Thursday, 24 February 2011

Undercliffe Cemetery


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.

15 comments:

  1. I've lived in Bradford all my life and, whilst being vaguely aware of its monumental significance, never yet visited this cemetery.

    I can understand how the strength of the shadows makes photographing the details much more difficult, yet it's somehow all the more how I imagined it; a crowded, shadowy, city of the dead.

    So that's somewhere else that you have made me want to go explore =D

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  2. I, too, love old graveyards. What a history this one has...so many burials, it's almost uncanny!

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  3. A very gothic mood! I can't believe that social hierarchy was kept in the death!I like old cemeteries too, they're very inspiring!

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  4. Beautiful! Old cemeteries are so appealing. Great shot.

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  5. Wonderful how the sunlight is coming through the trees.

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  6. Excellent record of the history of Bradford cemetery. In spite of the strong light and dark you made a very pleasant photograph. One can always lighten the darks on PS but I don't think you should here. Very good composition with the diagonal shadow leading in on the left. Finally you pushed the right button! Thank goodness!

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  7. You will have to explain why non-conformists don't have their burials in "blessed " or consecrated ground, because it implies also that their poor bodies "desecrate" the ground. I thought only suicides or murderers were supposed to desecrate. Maybe that's just RC???

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  8. You can always catch some excellent photos like this in old cemeteries.

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  9. Loved the metal signs and the misty hill of the previous posts. And this cemetery is wonderful (I'm a fan of old graveyards.)

    Social segregation in cemeteries is probably widespread. One wonders how some folks envision Heaven -- upper and lower clouds? Streets lined with gold for the Really Nice lot and just silver for the others...

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  10. You can explain why you like cemeteries. I can't. You got a great shot on a difficult day. Those shadows are perfect to create a special mood.

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  11. I love your photo! It's really atmospheric with the sunlight streaming through the trees and the shadows settling in quiet corners.

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  12. I think it must be a woman-thing because I too am fascinated by graveyards and am drawn to them where ever we go. The way you describe this one reminds of the novel, Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffeneger, which is centred around Highgate Cemetery. Also, I like your shadowy photos.

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  13. That is such a cool image. It would be so interesting to visit here in person. It's amazing how huge it is. ~Lili

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  14. The photo speaks fascination. A place to visit for sure

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