Victorian Cemeteries & Funerary Monuments

Photography projects challenge you to become a better photographer not just technically, but also artistically. So why did I choose Victorian cemeteries and funerary monuments as a project? The combination of architecture, sculpture, landscape, wildlife and poetry makes cemeteries like no other place in the historic environment.  Victorian Cemeteries often have interesting buildings and structures some of which have been neglected and left to slowly decay. Photographically, I find them interesting to discover and document, so this project will be an ongoing one

Cemeteries were conceived and designed both as gardens of the dead and as a memorial. The inscription on memorials, the design of monuments, the choice of stones, the architecture of building and landscape design shed light on past social customs and events and combine to make a cemetery an irreplaceable historical resource.

Cemeteries also provide a social history of the area, the community it served and it’s social and economic status. Many cemeteries include both consecrated and non-consecrated sections, and some cemeteries are dedicated to a particular faith.

Victorian graves tended to be much more elaborate than modern graves. It was expected that a middle-class family would spend as much as it could afford on a monument appropriate to the deceased’s (and the family’s) social status. Monuments were usually symbolic – either religious (crosses, angels, the letters IHS, a monogram for Jesus Savior of Man in Greek), symbols of profession (whip and horseshoes for a coach driver, swords for a general, palette for a painter), or symbols of death. 

In relation to Victorian Cemeteries, Highgate Cemetery (See Blog) is the most well known of the Magnificent Seven Cemeteries which are all in London, but I recently learned about Sheffield General Cemetery.

The Sheffield General Cemetery was one of the first commercial landscape cemeteries in Britain.

The cemetery opened in 1836 as a Nonconformist cemetery and was a response to the rapid growth of Sheffield and the relatively poor state of the town’s churchyards. The cemetery, with its Greek Doric and Egyptian style buildings, was designed by Sheffield architect Samuel Worth (1779–1870) on the site of a former quarry.

By 1916 the Sheffield General Cemetery was rapidly filling up and running out of space, burials in family plots continued through the 1950s and 1960s, but by 1978 ownership of the cemetery had passed to Sheffield City Council and it was closed to all new burials. Through the 1980s and 1990s the cemetery was left untouched, becoming overgrown and an important sanctuary for local wildlife.

Just like Highgate Cemetery, slowly trees and ivy took over the prized landscaped design, with roots toppling monuments and the undergrowth covering the shining jewels of status and wealth.

More content will be added to this page over the next year.

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