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Welford Road Cemetery: a Park and Garden of Special Historic Interest

Welford Road Cemetery
 


Welford Road Cemetery is listed as a Park and Garden of Special Historic Interest (Grade II)

  • Reference Number: GD2920/4034
  • Map Reference: SK5902
  • Date Registered: 16 January 1998


SUMMARY OF HISTORIC INTEREST

 

The Cemetery was opened in 1849, three years before the first of the Burials Acts of 1852-57. It was designed by J R Hamilton and J M Medland. The core of the site contains many fine 19th century monuments.

CHRONOLOGY OF HISTORIC DEVELOPMENT

 

The Cemetery was established by the Leicester General Cemetery Company, founded in 1845, and financed by a joint stock company. Representatives of the Company included the radical Liberal MP John Biggs who was instrumental in securing the land for the Cemetery. The layout and buildings were designed by JR Hamilton and J M Medland who had previously designed the buildings for the Anglican Warstone Lane Cemetery in Birmingham, 1848, and had won the competition for Plymouth cemetery also in 1848.

The Loudon inspired design of Welford Road Cemetery, also intended to encourage its use as a place of resort, may have influenced the cemetery's registrar William Gay who later designed the Undercliff Cemetery in Bradford.

Although intended as a private burial ground for dissenters, provision was made for Anglicans in response to public pressure. The 17 acre cemetery was opened on 19th June 1849. In 1870 the brickyards and plaster pits to the north were purchased to enable the creation of a 13 acre extension in 1894. Many of those who, in the 19th century, significantly contributed to the growth and development of Leicester such as leading industrialists, philanthropists, members of the local council, architects and religious leaders lie buried here.

 

The site is now owned by Leicester City Council, who submitted a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2004 for a Restoration Project: more details of the Restoration Project.

 

SITE DESCRIPTION

Location, Area, Boundaries, Landform and Setting

 

The Cemetery is situated on the south side of Leicester, less than half a mile from the city centre in an area known as Southfields. It lies about 250 metres west of Victoria Park, also a Historic Park, (ref G91) to which it is connected by Mayor's Walk. The topography of the 12.45 hectare site gives elevated views west across the city, the highest point being located at the junction of Welford Road and University Road. The site falls away to the west to the railway cutting and more gently north from the site of the former chapels before levelling out into the extended area.

The boundaries are formed by Welford Road to the south, University Road to the east and the railway cutting to the west, On the north side the boundary is marked by a chain link fence, and on the west side by cast iron railings. On the south side there is a random stone wall with railings east of the gate and hairpin-fencing west of the gate.

 

On the east side, the former white wooden fence has been replaced by new metal fencing installed as part of the Restoration Project.

Entrances and Approaches

 

There are two main entrances, one on the south side of the Cemetery, on Welford Road, where ornamental carriage gates, hung between stone gate piers, are arranged in a concave plan set back from the line of the boundary. The original gothic-style lodge has been demolished and replaced with a late 20th century flat-roofed brick structure which serves as a mess room. This has subsequently been replaced with the new Visitor Centre.

 

The main approach is a circular route formed by a broad promenade running north from the Welford Road entrance and two curved carriageways connecting the promenade with the chapel site. The main approach is connected with the other parts of the site and the second entrance by a system of curving paths.

The second entrance is on the east side of the site, on University Road. Here the gothic-style lodge, designed by J R Hamilton and J M Medland, has been retained. Now known as the Gatehouse it has been extended and is currently (1997) the home of the Leicester University Chaplaincy. From the entrance a broad way runs west forming the northern part of a pre-1894 extension perimeter walk.

Principal Buildings

 

The principal buildings of the Cemetery were two gothic-style chapels (demolished ca.1958) which stood in the centre of the pre-extension Cemetery looking west over the falling ground and the city beyond. A grand stairway with stone balusters rises up from the level of the promenade to the site of the twin chapels.

Other Land

 

Between the promenade, which is lined with fine 19th century monuments, and the site of the former chapels at the centre of the pre-extension ground lies a formal symmetrical area with quartering paths. A line dividing the unextended part of the Cemetery into two equal parts, consecrated (north) and unconsecrated (south), runs from east to west through the middle of this area. Bushes and trees along the carriageways from the promenade to the chapel site divide the more expensive plots inside that area from the cheaper ones outside. The other attractive burial site for dissenters was the area around the highest point near the junction of Welford Road and University Road south-east of the central area. Most of the important tombs are to be found within these two areas. The burial fields in the eastern and northern parts of the unextended cemetery are filled with smaller tombs.

In the north-eastern area of the Cemetery is a memorial to the people who died in Leicester in the First World War. This includes a memorial to some Belgian soldiers, one of whom is recorded simply as inconnu. It also incorporates one of Blomfield's standard Imperial War Graves Commission monuments.

The broad way from the University Road entrance separates the pre-extension area from the fields added in 1894. The walk is lined by high quality gravestones and some rose beds near the Gothic lodge.

In the extended part the meandering paths, linked by some straight paths, show a more open design. The only consecrated part of this area, in the north-western part, is surrounded by tree-bordered walks. The attractive tombs near the Gothic lodge are divided from the burial fields in the rest of the extended area by a beech walk.

With the addition of the fields the perimeter walk was extended too. It is formed by straight walks running along the east and north sides of the Cemetery, and informal paths along the west and south sides. The path running along the western boundary provides views over Leicester city and the lower parts of the Cemetery.


The original informal planting includes groups of mature trees along the broad way from the University Road entrance and around the chapel site and the bushes in the south-east corner. The fine avenues are also still intact. There are large numbers of ash, beech, lime, horse chestnut, cedar and evergreen bushes.

REFERENCES

  • A E Brown, The Growth of Leicester, 1970.
  • M Wade-Matthews, Grave-Matters: A Walk Through Welford Road Cemetery, 1992.
  • A Temple Patterson, Radical Leicester: A History of Leicester 1780-1850, 1975.
  • N Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Leicestershire and Rutland, 1989.


For further information about Welford Road Cemetery as a Historic Park, please contact our Conservation Team .