COWES, ISLE OF WIGHT
Welcome to the Northwood Cemetery – the second oldest and largest cemetery on the Isle of Wight. The site is managed by the Isle of Wight Council with wonderful support from the Friends of Northwood Cemetery, a charity set up in 2008 to help protect and preserve the site’s unique heritage and conservation value.
This guide has been created thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Big Lottery to act as a guide to the Cemetery. It contains both text and audio to chaperone you around the Cemetery and point out key areas and graves within the site.
Welcome to Northwood Cemetery – the oldest and second largest of the twelve municipal cemeteries on the Isle of Wight. The site is owned and managed by the Isle of Wight Council, with additional support from a voluntary group, the Friends of Northwood Cemetery (FoNC).
The “Friends’ group” was formed in 2008, its objective to restore, protect and preserve the site’s unique heritage and conservation features.
After many years both Chapels had become unstable due to ground subsidence and the effects of Second World War bomb damage; consequently they were at risk of demolition. A grant for restoration was secured from the Heritage Lottery and the Big Lottery Funds by the Friends of Northwood Cemetery, in partnership with the Isle of Wight Council. The ‘twin’ Chapels have since been extensively underpinned and are safeguarded from further ground movement for many decades to come.
The entrance gates are original (1856) and show signs of a hard life, including shrapnel damage inflicted by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. The Chapels and north boundary wall are Grade II Listed.
The twin buildings are virtually identical, albeit the East Chapel features a bell tower. They date from 1856 and were designed by Messrs Mew and Manning. The East Chapel was initially dedicated to Church of England burial services.
The bell was cast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London, the oldest manufacturing company in Britain, which originally opened for business in 1570. The inscription on the bell reads C and G Mears, Founders of London 1856, recording the actual founder who cast the bell and not the name of the company, a long standing tradition in the trade. Just two years later in 1858, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry cast the world famous ‘Big Ben’, which is situated in the Elizabeth Tower at the North end of the Palace of Westminster in London. Locally the Cemetery bell is known as ‘Little Ben’.
The West Chapel was originally assigned to the Non-Conformists of the Parish of Northwood. The initial footprint of the Cemetery, comprising 10 plots, covered four acres and was divided into an estimated 75% Church of England and 25% Non-Conformist burials with Church of England being interred to the East and Non-Conformists to the West of the central drive.
During restoration in 2017, the West Chapel was converted into a Heritage Resource Centre, for use by the local community. It is equipped with facilities to aid cemetery and family history research and may be hired for meetings, lectures and concerts. Seating can be provided for up to 40 people and it has kitchen facilities for light refreshments. It offers a variety of resources, including reference books, cemetery guide maps, audio trails, activity packs for children and self-guided walk information.
The East Chapel, formerly dedicated to the Church of England, is available for all denominational services and may also be hired for concerts and meetings. Similar in size to the West Chapel, it can also seat up to 40.
With a burial register recording almost 17,000 entries (2018) it is not possible to include everyone that is laid to rest here at Northwood in a short audio trail so we do hope that you enjoy the walk, that has been designed for you, and the content selected interesting. In order to provide time to absorb the information at each Waypoint, we recommend that you allow 1 hour for your walk. The planned route is approximately 1km.
Start your walk from the main information board situated near the entrance (Waypoint 1).
Walk down the hill and turn right in front of the West Chapel (the building will now be on your left). Continue along the grassy path between plots 2 and 6 to (Waypoint 2). This section of the Cemetery is a hot spot for red squirrels so keep a look out, you may be lucky enough to see one.
The first cluster of headstones to your left in plot 6 includes that of Maurice Dear. Maurice was the proprietor of ‘Dear & Morgan’ a large grocery shop occupying 90 & 91 High Street, Cowes. Trading there for many years he was also a staunch supporter of both the Sun Hill and Porchfield Congregational Churches. Heavily involved in local affairs, he became one of the first West Cowes Town Commissioners. Elected to the Local Board of Health, he attended the first Northwood Cemetery Burial Board meeting on 6th July 1855 and was appointed Chairman.
Also in this group of headstones you will find that of Robert White. He and his brother John managed the West Cowes Lifeboat Yard from 1845 to 1860. Robert, in collaboration with Andrew Lamb, was responsible for the design and building of the famous Lamb & White self-righting lifeboats. A great innovator, he invented and patented many new ship construction techniques used within the shipbuilding industry. Notable is that John White (just a few metres along on the left) was the father of the more widely known shipyard owner John Samuel White, who incidentally is interred in St Mildred’s churchyard at Whippingham.
Continue walking towards Cowes Medical Centre (the building before you, outside the perimeter wall) and on your left in Plot 7 (Waypoint 3) is the headstone of James Cribb, a local shoemaker. James was the first person to be interred in the Cemetery, his funeral taking place on the 8th November 1856.
A true account relating to his burial has been passed down through the Cribb family. It was during the wake that his widow Mary Ann, realised that James had been buried in the wrong orientation and not facing East in accordance with Christian protocol. Once interred, it is of course illegal to lift a coffin out of the ground without long-winded and costly exhumation procedures. So late at night a group of friends and relatives dug a large circular hole down to the coffin base depth, which then allowed them to rotate it through 180° in order that James was positioned correctly.
Walk on to the large obelisk near the corner of Plot 8 (Waypoint 4). This impressive obelisk was erected in memory of Charles Hansen. He was 75 when he died in 1890 and the 1881 census recorded him as a Yacht and Launch Builder and also a Brickmaker employing 36 men and 32 boys. Interred with him are his wife Mary (1877) and their son George (1893) all preceded by Mary’s father, Edward Coundley (1874).
Opposite the Hansen obelisk is the memorial to the Fennings’ family (Waypoint 5). Alfred Fennings opened a pharmacy on Hammersmith Broadway, London in 1840, transferring the business to Cowes in 1850.
He produced a large and popular range of ‘over the counter’ medication treatments and was a noted philanthropist. In fact, during his lifetime, he anonymously donated over £86,000 to the National Refugees for Homeless and Destitute Children (which in time became the Shaftesbury Homes).
That was an enormous sum of money for the time, equating to over £7m today (2018). After his death, trustees took over the running of the business but the profits continued being donated to the Shaftesbury Homes.
Forty-eight years after his death in 1948, the company moved to Horsham in West Sussex but ceased trading in 1996. Although the company has closed for business, the brand name of Fennings continues to this day on a variety of medicines.
Continue down the path to where you will see a 1 metre high triangular obelisk just left of the footpath (Waypoint 6).
This memorial is to three young children of Christopher and Elizabeth Squibb of Gurnard. Frederick aged 3 (1865) is actually interred on the opposite side of the Cemetery in Plot 4, but buried here are Emily aged 8 (1877) and Caroline aged 6 (1880). Interred in a grave next to them is James Arthur Squibb aged 5 (1876) the son of Frederick and Emma Squibb of West Cowes. The death of young children was an all too common occurrence during the nineteenth century, this obelisk being a poignant reminder.
In fact, many headstone inscriptions in the Cemetery give us an idea of the number of children that families had and their life expectancy during the Victorian era. The grandness of some memorials is evidence of how the prosperous townsfolk of the period liked to express their wealth.
Just 20 metres along the path you will see, near the exit into the Medical Centre car park, an interesting Information Board depicting an overview of the area. Continue up the same path for 80 metres and on your left you will find one of the many Commonwealth War Grave Commission memorials within the cemetery (Waypoint 7).
This headstone is to the memory of Lieutenant Herbert Dimmick RNVS, who was stationed at HMS Safeguard, a shore based establishment. He died on 9th September 1943 aged 49.
Take a left turn at this junction and you are sure to encounter the largest tree inside the cemetery walls, a huge Monterey Pine that is well worth stopping to admire. It was planted during the Cemetery’s third extension in 1877, making it over 140 years old. Continue along this path, keeping to the left hand side of the Monterey Pine and after walking 15 metres from the tree turn right, between plot markers 21 and 22. The topography from this central part of the Cemetery changes, as you have just entered the fourth extension, an area added in 1904. This was originally farmland, unlike the wooded area that you have just walked through, which was once part of Shamblers Copse.
About 60metres along this path between Plots 26 and 27, you will notice on your right and situated behind the angel memorial to Wendy Smith, adjoining graves (Waypoint 8), each adorned with a large cross. This is the resting place of the Lashmar family and includes memorials to four of their sons. There is a memorial inscription to Donald who lost his life aged just 20 at the Siege of Kut Al Amara in Iraq during April 1916.
He was laid to rest in a cemetery near where he fell. A double tragedy struck the family on the 7th September 1916, when aviators Ralph Oliver (29) and Alan Frank (24) lost their lives in a terrible accident whilst testing a John Samuel White’s Landplane. Shortly after take-off from Somerton Airfield, the plane malfunctioned and crashed into a turnip field close to Ruffins Copse, near Cockleton Lane (just one kilometre from here). Tragedy struck again in January 1921 when son Bertram was lost at sea whilst serving in one of the ill-fated K Class submarines. HMSub K5 dived during an exercise 120 miles South West of the Scilly Isles and never resurfaced.
Walk on a few meters turning left at the 31 and 32 Plot Marker junction. On reaching the central drive, turn right and walk 30metres towards the top roundabout. At the next junction and to your right, you will see the matching memorials (Waypoint 9) of Sir Godfrey Baring and his wife Eva. Sir Godfrey dedicated a long life to public service and was an MP for the Island and a Justice of the Peace.
He holds the record for Chairmanship of the Isle of Wight Council, an impressive 51 years (1898 to 1949).
The Barings lived at Nubia House on the seaward side of Baring Road (since demolished), the highway adopting the family name.
On the opposite side of the top roundabout, you will find an information board displaying details of what is before you. To the right and beyond the lower path are three as yet, unused plots (43, 44, & 45). They currently form a naturalised meadow and as such, are beneficial to all manner of flora and fauna (Waypoint 10).
This arrangement will continue until such a time that the area is required for burials. The vegetation here is strimmed just once a year during autumn, which encourages natural growth.
Walk down the path and head towards the Gazebo, adjacent to which you will find Plot 42, an area allocated to the Muslim faith (Waypoint 11).
It is the only burial site dedicated to Muslim burials on the Island and features Olive and Palm trees and has a prayer board located at its northern border.
The Gazebo (Waypoint 12) offers seating for visitors to have a welcome rest or a moment of reflection. It was erected in 2016 and was financed within the Heritage Lottery Fund award.
It is used to accommodate memorial services and gatherings during funerals and also by local school groups engaged in educational visits.
On the other side of the Gazebo on Plots 40 & 41 is the recently (2017) created Natural Burial Ground (Waypoint 13).
To date, it is the only Natural Burial Site on the Isle of Wight owned by the local authority. It offers an environmentally friendly option for burials. Here, no memorial furniture is permitted and all that is interred must be biodegradable, the only exception being a small sensor inserted underground in order that the burial position can be located and recorded by Bereavement Services. Approximately 300 grave spaces are planned for the open meadow area and the lower wooded section is set aside for cremated remains only, either interred or scattered amongst the trees and flora. A woodland pathway is a feature here and seating provided for the use of visitors.
The area will be maintained as natural as possible, with vegetation being strimmed just once a year to encourage re-growth.
Turn left at the next junction (opposite Plot Markers 40 and 41) and walk up the path. You will see over to your left, the World War II Civilian War Memorial (Waypoint 14).
During the night of the 4th/5th May 1942 two devastating bombing raids by the Luftwaffe were launched on Cowes & East Cowes, killing many civilians. Their intended targets were the local shipyard at the mouth of the River Medina and Somerton Works adjacent to the cemetery, where Spitfire parts were manufactured. Victims of the ‘Cowes Blitz’ were laid to rest in the communal grave, most on the same day (12th May 1942). Thirty-one that lost their lives are remembered here.
The image depicts the memorial, adorned with wreaths that had been laid in May 2017 by representatives of the visiting Polish Navy during the 75th anniversary of the raid, and its defence of Cowes, by a ship built by John Samuel White’s for the Polish Navy, the ORP Blyskawica.
Continue up the path on this eastern boundary, pass the large Irish Yew tree at the top of the slope and walk on a further 70metres. On your left, you will discover the rather unassuming memorial of a notable man in the history of Cowes, Major Sir Phillip Hunloke GCVO (Waypoint 15). Sir Philip was equerry to King George V and was sailing master of his racing yacht, Britannia. Often seen at the helm, he did much to encourage and establish Cowes as the Mecca for sailing. He served as Commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron from 1943 until his death in 1947.
There are some impressive memorials at the junction of Plot 24 and Plot 19. Included is the resting place of eight members of the affluent Colville family, including Charles John Viscount Colville, Customs House Officer of Culross, Vice Admiral Sir Stanley Cecil James Colville and a memorial tablet to Captain Freddy Colville of the Gordon Highlanders who lost his life in 1940 leading his Company in France during the Second World War. He was laid to rest at Saint-Valery-en-Caux.
Turning left at this junction, you will find the twin headstone memorials of Lieutenant General Charles Baring and his wife Helen, and the cross memorial of their daughter Olivia Graham. The lily adorned cross erected to her memory is a striking example of the stonemason’s craft. Charles Baring is recognised as being the person that encouraged and introduced yacht racing at Cowes for the sailors of smaller craft. He was a founder member of the Island Sailing Club and the first Commodore of the club. Charles and Helen were the parents of Sir Godfrey Baring that you visited at Waypoint 9.
At the next junction you will notice on opposing corners, two lavish Cust family memorials.
The large imposing granite Celtic cross on your left (Waypoint 16) was erected to the memory of Caroline Sophia Cust, clearly a woman of wealth to have afforded such a magnificent memorial. She lived at one time in Castle Rock, a house situated just inland of the Royal Yacht Squadron.
The building became the clubhouse of the Royal Ocean Yacht Club. Opposite the resting place of Caroline Sophia is a very ornate memorial. Here, her daughter Alice Marian is interred, with husband Lieutenant-Colonel Allan Roger Charles Porcelli-Cust of the IV Battalion, the Lincolnshire Regiment.
Taking a short detour along the path between Plot Markers 24 and 25 and walking on 15metres from the Celtic cross of Sophia Cust you will see on your left, the horizontally arranged memorial of Rear Admiral Arthur Woodhall Gillett (Waypoint 17).
This terracotta memorial is a rare and beautiful example created in the Art Nouveau style during the Arts and Crafts movement of the late Victorian/Edwardian period. It was manufactured at the Compton Pottery near Guildford, which was financed by George Frederick Watts and managed by his wife Mary, who founded the Compton Potter’s Arts Guild.
Another short detour to the central drive from the previous junction will enable you to see another information board, this one depicting the area set-aside for nature. (Plots 14, 15, 19 & 20).
Returning to the previous junction, turn left past the Cust memorials and walk on for 40metres where you will reach one of the most poignant monuments in the cemetery. It is the memorial to Duncan Laurence Willoughby MacDonald, “Little Don” (Waypoint 18).
In July 1905 Little Don, aged just 21 months strayed from his home in Stephenson Road in company with another child and tragically fell into a builders lime pit nearby, losing his life. He was laid to rest here and to date he is the only occupant of this double plot. In his memory, his parents commissioned this likeness in stone of the young boy.
Of interest regarding this part of the cemetery and described on the information board is that, for several decades, it has been set-aside for nature. This is a wonderful area to see seasonal flora and fauna and as such is very popular with naturalists and local residents (Waypoint 19).
During springtime the naturalised Crocus, Wood Anemone, Primroses, native Daffodils and Bluebells are a sight to behold. Green Winged and Common Spotted Orchids can be seen growing here, and it also attracts some very scarce butterflies, including Silver Washed Fritillary, Brown Argus and Purple Hairstreak. Although for much of the year the area looks somewhat untidy, it is frequented by many naturalists who appreciate it being set-aside as a natural environment.
A few paces on, turn right at Plot Markers 19 and 20 and continue to the far eastern path that runs parallel to Shamblers Copse. Turn left at the junction (Plot Marker 19) and walk for 130metres until you reach the large Celtic cross memorial of the Redfern family on your right (Waypoint 20).
Significant here is John Redfern who set up the Cowes based, and yet world famous, fashion house with branches abroad including in Paris, New York and Chicago. His company was responsible for designing and manufacturing high-end fashion for the wealthy. Customers included Queen Victoria, her household and foreign royalty. During the 1890’s John employed over 70 dressmakers who not only worked for him but also lived on the premises which were situated in the High Street on the corner of Sun Hill in Cowes.
Nearing the end of this guided walk, head back towards the chapels and make your way down the central drive to take up a position beneath the boughs of the enormous Cedar of Lebanon tree nearest the East Chapel (Waypoint 21).
From the opposite side of the tree to the driveway and keeping parallel with the chapel wall, walk 7metres (12 adult paces), turn around and look up into the canopy. Situated 12metres high you will see an iron railing embedded through the trunk. It had originally been part of a grave memorial below, but was blasted up into the tree by a large land mine that fell onto Plot 5 during an air raid by the Luftwaffe in May 1941.