. The History of Hemingford Grey Cemetery


The History of Hemingford Grey Cemetery

The information in this account was obtained from the Parish Council minutes that are held at the Huntingdon Record Office, the newspapers held in the Norris Museum and reference books on the Burial Acts held in the Record Office.

The Local Government Act (1894) allowed for the setting up of parish councils and these took over all the duties of the Vestry that were not connected with the Church. Hemingford Grey Parish Council held its first meeting on January 2nd 1895 and one of the urgent matters it had to consider was the shortage of burial space in the churchyard. This was raised on August 7th when it was decided to “consider the state of the burial accommodation in the churchyard and to take steps in the matter at an early date.” In November the Council decided to form a Committee, to adopt the Burial Acts and to appoint legal advice. They needed to act quickly.

Later in August it was decided “to dig holes to test the various fields as to their adaptability for a burial ground and to get offers from the owners and to report.” In January it was decided that “Mr Ruston’s offer of selling his field in Meadow Lane now occupied by Mr W See of 5 acres, more or less, for £350 be accepted.” All seemed set for a rapid decision, but far from it! In order to raise a loan the Parish Council needed to consult a Parish Meeting and the procedures for establishing a burial ground under the various burial acts were far from simple.

Obviously Mr Ruston’s field was larger than required and at a meeting at the end of January the Council decided that it was in favour of buying an acre out of this field at £120 from Major Curtois who was contemplating purchasing it from Mr Ruston. This would make it unnecessary to buy the whole field. Major Curtois was one of the Councillors so not everyone may have wished to see it dealt with in this way. But the Council decided to request the Parish Meeting to consent to a loan of up to £400 to purchase land and for expenses.

By the end of February 1896 the plan to buy land from Mr Ruston had obviously been dropped and there was now a new recommendation to purchase an acre of Mr Rampley’s Mill Field. This could well be where the Rampley’s council houses were subsequently built. This would cost £100 but only 1 rood would be needed in the short term for burials and it was proposed that the remaining 3 roods be used for allotments until required. This produced a horrified reaction from Mr Bevan, who imagined allotment holders wheeling perambulators across the burial ground which could not be locked! So the Council decided to consider two fresh “spots” and asked Mr Thomas Coote if they would sell an acre of their land as a burial ground and at what price.

The election in April resulted in a change of Chairman and Mr Freeman, a Non Conformist and a Liberal, who was usually opposed to Mr Bevan who was a Churchman, became Chairman. By this time it was becoming clear to the Council that there were several legal hoops to jump through before the village could get its burial ground. A letter from the Home Office Burial Acts Department pointed out that there could not be a new cemetery until the churchyard were officially closed by Order in Council and that the Secretary of State needed to give approval for a new burial ground. So the Parish Council decided to see Dr Arrington of Cambridge with a view to inspection of the site for the burial ground. There was then a decision passed by a majority vote to report on the suitability of the site known as Mill Lane Field belonging to Docksey’s Trustees, for a burial ground. In July it was decided to ask the Home Office to send an Inspector to report on the suitability of the Docksey’s land.

In August 1896 a subcommittee of three was set up. The Home Secretary had issued a list of Statutory Rules and Orders including a Memorandum from the Ministry of Health. To cover these points a questionnaire was completed on matters such as drainage, public health and accessibility, comparing the Rampley’s and Docksey’s sites. The report was adopted and at the November meeting it was decided to accept the Docksey’s site and to obtain the power to borrow £400. These recommendations were to be put to a Parish Meeting. But there were problems again and a letter from the Docksey’s trustees stated “so many parties are involved that it would be necessary to go to considerable expense in consequence and beyond this we are unable to get the consent of some of the parties… the offer definitely withdrawn”. The Council then decided to write to various people known to have land in the Parish suitable for the purpose of a burial ground asking them to offer some to the Council.

On the 26 January 1897 it was reported that trial holes had been made and three sites were put in order of priority;
1. Giddins Pound Orchard (the site eventually selected),
2. Mr Rampley’s Mansfield,
3. Mr Rampleys’ Mill Field.
The site that had originally been selected (Mr Ruston Field) “would be useless for the purpose” as the “trial hole caved in”. A Parish meeting would be asked for the power to borrow £300 for purchase and laying out of ½ acre of Giddins Orchard for a burial ground. If this amount could not be borrowed for the Giddins Trustees orchard they would ask for the same amount to purchase Rampley’s Mill Field. As the closure of the churchyard was a necessary prerequisite for a new burial ground a statement that this would happen in 12 months was useful. At this point a subcommittee of three was set up. Less than a month later it was decided to make a conditional offer to Giddins trustees followed soon after by instructions to the Clerk to prepare a new plan of the burial ground.

An argument now arose about whether the Chairman had had the authority to seek legal advice, the challenge coming from the two other members of the subcommittee who complained that the Chairman had acted without calling a meeting of the subcommittee. On a vote, with the Chairman using his casting vote, his authority to consult Mr Wheeler was confirmed and he was also empowered to communicate with the Home Office. At this Mr Bevan said he would resign from the subcommittee.

In May 1897 estimates were presented for the costs of the burial ground; land £125, legal £10, fencing £75, laying out and incidentals £90. Having had the approval from a Parish Meeting in February to go ahead with raising a loan it was decided in June to borrow £300 at not more than 3½ % for as long as possible but not less than 30 years. For this a Local Government Board Inquiry had to be held which was reported in the Hunts County News on September 11 1897. The Inspector was Col. Albert J Hepper,DSO RE and Messrs Cranfield Wheeler represented the Parish Council. Col Hepper asked several pertinent questions relating to the need of the Parish for a new burial ground and was informed that the population was 800, the rateable value £4,885, there were no outstanding loans, that the average annual death rate for ten years had been 11. The Revd P E Curtois stated that, in 1858, 20 poles of land were added to the present burying place (the churchyard). In reply to a question Parish Councillor, Gifford said that trial holes had been sunk in six different sites and that the one chosen was the best that could be obtained in the Parish. In ordinary seasons the ground was dry to a depth of 7 feet. Major Curtois, another councillor, produced a plan of the site explaining how the ground was proposed to be laid out. The Inspector noted that they required a loan for 30 years and also noted that it should be sanctioned as soon as possible. He then visited the site.

In October 1897 the newspaper reported on the negotiations for the loan. The legal advisers had had problems getting the conditions the Council requested, in particular the 30 year period. The Council therefore decided that it would be willing to pay an extra ¼% interest provided the loan could be for 30 years rather than 20 years. The Parish Council minutes for 8 October record the conveyance of the land executed under the Local Government Act 1894 and the newspaper for October 30 reported that a loan of £300 had been obtained from the St Ives Lodge of Oddfellows at 3½ %. There is no record of the length of the loan.

The Council now had the land but work was still needed to convert it to a burial ground. At no point is it referred to as a cemetery which is obviously the more modern term. The subcommittee was now asked to secure plans and estimates for laying out and fencing the ground. On 15 October a vote of thanks was passed to the agents and a burial ground account opened. It was agreed in November that there should be advertisements for the work to be done and that they should consider the fees to be charged for burials. A wide range of estimates was received from seven different people and Standen’s tender was accepted.

Early in 1898 the Burials Committee agreed to purchase the stone (in fact terracotta) indicators for numbering grave spaces and to ask Giddins to remove 2 or 3 apple trees that were overhanging the land bought for the burial ground. Major Curtois offered to purchase trees up to £3 and it was left to the burial committee to see to the planting of these trees. (If these trees were ever planted none now remains. The lovely Plane tree and a coniferous tree within the cemetery were planted about 50 to 60 years ago and the trees along the western perimeter fence were given by individual councillors in the 1970s.) By February1898 there was some concern about the shortage of money for fencing. A decision was also made for part of the ground (near the north-western boundary) to be reserved for children’s burials. (The regulations allowed for smaller plots for children.) It was decided to adopt the same rules that the nearby village of Fenstanton had adopted.

In March 1898 there were still problems with the Giddins trees and Giddins trustees offered to cut off some of the branches; we hear no more of this matter. An interesting issue then arose recorded in a letter from the Bishop of Ely. The Council had decided that the ground should be divided into two; one for the Church burials and one for Nonconformists. The Bishop had been asked to come and consecrate the Church section as a matter of urgency as there could be a death before this was done. But the Bishop in his letter refused to do this enclosing a printed paper giving his reasons. It appears from the regulations that it was no longer necessary to have consecrated ground for Church burials as the Burial Law Amendment Act of 1880 allowed the Church of England service to be celebrated in unconsecrated ground

At the meeting on 15 April 1898 the Council agreed to arrange for completion of the burial ground and to obtain books for fixing fees and at the May meeting the Clerk of the Parish Council, Mr J E Adams, was elected as the clerk to the Burial Board at a salary of £3 per annum. At this point the task of providing the village with a cemetery was completed, just in time for the first burial on 16th May 1898. The newspaper records that Susanna Wilson of Victoria Terrace, who died aged 68, was “somewhat of a celebrity being 6 feet 2 inches in height”. The second burial was almost certainly that of her husband who died only two days after his wife’s funeral.

As a postscript, this was also the time when the village was building its new Reading Room to celebrate the Jubilee of Queen Victoria and Mr Bevan had suggested that a lych-gate for the new burial ground would be a more appropriate memorial to this event. However the Reading Room and the Cemetery were both completed within three years of the establishment of the Parish Council; something for which they could be justly proud, especially as there was also a major flood emergency to deal with in February 1897.

The handsome lych-gate was installed about 20 years later in gratitude to those who had served in the Great War.
Monumental Inscriptions in Hemingford Grey Parish
The Huntingdonshire Family History Society has transcribed the Church and Churchyard inscriptions for the years 1676 to 1991 and the Cemetery inscriptions from 1889 to 1992.These were published by Mike Stephenson in 1995 and are the copyright of Huntingdonshire Family History Society. They are held in the Huntingdon Record Office.

Bridget Smith
Peggy Seamark
March 2007