Wembdon Road Cemetery 1851 - 1995

The establishment of the Wembdon Road Cemetery followed a fairly typical trend of new cemeteries which developed across Britain.

The churchyard of St. Mary's Church had been full for centuries and new burials uprooted old and the charnel house, where the bones were hence stored, was full to overflowing. Bridgwater had suffered several epidemics of the water born disease Cholera and during these outbreaks the number of dead mounted at a faster rate than they could be buried. They swelled the towns various small burial places. The developing crisis of the disposal of the dead prompted the need for a new solution.
There was a trend in the Victorian period to locate new cemeteries out of town. This was partly for sanitation reasons; it was thought unhealthy to have the dead in such public locations as the centre of town or under the floors of the churches.

It was also for the very simple practical reason that on the outside of town there was a large amount of land which could be utilised. At the time of opening the cemetery lay on a tranquil part of the Wembdon Road in an open setting. It was relatively easy to get to, especially for the growing middle class areas on the west of the town.

The land acquired for the new cemetery was divided into three. A very large part was to be used by the Anglican population of the town. Another chunk, which was extended later in the century, was put aside for the non-conformists of the town. This would include Unitarians, Baptists, Quakers (from the 1920s), Salvationists, Catholics and so forth. The other much smaller section became the pauper's graveyard for use by those who could not afford a proper burial. To put it in a base term, this was a dumping ground for the bodies of the poor. The bones from Charnel house of St Mary's, the remains of almost all the population of Bridgwater from earliest times, were also deposited here. The architect Brakespeare was employed to lay out the Anglican section.

Brakespeare has designed a spacious and sophisticated landscaped plan for its time with avenued paths in a parkland setting with no graves to interrupt the view of the Anglican mortuary chapel from the entrance gates. The architect clearly intended to create an uncluttered environment for the mourners of entering a picturesque sylvan glen somewhat similar to the approach to many modern crematoriums. His intension appears to have been to create a familiar gothic chapel with its exit into the cemetery directly opposite its entrance porch. It is interesting to note that there is no provision for turning horses and a hearse at the chapel entrance. It would appear therefore that the coffin was borne by bearers from the entrance gates on the Wembdon Road to the chapel entrance.

After the ceremony the bearers or a bier and not the hearse would then take the deceased through the Chapel exit to the grave. Of course there was sense behind this; in 1851 most women wore crinolines that touched the ground. There being only paths in the cemetery it would be somewhat undignified if the bearers and the ladies had to side step the deposits of the horses! Brakespeare has made provision for ornamental trees, shrubs and seated arbours at regular intervals, his park-like setting really was as lovely as he could make it. This being Bridgwaters only public space or park at the time.

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