Ipswich Icons: Robert Ransome brought population and prosperity to town but in years to come there would be no space to bury the dead

Cemetery North Lodge

Cemetery North Lodge - Credit: Archant

Between 1700 and 1800 the Ipswich River (Orwell) silted up, passage by sailing vessel became arduous and trade waned, writes John Norman, of The Ipswich Society.

Cemetery Anglican Chapel

Cemetery Anglican Chapel - Credit: Archant

The exports of woollen cloth which had, until this time, contributed to Ipswich’s fortune seriously declined and this had a knock-on effect on imports, shipbuilding and, of course, port dues. The population also reduced, from a peak of 12,000 at the start of the 18th Century to just 11,000 by the 1801 census.

However, the arrival of Robert Ransome and his engineering works (1789), a steam dredger (1805) and the Quaker entrepreneurs in the early 19th Century who led the development of the Wet Dock (1842) and the railway (1846) saw a vast increase in the population (by 1851 it was 32,000). One obvious but unconsidered consequence was the lack of space to bury the dead. The graveyards of Ipswich’s medieval churches were all but full. The family plots of the new arrivals were elsewhere, out in the rural parishes too far away to carry out a funeral service and burial.

This problem wasn’t unique to Ipswich and the government of the day authorised the setting up of ‘Local Burial Boards’, firstly in London but a couple of months later (August 1854) in Ipswich. The Burial Board purchased, from a certain John Cobbold, an undulating plot of ground on the north side of town. Advertisements in ‘The Builder’ followed and Robert Davidson (landscape architect) was appointed to lay out the grounds. Davidson had also designed the gardens at Shrubland Hall, for Lady de Saumarez. Architects Cooper and Peck were appointed to design the chapels, now listed grade II. They were similar externally, in a Gothic revival style, the one to the east distinctly non-conformist and the other Anglican with a bell in a turret at the western end.

The chapels sit on the higher ground where the land is level, overlooking the valley and the town beyond. The cemetery is surrounded by mature trees and with winding paths intersecting with each other and with some fine monuments interspaced with low shrubs. Further buildings were added, all by Ipswich architects, a cluster of three towards the north gate, a Dead Room now used as a maintenance store, a mid 19th Century ‘lodge’ now in private ownership (architect: Henry M Eyton) and a timber shelter (architect: John Corder) which was seriously damaged by fire in the late 20th Century.

Cemetery non Conformist Chapel

Cemetery non Conformist Chapel - Credit: Archant

The Burial Board had also purchased land to the north of Belvedere Road which they leased to a football club but in 1901 in a remarkable act of forward planning they visited Notcutt’s (who at the time were still in Ipswich) and arranged for tree planting around the perimeter of the ‘New Cemetery’.

This new burial ground was opened in 1921, and a couple of years later a crematorium was added with the architect W J A Sherman of Northgate Street. In July 1928 the Burial Board were advertising it as the only crematorium between Leicester and London. Sherman also designed the Temple of Remembrance, built in 1935, a square building with similar façades on each side, the main with a projecting portico supported by slender columns.

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Built two storeys high, in red bricks with ashlar dressings under a copper dome, it is a small but stunning building.

The interior has marble lined rooms linked by segmental arches, there are numerous plaques and inscribed tablets together with, in a glass case, a Book of Remembrance open at today’s date.

In 2000 as the Old, the New and the Lawn Cemetery approached capacity the borough council, who by now had assumed responsibility for burials, opened the Millennium Cemetery about a mile further out of town along the Tuddenham Road.

The graveyards in medieval churches are the final resting place of a considerable number of the deceased, not surprising given that they accommodated interments for the best part of a millennium. Today graveyards and cemeteries provide a wealth of interest for historians and people tracing their ancestors.