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Report on the Victorian Cemetery

A report by Mrs Margaret Rose for Tower and Town Magazine: 

The old Victorian Cemetery, which goes back to 1853, is on land donated by the Marquess of Ailesbury. It is widely considered to be an important and beautiful historical part of Marlborough Town and is referred to as a good example of a "garden cemetery" popular in the mid-19th C. The growth of cemetery friend groups all over the country is a sign that the public is keen to preserve and support conservation and environmental projects based in cemeteries and churchyards; after all they were originally designed as attractive places to visit.

2013       What first drew me to the Victorian Cemetery?  I think it has to be the magnificent Cedar of Lebanon which helps to give an air of grandeur, also the 581 gravestones with many local family and business names; some are grand monuments and headstones with iron railings, pronouncing how you were perceived in life and your status in death, many being past Mayors of Marlborough. The fact that a large part of the cemetery has been allowed to revert back to nature adds to its charm, with a profusion of snowdrops and daffodils in the spring. The exception is the Paupers Grave where a lone Sarcen Stone denotes the resting place of over 800 persons. For these poor souls, mainly from St. Luke's Workhouse, this was their common grave. The area now is just a large stretch of grass mowed regularly by the Marlborough Town Council (MTC).


The Friends of the Victorian Cemetery group started in 2014 with volunteers made up of Town Councillors and locals meeting then once a month on a Sunday morning helping to clear around graves. They tackled nettles, overgrown briars, and overgrown ivy, which were becoming top heavy and endangering stones, also painting the wrought iron gates and strimming . We were lucky enough to have the archaeologist Kim Wakeham come and talk to us about the history of the cemetery and it is always gives pleasure to discover familiar names or envisage past lives.   In 2014 we had a fallen old tree, and with MTC 's mechanical digger we used sculptured pieces to make a foxglove dell around the Paupers Grave which gives a living warmth and enhances that rather stark area.

2014   MTC invited ICCM (Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management) to give advice on the safety and wellbeing of the cemetery which will in the future need funding of over £50 000 to preserve some of the vulnerable stones. We are also grateful to the council for undertaking and paying for the cutting of a very overgrown yew hedge which now lets in the sunshine and opens up that side of the cemetery for wildlife to spread.

We support The Wiltshire Living Churchyard and attend their yearly seminars to meet like-minded groups and learn about different types of bees, wild flowers and lichens and also received the Bishop’s Award for Good Management for Wild Life.

2016  Two years ago we started tackling the area where Non-Conformists are buried. This was badly overgrown and we discovered some very stately graves and well-known names, including Mayor May who also owned the Tannery and lived on the Green. In May 2017 Merlin Court very kindly allowed us to have a fund-raising Tea Party to be able to buy some wild flowers and it has always been my ambition to introduce bee orchids which I have seen in other church yards. Over the years we have planted bluebells, fritillaries, daffodils, violets, cowslips and many others.

So where does this Heritage leave us? What is the aim of this small voluntary group The Friends of the Victorian cemetery who now meet on certain Mondays (the second Monday of every month 10-12am) or just pop in when the mood takes them?  With expert help we are hoping to create our own web site, and with Kim Wakeham’s help be able to make the cemetery's history more accessible to everyone.  

We can never turn the clock back to its former glory, but we can ensure that this beautiful Victorian Cemetery is a living space for wildlife and a peaceful environment for all to sit and think, not just about the living, but pay homage to the dead .


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