Welford Road Cemetery in Leicester plays a pivotal role in my family history; at the last count, more than 80 members of my extended family have been buried here. Since the cemetery opened in 1849, my relatives will no doubt have visited many times. And one rather dramatically ended his life at the cemetery. Through a series of blog posts let me take you on a walk about, stopping off at some family graves and tuning in to the history of the cemetery as we progress.
Let’s begin at the main gates on Welford Road. As you head along the driveway, the traffic noise subsides and you’re soon in a different world, surrounded by greenery, birdsong and impressive monuments. Like many early Victorian cemeteries, the landscaping of Welford Road Cemetery was inspired by the ‘garden cemetery’ movement which espoused that burial grounds should be designed not only for the dignified repose of the dead but also for the pleasure of the living. Visiting your dearly-departed on a Sunday afternoon, they argued, should also bring with it the chance to enjoy a beautiful setting.
To the right of the main entrance the visitors’ centre – opened in 2006 as a base for the Friends of Welford Road Cemetery – is a good starting point for those keen to track down their ancestors buried in the cemetery.
But today, on this walk, we nip immediately behind the centre. Tucked round the back, on a sloping embankment, there are serried ranks of slate headstones. At first glance, it’s an odd place for graves to be positioned, with lawn falling away so steeply. A closer look at the inscriptions also indicates something is amiss – virtually all of years mentioned on the stones pre-date the 1849 opening of the cemetery. How can this be?