Ian Dungavell 2018

Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust

The problem of ‘first’: looking at the first decade of the modern cemetery

Highgate Cemetery was established by an Act of Parliament which regulated its operations. But how did they decide what should be in that Act? Was it based on earlier Acts establishing cemeteries? Tracing back to the first of such Acts, I realised that my question would remain: what did they base that one on? So my focus switched from finding the first cemetery Act to understanding how the first cemetery was governed. But which was the first cemetery? That led to two questions: what do we mean by ‘cemetery’; and what do we mean by ‘first’. The terms have been used very loosely, so no wonder there has been a lot of debate about which cemetery should wear the crown. Looking more closely into the contenders, it seems that the ‘first’ was not the Rosary Cemetery in Norwich, the favoured candidate of Historic England, but Rusholme Road Cemetery in Manchester. And Rusholme Road was influential. Its governing document set the template for later cemeteries established by a trust deed, and the cemetery it spawned in Liverpool, the Necropolis, directly prompted the establishment of St James’s, the first cemetery to be founded by an Act of Parliament. Looking into that, the reasons why an Act was needed become clear.


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