The History of Spital Cemetery

 

In the 19th century the country’s population was increasing rapidly so there was also an increase in
the number of people dying. Existing burial grounds were full to overflowing and were often a health
hazard.At the same time the number of nonconformists (Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists
etc) was increasing – they did not want to be buried in consecrated ground according to the rites of
the Established Church. The earliest cemeteries were operated by commercial companies. Rosary
Cemetery in Norwich was the first non- denominational cemetery opened in 1821 (i.e. anyone
could be buried there whatever their religion); Sheffield General Cemetery was established in
1836; and Derby General Cemetery, on Uttoxeter Road in 1843.

Between 1832 and 1857 a series of acts relating to burial were enacted; these allowed the closure
of burial grounds and the establishment of public cemeteries administered by Burial Boards
appointed by the Parish Vestry. The cemetery in Derby was taken over by the new Burial Board
there in 1855 at the same time as land was purchased for the new Nottingham Road Cemetery.
The ratepayers of Chesterfield were summoned to a meeting on 19th July 1855 to consider the problem of a new burial ground.

New Burial Ground, Chesterfield

The Old Churchyard in Chesterfield being now in such a crowded state as to render it imperatively
necessary to provide a New Burial Ground or cemetery as well for the Town as the Hamlets within
the Parish of Chesterfield not already provided with Burial Grounds NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN,
that a Meeting of the Proprietors and Ratepayers within the Town and the several Hamlets
comprising the Parish of Chesterfield, not having exclusive Burial Grounds in (in pursuance of a
requisition numerously signed and proposed to me for that purpose) hereby convened to be held at
the Municipal Hall in Chesterfield, on Thursday, the 19th July inst., at Eleven o’clock in the
Forenoon, to consider the mode in which a New Burial Ground and its locality can be provided, and
the Terms and Conditions on which the same might be obtained; and to appoint a Constitution, or
make such other resolutions as may be thought best to calculated efficiently to carry out the above
object at which meeting an Inspector appointed by the Government is expected to attend.

W. DRABBLE

Mayor

Chesterfield, 13th July 1855

At the meeting it was “Resolved, that the parish churchyard is over-crowded; that a new burial
ground is required and that a committee should be appointed to consult how a new burial ground
can be provided.” The committee consisted of the Mayor, the Vicar, and twelve other gentlemen.
A Burial Board was formed for the ecclesiastical Parish of Chesterfield and the Township of Tapton
with the intention of purchasing and laying out a new burial ground. However in March 1856 the
board had to be reconstituted because the it had been appointed for the Parish of Chesterfield,
(the population in 1851 was 13,421) but it should have been convened for the Township only
(population 7,101), which was a much smaller area, and the constitution was illegal.
It was decide to establish a cemetery at Spital. At first sight a steep hillside seems a strange choice
for a cemetery but early cemeteries were laid out as garden cemeteries which were attractive
places to visit. However these were wasteful of space as ground was taken up by trees and
pathways.

It was estimated that the total cost of buying the land, erection of buildings and layout of the site
would be £6,272 17s 6d. In May 1856 a competition was held for the design of the Plans,
Elevations and Sections for the erection of Lodge with Board Room, Entrance Gates, Reception
House, and two Cemetery Chapels (the Chapels to be under one roof) to be accompanied with
Estimates for the execution of the whole, including enclosing the ground with walls and fences,
Chapel fittings, &c. The cost for the buildings was not to exceed £2,200. A second competition was
held for a design for the layout of the grounds. Thirty-six designs were submitted for the chapels
and fifteen for laying out the grounds. Messrs Bidlake and Lovatt of Wolverhampton submitted the
winning plans for the chapels and F.C. Gillett the design for the grounds. Gillett had been born at Spital Lodge.
Land for the burial ground was purchased from the executors of the late Mr Lowndes for £3,596
and a mortgage £6,992 on the poor rate of the Chesterfield and Tapton townships arranged, of
which Tapton’s share was be £720.

However not everybody was happy. Mr Busby complained decisions were being taken without
proper consultation with the ratepayers; indeed the meeting which had sanctioned the application
for the mortgage had been held at the same time as the Peace Celebrations (for the end of the
Crimean War) and reporters were excluded from the meetings.

It was suggested that a General Purposes Committee be appointed to transact business requiring
immediate attention between board meetings. Mr Dutton complained that the previous such
committee consisted of four Churchmen and one Dissenter which he thought was disproportionate.
He also objected to the allocation of the four acres, fifteen roods and thirty-four perches available
for burials of members of the Established Church, which reserved one acre, one rood and thirteen
perches for Dissenters – almost one third of that allowed for the Established Church – when the
rateable property of the Dissenters in the parish was about four-ninths, and there was no provision
for Roman Catholics.

There was much discussion about the charges for burials! The Cemetery was outside the
Township of Chesterfield and the cost of burials for people from outside Chesterfield and Tapton
were higher. This penalised Nonconformists from outside Chesterfield and Tapton who wanted to
be buried in un-consecrated ground. A complex scale of charges was eventually agreed with
specified times of funerals and fines if the funeral late. Complaints about the cost of burials
continued for many years and it was said that the cost deterred people from being buried at Spital.
Finally everything was ready and the Bishop of Lichfield visited Chesterfield on August 19th 1857
in order to consecrate the new church at Newbold before proceeding to the consecration of the
Chesterfield and Tapton Cemetery. Spital Cemetery was the first public cemetery in the county
outside Derby.

Mary Ann Bridgett, aged 2 weeks, was the first person to be buried on 23rd August 1857 in an
unmarked grave. The next three burials were of children of one year of age or less. The first
tombstone was that of John Holland, surgeon. The first burial in un-consecrated ground was on
23rd September. Many people, who were prominent in
Chesterfield in the late 19th and early 20th centuries are buried there as well as some of the
lowliest.