Nottingham St Mary

Burial Grounds

From the 1700s Nottingham’s population grew with the development of the lace and textile industry, and St Mary’s Churchyard could no longer cope with the increasing number of burials. This resulted in the development of three new graveyards on Barker Gate and eventually another one on what is now Bath Street.

Middle Burial Ground (Burial Ground No. 1)

On 17th March 1742 a piece of ground on Barker Gate was acquired from Evelyn, Duke of Kingston for the sum of ten shillings. This, the first of the Barker Gate burial grounds, later became known locally as Middle Bury. The Deed was enrolled in the Court of Chancery and lodged in the hands of George Gregory Esq. The land was described as having seven houses fronting onto Bellar Gate, the rest being garden. Early pictures show the Duke’s home, Pierrepont House on Stoney Street with formal gardens sloping down the hill to Bellar Gate.

In 1827 there was an incident involving body snatchers or “resurrection men” who attempted to despatch two corpses to London. A scene of confusion and disorder broke out as families checked recent burials in the Barker Gate burial grounds and discovered that thirty bodies had been stolen. St Mary’s gravedigger William Davis, alias “Old Friday”, was suspected of being involved and was mobbed, narrowly escaping with his life. The other culprits escaped.

In 1883 a Faculty permitted the taking down of two of the walls for the building of St Mary’s School on Barker Gate. In 1921 Middle Bury, described then as being an eyesore with irregular wastes of trodden earth, was paved over and became the playground for the school children and for those who lived in the local overcrowded housing. In the post-war period St Mary’s choirboys used the playground after choir practice. The school building and its entrance are still to be seen.

Early in the 20th century four large box tombs were remembered on Barker Gate but local vandals had destroyed three of them. One of them, the tomb of the Dodson family, remained on the St Mary’s school playground until 1970 when it and the remains beneath it were removed to Wilford Hill when Middle Bury was carved away for the road scheme when ancient Bellar Gate became part of the present road system connecting London Road to Parliament Street. The gateway to the school is still there and in the spring large colourful patches of crocuses growing in the grassy bank mark this much-changed site.

Upper Burial Ground (Burial Ground No. 2)

On the 30th of June 1786 a new burial ground on the north side of Barker Gate was consecrated by Dr William Markham, Archbishop of York. It came to be known locally as Top Bury. In 1826 it was the scene of disturbances after Milnes and Smith were hanged for robbery. Milnes a soldier from Wiltshire was buried in the churchyard and Smith, who lived on Barker Gate, was buried in this graveyard watched by a very large crowd.

Part of this burial ground, now a Rest Garden, is still to be found behind Gothic House. In 1953 the large original gateposts at each entrance were removed and replaced with the cast iron gateposts and wrought iron gates in order for the Rest Garden to be closed during the hours of darkness. The old tombstones were removed and repositioned at the Southern and Western boundaries where some are still to be seen. It is another peaceful green oasis in the city, where Nottingham people hurry along its paths in the dappled green light on their way between Woolpack Lane and Barker Gate.

Bottom Burial Ground (Burial Ground No. 3)

The burial ground, known locally as Bottom Bury, is now nowhere to be seen. For many years it had been another quiet green place with tall trees and tall grasses, pathways paved with tombstones, giving breathing space to the overcrowded alleys at the bottom of Barker Gate. After the Second World War part of it was paved over and used as a car park for the 1930s Ice Rink.

Bottom Bury was consecrated in 1813 after the land had been purchased by St Mary’s churchwardens at 7s 6d a yard from George Deligne Gregory. This land had originally been a paddock between Bellar Gate and Carter Gate (now Lower Parliament Street) but in the 1820s terraces of houses were constructed along the south side of Barker Gate. All these were demolished in the 1930s to make way for the Ice Stadium.

Closure of the Barker Gate Burial Grounds

By the mid 1800s all of the Barker Gate burial grounds had become dangerously overused. On the 19th February 1856 a notice appeared in the London Gazette that burials must be discontinued forthwith in St Mary’s Church, Churchyards or Burial Grounds along with a number of other graveyards in the city. The only burials permitted were to be in family vaults and walled graves. Coffins were to be embedded in charcoal and separately entombed in an airtight manner.

In 1877 there were problems in a “disused burial ground on Barker Gate” with orders that a planned burial must entomb the coffin in charcoal. A resolution was made to petition the Home Office to close the disused burial grounds “Absolutely”. In 1878 Nottingham Corporation were given permission to take over the burial grounds, lay out grass and flower beds; their dimensions were given as Middle Burial Ground 2664 sq yds, Upper Burial Ground 2178 sq yds, Bottom Burial Ground 3996 sq yds.

None of the Barker Gate burial grounds was in use after 1881.

In 1953 a Faculty was granted for the City to take over responsibility for all three burial grounds including moving tombstones and authorisation for Middle and Bottom Burial Grounds to be used for road widening or as car parks. Any human remains were to be removed and re-interred in a consecrated part of Wilford Hill Cemetery. Any monuments were to be re-erected near the place where the remains were buried.

The measurement at this time of the Upper Burial Ground was given as 1,830 sq yds. The measurement of the Middle Burial Ground was given as 2,180 sq yds. The Dodson family and 51 others were listed. Bottom Burial Ground was measured as 4,040 sq yds. Thirteen names were listed, 7 names being decipherable.

The Bottom Burial Ground was finally deconsecrated on 22nd June 1997, after which the human remains, comprising over 1500 bodies, were exhumed, and with several gravestones were removed to Wilford Hill Cemetery where they were reburied and a funeral service was conducted by Canon Eddie Neale, Vicar of St Mary’s, with music provided by St Mary’s choir. Archaeologists discovered several Saxon pots there during excavations.

Bath Street Burial Ground

The emergency arising from the cholera epidemic in 1832 prompted the opening of a further burial ground on Bath Street where the victims of the cholera epidemic were interred, away from the high density housing around Barker Gate. Quaker grocer Samuel Fox, a member of the Board of Health, donated the first piece of land for this when ‘the demand on its resources exceeded the accommodation’ and this burial ground was referred to as Fox Close. However, St Mary’s then had to purchase the rest of it from him at a cost of £867 for six acres, which caused some consternation as Archdeacon Wilkins had offered to provide an alternative site free for the purpose.

Bath Street Cemetery is now a peaceful rest garden. It is still possible to see many of the old gravestones around its walls but best known is the stone lion which marks the final resting place of William Thompson, ‘Bendigo’, a champion bare-knuckle fighter and a Nottingham hero in Victorian times. Bendigo, baptised in St Mary’s, in later life turned from fighting to evangelism. It is said he had absolutely no trouble at all with hecklers.

A few burials took place in St Mary’s Churchyard after the last date recorded in the St Mary’s Burial Registers, 28th August 1883. These were recorded in the Register of Burials in St Mary’s Burial Ground attached to St Catharine’s Church on St Ann’s Well Road, Nottingham. St Catharine’s Burial Registers, kept at St Mary’s, commenced on the day that St Mary’s ended – 28th August 1883. The last volume shows that the cemetery continued in regular use to 13th December 1902 (22 interments recorded during 13 days of the month). The last interment was John Weldon, Malin Hill, 3 months. It was then legally closed but one further interment appears in the same register, that of Selina Buckingham, Clumber Lodge, The Park, aged 77 years, buried by HA Gem, Vicar of Wirksworth on 17th December 1908. She subscribed liberally to the building of St Catharine’s.