The Rosary Cemetery was founded in 1819 by Thomas Drummond (1764-1852), a Presbyterian minister who recognised that churchyards had become overcrowded and there was a need for more space. The first section of land was five acres in size and had previously been used as market gardens. The first burial took place in 1824, the reinterring of the remains of Drummond’s wife, moved from the Octagon Chapel in the city.
Initially, the cemetery wasn’t much used and the Church of England were none too keen on it, it was all a bit non-conformist for them. There was also the problem, until the 1832 Anatomy Act, of bodies being stolen by body-snatchers, especially so at this slightly remote location. As the nineteenth century progressed, the cemetery became more popular and there had been 18,000 burials by 1884.
The project was inspirational, as the Rosary was the first non-denominational cemetery in England and many more followed the model which was established here. Drummond was sensible enough to appoint a body (no pun intended) of trustees to look after the affairs of the cemetery and he insisted on the land being freehold, so that it would be much harder to change its usage later on.
The mortuary chapel, redesigned by Edward Boardman in 1879, replacing a previous building which had been erected here in 1830.
This is some of the older part of the cemetery, but an extension was purchased in 1903, although wasn’t brought into use until 1924.
In 1954, the oldest part of the cemetery was taken over by Norwich City Council and they decided to abandon it, or, as they called it, returned it to nature. I’m not sure whether this stone was damaged by their efforts, but there are a few gravestones which have unfortunately been damaged in this manner. Fortunately, there’s an active Friends of Rosary Cemetery which was established in 1998 and they have helped to transform the site and they hold numerous walks, site clearances and events to highlight the history of the cemetery.