A peaceful place – Wimborne Road Cemetery
Peter Blake explores the lives celebrated in Wimborne Road cemetery and what they tell us about Bournemouth itself
Published in January ’16
Just a few footsteps away from the always busy Cemetery Junction, and the hustle and bustle of Charminster Road, lies the oasis of calm and serenity that is Wimborne Road Cemetery, a fascinating site which illustrates the growth of Bournemouth and the demands of an expanding population.
By the 1870s the arrangements for the burial of deceased residents was becoming a real problem for the Bournemouth Commissioners, who were charged with making the town fit to cope with the demands of a rapidly growing population. The Commissioners had been appointed in 1856, as a result of the Bournemouth Improvement Act which stressed the need for ‘the more efficient paving, sewering, draining, lighting, cleansing, watching and otherwise improving’ the area. Bournemouth had grown from a village of some 700 people in 1851, to 1700 in 1861 and 6500 in 1871. The building of the railway line in 1870 had made Bournemouth more accessible and attractive to visitors and would-be residents alike, and the population more than doubled to 17,000 by 1881. The Commissioners had already taken steps to provide services more in keeping with a growing town, such as the formation of the police force in 1856, providing a piped water supply in 1866, and the introduction of the volunteer fire brigade in 1870. Cemetery space was however a real problem. The only burial ground within the Commissioners’ district was the one attached to St Peter’s Church, consecrated in 1843, enlarged in 1864, but by 1870 inadequate for the requirements of the expanding town. Graveyards in surrounding areas, such as Pokesdown, Throop and Moordown, were also struggling to cope with the requirements of their own congregations and unable to accommodate the dead of Bournemouth. The opening of Christchurch Cemetery in 1857 also failed to ease the predicament.
The Commissioners responded to this situation by establishing a Burial Board in 1872, comprising seven members, to identify and purchase a suitable site for a new cemetery. This turned out to be at Rush Corner, a 22 acre (just under 9 hectares) site, roughly diamond shaped, at the junction of Wimborne Road and Charminster Road, purchased from William Clapcott Dean, one of the original Commissioners. The Chairman of the Burial Board declared that Clapcott Dean ‘acted very handsomely towards them’, an indication of an advantageous price being paid for the site perhaps? No doubt more profitable use could have been made of a site in that location at such a time of rapid expansion if Clapcott Dean had been of a mind to do so. The next step was to design the Cemetery. Christopher Crabb Creeke was the obvious choice. Born in Cambridge in 1820, he trained as an architectural draughtsman before moving to Bournemouth around 1850 to carry out a commission for Mary Shelley. Attracted by the beauty of the town, and the beneficial effect living in the area had on the delicate health of his wife, he resolved not to return to London, but to stay in Bournemouth. There were plenty of opportunities for a man with his talents. The development of Bournemouth at this time was largely being carried out in a haphazard manner by untrained landowners, leading to a tangled mess of mortgages and court cases, such as happened with the large Branksome Estate. Creeke drew up a map of the estate, which helped clarify who owned what, making profitable purchase and development possible. Creeke was thus becoming invaluable to the local landowners – he had charge of W Clapcott Dean’s estates in the neighbourhood – but he was also aware of the importance of the work of the Bournemouth Commissioners, becoming appointed to the post of Surveyor to the Commissioners in 1856 – indeed, the Commissioners held their meetings in the dining-room of his house, Lainston Villa, until they moved to the Town Hall in 1875. In later life he was appointed to the Board of Commissioners. Such was his influence on the development of the town, in the report of his death in the Bournemouth Visitors Directory of 1886, Creeke is referred to as ‘The Father of Bournemouth’, and the tradespeople of Bournemouth were requested to close their shops between 3.00 and 4.00 on the afternoon of his funeral as a mark of respect. He was also Architect and Surveyor to the Burial Board, and as such was given the task of designing the cemetery. His brief included the Chapel, entrance lodge, mortuary chapel and associated landscaping works. His chapel, listed Grade II, houses the Church of England chapel on the eastern side, and the Nonconformist on the western side. It was built in a decorated style, of Purbeck stone, with an octagonal spire about 70 feet high.The chapel was completed in 1877, with the memorial stone being laid by Sir George Meyrick on 30 August that year, and it was consecrated the following year. The first interments took place in April 1878. The Roman Catholic portion of the Cemetery was consecrated in 1886. In 1977 a suggestion was made by Bournemouth Environmental Services Committee to demolish the spire as it was in danger of crumbling, because of the deteriorating stonework. Thankfully, the spire is still standing today. The Cemetery is divided into four areas by a simple design of four main avenues, with a network of smaller paths radiating from the central chapel. Other buildings, such as a shelter, toilet block, and storage buildings, have been added at later dates. The main avenue, running from the main entrance towards the chapel, is attractively planted with monkey puzzle trees alternating with golden hollies, a planting scheme suggested by Joseph Cutler, a member of the Burial Board.
The Cemetery contains the graves of a number of local notables and some fine 19th- and early 20th-century memorials, a fact noted in its Grade 2 listing. Probably the most notable, and imposing, memorial is the Russell-Cotes mausoleum, close by the chapel. This rectangular building, commemorating Sir Merton Russell-Cotes and his wife, Lady Annie, has an arched doorway on its east front, with a stained glass rose-window on its west front. Sadly, this mausoleum has fallen prey to thieves who have removed the large bronze doors, as well as the bronze entrance gates, so it has been sealed off, and is not nearly as impressive as originally built. Other notable people buried there include Henry Joy, the man behind several important buildings in the town, buried alongside his first wife Elizabeth; and Frederick Abberline, the detective in the Jack the Ripper case, who retired to Bournemouth in 1904 until his death in 1929. His grave was unmarked until 2007, when Friends of the Metropolitan Police Museum, and the Pinkerton Detective Agency, for whom Abberline worked after leaving the Metropolitan Police, contributed funds towards the simple but handsome grave stone in place today. Fittingly, Christopher Crabb Creeke is also at rest in the Cemetery he designed.
An indication of the sacrifices made by the town during the World Wars is the burial of 86 service personnel in the Cemetery. In addition, there is the grave of Victoria Cross winner William Job Maillard, a surgeon in the Royal Navy, who was awarded the decoration in Crete in 1898 for his unsuccessful attempt to rescue a wounded colleague, returning to his post with his clothes riddled with bullets.
There are many other notable and interesting burials in the Cemetery, such as Zhan Shichai (also known as Chang Woo Gow, the Chinese Giant, reputed to have been over eight feet tall and weighing 26 stone.) He had settled in Bournemouth by 1891, opening a Chinese tearoom at 6 Southcote Road, now the Ashleigh Hotel. He died in 1893, his coffin being eight and a half feet long. Other burials include many local former Mayors, and both Alma and Francis Rattenbury, central figures in the sensational murder which gained such notoriety in 1935. Other interesting characters in the cemetery are John Nelson Darby and Ken Baily. Darby was a prominent evangelist and respected elder in the Brethren movement. He was a prolific hymn writer, and was also credited as being the father of Dispensationalism, and of the secret rapture theory, where the true believers will be snatched away from this world without warning. He died in 1882. Famous in a very different way was Ken Baily, a familiar figure for many years at major sporting events in his Union Jack waistcoat, who used his flag to good effect in 1982 to cover up the streaker Erica Roe at Twickenham.
It is impossible to give more than a flavour of the interest and variety to be found in the Cemetery. The memorials range from plain and simple to the most ornate Victorian expressions of grief and pride, but all share a sense of loss for a life taken away. It is a fascinating place to visit, both because of the range of funerary styles on display, and of the opportunity for a period of peace and contemplation the Cemetery provides. ◗