorial stones, surrounded by tall sycamore trees.

 

This area was designated for Quaker burials and in living memory was an enclosed by low railings and a hedge. There was a gateway in the northern boundary, and the plot was quite private and separate from the rest of the cemetery.

 The railings and hedge are now gone, but the area retains a very different character, both in the style of memorials and in the trees and ground flora.

 

 

Photo credit: R Lutener

 

The tall sycamore trees that now surround it are probably remnants of the hedge; in early spring you will find it carpeted with snowdrops, followed later by primroses, wild garlic and Arum maculatum (Lords & Ladies).

 

10.       Back to the Liten

Follow the path down towards the railway, and then turn sharp right along the fence-line below the chapel ruins. Back in this oldest part of the cemetery the only traces of the earliest burials are in the chapel ruins (see Chapel Ruins leaflet). No burial records have been found for the first 500 years of use, but since 1740 records tell us at least 500 people were buried here.

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Hampshire County Council Arts & Museums Service.

 

 This picture from the 1960s shows the area below the ruins crowded with headstones and tabletop memorials; these were cleared away during the late 60s/early 70s and many of the stones were used for paving or to make walls. Look out for them on the path as you continue on past the ruins of the Holy Ghost Chapel.

 

Photo credit: D Wren

 

Photo credit: D Wren

 

The cemetery today

In recent years the cemetery was re-opened for the interment of ashes, and so it continues its role of remembrance of the dead.

 

While much of the original Victorian landscape remains, priorities have changed and the landscape is managed to promote biodiversity as well as to protect the heritage of this very special place within the town.

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The Holy Ghost Cemetery, Chapel Hill, Basingstoke. © 2016 South View Conservation Group Website by : ArThomsenDesign