The Development of Northwood Cemetery

Northwood_Cemetery_Map_1856By the mid 19th Century, it became apparent that church graveyards were becoming filled, so the Burial Act of 1853 empowered parish vestries to provide independent burial grounds.

Northwood Cemetery was laid out in 1856, making it the Island’s very first municipal cemetery. Ryde Cemetery being laid out in 1841 was actually the first independent burial ground on the Island, not affiliated to a church. This continued until 1860 when Ryde Town Commissioners became a constitutional Burial Board thereby making the Town Council responsible for its running and upkeep and in effect making this a municipal cemetery also.

Northwood Cemetery was created in 4 acres of woodland on the western side of Shamblers Copse. This had been purchased from the Ward Estate and was landscaped to become the first ten plots, comprising some 3,936 grave spaces.

The design and planning of the twin Chapels, a Receptacle House, Porter’s Lodge and the general laying out of the Burial Ground was contracted to Messrs Mew & Manning, the plans being displayed in the Town Hall on Market Hill for public viewing and comment. It had been proposed that three quarters of the Cemetery would be consecrated by the Church of England.

In January 1856 tenders were published in local newspapers for laying the roads and drainage within the Cemetery as well as the wall, which was to be built around the perimeter.

A bell was to be purchased from the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London to hang in the Protestant Chapel and boundary stones were positioned to indicate the Non Conformists section of the Cemetery. A lodge keeper was appointed and tenders were put out for the planting of trees, ornamental shrubs and flowerbeds at the Cemetery’s entrance.

On the 8th November 1856, the first burial took place. This ‘honour’ was bestowed upon James Cribb, a 32 year old local shoemaker who was interred in Grave 2600 of Plot 7.

By 1872 it was quite clear that more burial spaces would be required for the Non Conformists of the Parish and so, another piece of land on the western side was offered by Mr W G Ward. Within five years, two more acres of land to the south was purchased from the Ward Estate – plus a section of meadow owned by Mr Attrill – to ‘square’ the cemetery off. The west wall was taken down and rebuilt along the new boundary and the north wall was extended to meet it (the wall adjacent to the Cowes Medical Centre today). The additional section, adding a further 13 plots comprising 4,484 grave spaces, was levelled, seeded for grass and new shrubs were planted – including 100 rhododendrons.

Twenty-four iron seats were purchased and installed around the Cemetery and, by 1880, an area of outstanding beauty had, no doubt, been created. The Cemetery quickly became a popular venue for walks and even picnics – and at weekends a policeman patrolled the Cemetery to deter flower picking!

With the population of Cowes ever expanding in this most popular of yachting havens more land was purchased from the Ward Estate in 1904, adding 10 more plots, thereby catering for an additional 5,044 grave spaces. The Cemetery now totalled an area of some 12 acres.

In 1933 negotiations with Mr Mullett of Somerton Farm were successful in purchasing a further 4 acres to the south, expanding the Cemetery to its current footprint of 17 acres. It is believed that before 1856, the southern half of the cemetery had been farmland and therefore to this day, features a different habitat to the northern half, which had for many years been a part of Shamblers Copse and therefore was rich in woodland flora and fauna. We see evidence today of seeds that have laid dormant in the ground for decades suddenly take life as some of the overgrown and ungainly shrubbery are trimmed back, allowing light to once more reach the ground beneath.

Today (2019) covering some seventeen acres, it is the second largest Cemetery on the Island (after Carisbrooke Mount Joy) and the ‘woodland’ atmosphere of the northern part attracts all manner of wildlife – including a wide variety of bird species, butterflies and of course, one of the Island’s most prized possessions – the Red Squirrel.

Barry Sowerby – History & Records