The aims of the Friends of the Wembdon Road Cemetery are to:
1. The preserve and conserve the monuments, features and records of the Wembdon Road Cemetery.
2. The sympathetic conservation, and where appropriate repair, of the monuments of the Wembdon Road Cemetery.
3. The enhancement of the landscapes, environment and general accessibility of the Wembdon Road Cemetery.
The Wembdon Road, or ‘Bridgwater Cemetery’ was opened in 1851, and had two portions – Church of England and Non-Conformist (or ‘Dissenter’), and each portion had its own chapel.
The cemetery had been Bridgwater’s principle burial ground for the second half of the nineteenth century, and was Bridgwater's first piece of public green space, before the creation of any of the town’s parks. As well as grand gothic chapels, the cemetery had seating, pleasant walkways and flowerbeds.
The cemetery contains graves of people of local and national importance, from paupers to aristocrats. Although the cemetery has been closed for some time, many burials have happened since, the last only a couple of years ago.
The cemetery became full a little after the Second World War and gradually fell into decline thereafter. The two chapels had been demolished by the late 1990s. Misguided and overzealously applied Health and Safety Legislation of the time ensured that a large proportion of the tombstones, crosses and other memorials were toppled or dismantled, creating an unsightly mess, as well as a multitude of dangerous trip hazards.
When the Friends of the Wembdon Road Cemetery formed in 2010, the cemetery had become an area of neglect, subsidence and vandalism. It was an area for dogs to foul and other unsociable behaviour. Frankly it had become a disgrace to the townspeople of Bridgwater. Fortunately much of the damage and neglect was and still is reversible and the cemetery has been transformed since then.
WHO OWNS THE CEMETERY?
The Church of England side of the cemetery is still owned by St Mary’s Church, although managed entirely by Sedgemoor District Council. Being consecrated land it can still be used for church purposes. The District Council also manage the former Dissenter side, as well as owning the land itself.
The cemetery is closed for burial unless an individual owns a family grave plot, has proof of this and there is space left in the grave. Cremated remains are allowed in existing graves as long as permission is secured from the Cemeteries Officer of Sedgemoor District Council and, if on consecrated ground, from St Mary's church.
On a technical side of things, Sedgemoor District Council has the responsibilities and liabilities of an occupier. Their duties involve maintenance of boundary walls, paths, trees, herbage and legal requirements for liability and insurance. It is generally accepted that the local authority must keep a closed burial ground to a minimum acceptable level, namely it must be safe. Memorials on the other hand are the private property and responsibility of the kin of the deceased, the local authority will therefore not maintain them, but will intervene if they are deemed to be unsafe.
Finally, although Sedgemoor has ultimate responsibility for the site, it is beyond their means to keep it in a state that would be satisfactory to the wider community, which is why the Friends were formed. While the Council objective is make the cemetery safe, the Friends objective is to make it appropriate to the memory of those buried there.
BRIDGWATER AROUND THE WORLD
The cemetery is a place of remembrance and many graves are still lovingly tended. The importance of the cemetery transcends the local community to the national and international Bridgwater diaspora.
Since the Friends formed, we have been contacted by descendants of people in the cemetery from all over Britain and further to Canada, the United States, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. The descendants of those buried in the Wembdon Road Cemetery are scattered all around the world. Many will make the effort to visit the cemetery where their relatives rest and the condition of the cemetery reflect on the local community; a well-kept cemetery with due respect for the dead will give a good impression of Bridgwater.
The Wembdon Road Cemetery is a haven for wildlife, but it needs constant management so the natural doesn’t destroy the built heritage. The Friends aim to make the cemetery accessible, while encouraging and managing the natural habitat in a sustainable way.
The Somerset Wildlife Trust helped us form the following guidelines for the cemetery:
a. All specimen trees, shrubs and buddleias should be retained wherever possible.
b. Native trees such as hazel, holly, ivy and elderberry should also be retained where possible.
c. From the wildlife perspective, there is a relative shortage of trees, shrubs and plants providing all year round nectar, pollen and fruit and nuts. Native trees such as Rowan, Silver Birch and Oak, whilst not evergreen, would help to remedy this deficit as would native shrubs such as Guelder Rose, Dog Rose, and Hawthorn.
d. All the brambles within the space of the cemetery should be removed, leaving just the brambles on the periphery against the boundaries. Bramble is an excellent wildlife habitat, but it is so invasive that clearance over those areas which have other uses is required. Plenty will remain for butterflies around the walls.
The Wembdon Road Cemetery contained over 1450 memorials. This includes the largest and finest collection of mid-to-late nineteenth century memorials in the district. Part of the reason the Friends formed was the suggestion that the memorials should be swept aside and leave the cemetery as an open field site. This approach from the last century is now quite outdated. to sweep away these memorials would be to obliterate an important part of the heritage of Bridgwater. The notion offended many people and so the Friends formed to protect the cemetery.
Since the Friends formed over 60 toppled memorials have been professionally repaired, while countless more kerb sets have been repaired by our volunteers. You can learn more about our efforts in the Conservation part of our website. The Friends also secured the legal recognition of the James Cook memorial, which was Listed Grade II in recognition of its national importance.