Arnos Vale Cemetery
is located between the A37, Wells Road, and the A4, Bath Road,
in Bristol. The main entrance is from Bath Road and there is
pedestrian access from Wells Road via Cemetery Road. A frequent
bus service passes from the city centre and Temple Meads Railway
Station, the bus stop is by the main gates.
A New Cemetery
revolution saw a massive increase in the population of England’s
towns and cities where private companies began to establish
large cemeteries from about 1830 onwards to resolve (and profit
from) the scandalous overcrowding of inner city churchyards. One
such cemetery was Arnos Vale, set up in 1837 through a private
Act of Parliament establishing the Bristol General Cemetery
When the Health in
Towns Act of 1855 finally closed the old City churchyards, Arnos
Vale was the only place of burial in Bristol until Greenbank
Cemetery was opened in 1871.
Arnos Vale Cemetery
was designed to be visually attractive in the style of a Greek
Necropolis, with mortuary chapels and other buildings bordering
a beautiful garden of trees and plants noted in classical
legend, with the backdrop of a steep hillside terraced like an
Today, the 45 acre
site is of considerable ecological importance, having progressed
from mediaeval countryside to Georgian estate to Victorian
Cemetery to the present day with almost no use of chemical
pesticides or insecticides, it is now a rare urban haven for
wildlife and plants.
There are four fine
buildings within the Cemetery - two Entrance Lodges and two
Mortuary Chapels (Anglican and Non-conformist). All four
buildings are listed Grade II*. Designed by Charles Underwood
and built using the finest materials so that the high quality of
the building probably saved them from even greater dereliction,
given their lack of maintenance and attention over the last two
decades of the 20th century.
The Doric style
Lodges were the working office buildings and the home to the
Cemetery Superintendent and his family. They were linked by a
tunnel running under the main drive-in area between them.
styled Non-conformist Chapel is more elegant than
the Lodges but still with sufficient moral
simplicity to satisfy the religious ‘dissenters’.
Non-conformist Chapel c. 1870
Corinthian styled Anglican Chapel is the grandest
building, set at the crest of two inclines which
enhances its majestic proportions with its stunning
The names of many prominent Victorian and
Edwardian families appear on elaborate memorials such as ‘Wills’
and ‘Robinson’ who provided the generations of Bristol with much
needed employment in their heydays. Great social reformers such
as George Muller, Mary Carpenter and Raja Rammohun Roy rest in
the Arcadian Garden area. Among the 'ordinary' citizens resting
nearby are survivors of the Charge of the Light Brigade, and a
police officer murdered in Old Market whilst trying to intervene
over the ill-treatment of a donkey.
Expansion and Development
In 1891 it was necessary to incorporate a
further area, previously used as allotments, into Arnos Vale
Cemetery. In this flat area to the south of the Cemetery, many
20th century people were buried, particularly railway
workers and their families from Totterdown and Pylle Hill.
In 1929 the Bristol Crematorium was opened
at Arnos Vale, using the crypt of the Non-conformist Chapel to
house part of it, and further buildings were added around it in
the 1950s. In its day, it was a state of the art installation
and the first Crematorium in the West of England. Subsequently
municipal crematoria were also opened in Bristol, and a private
crematorium was opened in South Gloucestershire, to the
north-east of Bristol, creating a situation of over-capacity.
Threat of Closure
In the late
1980s, Arnos Vale, together with other Victorian
cemeteries, reached a critical situation;
practically ‘full’, income dwindling, less money to
pay for staff and maintenance. Changes in social
outlook led to vandalism and indifference. Many of
the once-splendid memorials have fallen and
wind-born seeds of Ash and Sycamore grow, once
grassed areas are now choked with bramble, bindweed
and knotweed closing paths once walked by visitors
to their family graves.
In 1987, alarmed by a press report that
the private owner of the Cemetery had announced aspirations to
clear and commercially develop a large section of the Cemetery,
a group of concerned locals came together to form the
‘Association for the Preservation of Arnos Vale Cemetery’ (APAC)
(later changed to ‘Friends of Arnos Vale Cemetery’). They
campaigned to secure a safe future for Arnos Vale, supported by
the Bristol council, Bristol citizens and many people worldwide.
In 1998 Arnos Vale Cemetery reached crisis
point, it lost its cremation licence, and the owners announced
they were closing the Cemetery and locking the gates. In the
event, the office was closed down,
but bowing to public pressure, the gates were left unlocked. A few dedicated volunteers
took responsibility for opening and closing the gates on a daily
basis, a vital task also carried out was a basic level of site
maintenance to keep it safe for visitors.
Rescue and a New
In April 2001, convinced by the high level
of public pressure, the Bristol City Council made a Compulsory
Purchase Order (CPO), after the failure of negotiations with the
owner to buy the Cemetery. A prolonged legal battle culminated
in the CPO “going forward unimpugned” and the ownership of Arnos
Vale Cemetery passed into the hands of the City Council on 7
August 2003 - out of private ownership for the first time in its
With the generous assistance of
Northcliffe Newspapers, who own the Bristol Evening Post, the
Books of Remembrance have been acquired and are now on display
at the cemetery (to view please see
In the meantime, the Arnos Vale Cemetery
Trust had been set up and was awarded charitable status. On 7
August 2003 the City Council licensed the Trust exclusively to
manage Arnos Vale Cemetery.
Whilst the site had
been acquired, the business records, including the burial and
cremation records remained with the former owner. In spite
of vigorous campaigning by the Friends and Trust, these records
while safely stored and maintained, were not available to the
public until the City obtained a Statutory Instrument from the
Government to transfer the records to the City.
It is now possible
to request a search of the records which include approximately
50,000 graves, 170,000 burials and 123,000 cremations.
Full details are on the
Arnos Vale Cemetery Trust website.
Alternative ownership has secured
against private commercial development. An Endowment Fund has
been set up to be managed by the Greater Bristol Foundation, to
provide ongoing revenue to maintain the Cemetery after the
restoration has been carried out. After much hard work by
members of the Trust and their consultants under the guidance of
Richard Smith, a bid for Heritage Lottery Funding was successful
in December 2005 and £4.8million had been awarded from the fund
towards the restoration of the cemetery buildings and grounds.
This sum however only represents about 75% of the required
costs, a further £600,000 has to be raised through fund raising
projects organised by the Trust and Friends.
What has been Achieved
Lodge Opening Ceremony - March 2006
for the restoration and regeneration of the site was established under the project management of
Bristol City Council. This included the four main
buildings, landscaping, paths and some principal
monuments. The West Lodge was restored
with the backing of English Heritage and Bristol
City Council; this was the first building to be used
by the Trust in March 2006 as offices with part as a
visitor's centre and the books of remembrance on
A second phase was completed in the spring
of 2007 with tree works to remove some of the self seeded trees with other
undergrowth generally to form widened access corridors based on
the original drives and footpaths. This is primarily to allow
light at ground level and to encourage diversity of plants and
The main restoration
building programme began in March 2008 and was completed in
The second lodge was
available from March 2009 and is now used as the visitors
reception and also a shop selling quality gifts and associated
items. The basement has been fitted out as a place for
volunteers; the remaining space on the top floor is currently
used by Trust staff.
The Anglican chapel
has been restored to its former excellence, including the
plasterwork and tiled floor. The original fixed seating
was lost some time ago and not replaced. The building is
now available for hire, for a multitude of uses; please refer to
the Trust website for details.
Non-conformist chapel is now an education centre and has been
considerably remodelled including a new glazed entrance foyer
with basement facilities including toilets. The building is
now known as the Spielman Education Centre and also contains a
display of artefacts from its days as a crematorium.
The West Lodge, the
first building completed, now houses the main interpretation
displays as well as the Crematorium Books of Remembrance.
There are staff offices on the top floor.
Much of the
refurbishment was funded by the Heritage Lottery Foundation (HLF)
but also through donations and fundraising. The Friends
played an active role in the refurbishment phase by
fundraising for particular projects and also providing
volunteer time which was used for 'match funding towards the HLF
grant. The Friends to date have donated in excess of
£65,000 to the cemetery as well as the greater part of the
£250,000 of volunteer time.
The Group of Friends
and Trustees are all volunteers who have worked relentlessly to
ensure that the cemetery was saved and restored. For a
number of years Richard Smith was chairman of both Trust and
Friends and was awarded an MBE in 2006. His wife
Joyce was also awarded an MBE in 2008 for her significant
contributions including various roles on the Friends Committee.
The crematorium is
no longer functioning but existing burial rights are to be
honoured by the Trust and in addition cremated remains can be
scattered in the two gardens of rest,
further details are on the Trust website.
A Place of Quiet