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Southampton Old Cemetery 


By Patricia Thompson

It is horrifying to think of, but just a decade ago Southampton’s Old Cemetery narrowly escaped being bulldozed to make way for a park.

Today the acres of gravestones on the city’s famous common, one of England’s earliest muhnicipal cemeteries, are safe and a well-established stop on the graveyard ‘hunters’ trail which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.

The site was consecrated, in 1843, by a special act of Parliament when the churchyard of St Mary’s, which had served the city for centuries, became gruesomely overcrowded. The designer was Londoner JC Loudon, who, local legend has it, had some involvement with Highgate, but he died halfway through and it was completed by a local man.

It’s the sort of cemetery to satisfy all tomb-creeperss’ tastess. If you want gloomy and Gothic, drop by on a bleak day whenn the wind howls in from the Solent. Then the great yew walks and three dramatic Victorian chapels - Anglican, Non-Conformist and Jewish - are as forbidding as any could ask. Southampton isn’t lacking when it comes to interesting gravestones, or excellent stories behind - or below - them.

A favorite is the handsome memorial to nineteenth century Argenttinian dictator Juan de Rosas, otherwise known as ‘The Bloody General’. Having been toppled from power and sentenced to death in his absence he fled to Southampton where he appparently hid every time someone called at his home, fearing assassins. After living twenty-five nervous years in the city, he passed on more peacefully than he might have expectedd and was buried beneth a handsome headstone erected by his family. In the 1960s his reputation was somewhat restoredd in his own country and the Argentinian Government asked for him back. He was eventually returned to his native soil, although his tomb remains.

Perhaps the most famous inhabitant is General Gordon of Khartoum, who is buried in the family tomb.

Then there is the grave of international comedy actor Edward Askew Southern, a leading man to the likes of Ellen Terry. When he died in 1881 America’s Prince of Players Edwin Booth, brother of Presidant Lincoln’s assassin, was among his pall-bearers.

Edward Bist “A steady and sober young man”, whose memorial is engraved with a train. Poor Edward, a fireman on a cattle train, breathed his last in 1870, a week after his twenty-fifth birthday, when it crashed in Southampton.

One of the most poignant is the gravestone of a young foreign merchant seaman who died far from home. His shipmates left money for a memorial and a sepia photograph of the sailor, doubtless long forgotten elsewhere, stares out from his stone. 



for more info visit Friends of Southampton Old Cemetery