Thursday, 24 February 2011
I love old cemeteries (perhaps on account of the fact that my childhood home was right next to one and it was a wonderful place for imaginative adventures and nature walks). Undercliffe Cemetery in Bradford is quite famous, but in all these years I had never visited it, so one bright, frosty day I decided to remedy that. I hadn't realised that it wouldn't be very good for photos as the low sun made such strong shadows, so I will have to go back on a more overcast day to get some better photos - it is a very photogenic and atmospheric place.
The population explosion in Bradford in the early 19th century Industrial Revolution meant that more burial space became a necessity. A large mansion and grounds were bought in 1851 and the Bradford Cemetery Company was formed. The first burials took place in 1854 and continue to this day. The cemetery now contains over 23000 graves and 124000 burials. It is arranged according to the strict hierarchies of Victorian England - half of it unconsecrated (for non-conformists like Methodists and Baptists - 'chapel' people) and half of it consecrated for members of the Church of England. Furthermore, there was a social hierarchy too, with the gentry buried on the elite upper terraces and ordinary mortals on the lower terraces.
Graves are crowded upon one another and there are all manner of elaborate memorials, lavishly decorated with Victorian funerary art - obelisks, draped urns and even a scaled-down version of the Scott Monument in Edinburgh!
Burials declined, and the company went bust in 1977. The whole site became neglected and vandalised and, when it was bought by a property developer in 1980, a campaign was started to rescue it. Bradford Council compulsorily purchased it and some restoration took place and it is now properly managed by a new company, as a working cemetery, historic site and environmental conservation area. It's a fascinating place.