The History of the Cemetery

In Peter Orlando Hutchinson’s 4th Volume of the history of Sidmouth, on page 147, he records the opening and the first burials. He writes :-

A government order required that the Chuchyard should be closed, and the parishioners resolved to form a Burial Board. At a Vestry Meeting held in April 1877, the following were elected as the first Board :- the Rev. H.G.J.Clements, the Vicar, (Chairman), the Rev. Lord Sidney Godolphin Osborne, Dr. Pullin, Major Hicks, J.Kennet-Were, J.P., P.O.Hutchinson, W.Letherby, and Mr. Pidsley. As the Trustees of the Manor had bought up so much land in the parish since Mr. Balfour’s death, it was very difficult to find a spot. There was little left but a choice between those fields near the Station belonging to the Rev. J. Robinson, and some land on the east belonging to W.T.Farrant. The former, on examination, were considered to be ineligible from being so high, steep, and exposed, so those acres at the head of W. Farrant’s property, with the approach road, were purchased. Plans, designs, and contracts were advertised for; and throughout 1878 great efforts were made to build the two chapels, one being for the church people and the other for the Non-Conformists, the Lodge, the entrance, to form the ground, and to lay out the paths. All this, together with a coloured glass window in the east end of the episcopal chapel, to the honour of Lord S.G.Osborne, and a window on the south, was happily completed, and on the 16th December the Bishop came and consecrated the southern half of the ground. At the north west corner places are reserved for Roman Catholics and Jews. Thus, everything was complete by the end of the year 1878, as required. The first bodies buried there were those of Mrs. Dean and Mrs. Salter on Sunday January 19th 1879.

According to rule, no-one can now be buried in the Churchyard, except those who have vaults there, or where they have family graves of sufficient depth, in the common ground. In the case of old townspeople however, whose progenitors have buried there from time immemorial, this rule is not very strictly adhered to. They feel they have a sort of right to be deposited amongst their ancestors.

He also includes a map showing not only the layout of the grounds but also who owned surrounding land. You can see that the Lodge, with its flanking walls and entrance to the road leading to the the chapels, would have stood alone making an imposing statement from the road. Its current tucked away, almost hidden, nature would have been of great annoyance to those who created it.

The cemetery itself has clear areas for Church of England ( in the south), Nonconformists (north of the Chapels), and for Roman Catholics and Jews in the top north western corner. The amount of ground provided indicates the proportion of Nonconformists, and others, to Church of England members in Sidmouth at that time.

The geometrical layout of the cemetery with its walks, paths and borders conforms to one of the two Garden Cemetery layout favoured at the time, the other had sinuous walks and seems to have influenced the road formation. Is this confusion of design or Sidmouth trying to blend the best of both worlds as it usually has?

In 1888 the trees lining the road were a prominent feature.

However, building had already started to encroach on the entrance so they would not easily have been seen from the road. Note the evergreens near the chapels, a requisite in Garden Cemeteries.

The lodge was not hidden from sight as it is in the present.

In 1903 the area looked like this

Aerial photographs from Britain from Above show a 1928 view

And a rather unclear view from the south in 1953

It can be seen that the layout of the new part of the Cemetery from the 1920s was much influenced by the War cemeteries created after WWI.