Naturally the second thing I do when arriving anywhere is looking for the cemetery, and the one closest to me is Southampton Old Cemetery which is “up the road”. Like so many other cemeteries in the UK it does go back many years, being opened on 7 May 1846; and like so many other cemeteries of that time it had an unconsecrated “Dissenter” (non conformist) side and a consecrated side. There are 2 chapels too and a lodge in the cemetery and there are roughly 116000 burials in it.
My first impression as I looked over the wall was of an overgrown cemetery very similar to Nunhead in London but I did not go into it until I was on my way back from Hollybrook. I entered through the gate in Hill Street which comes out roughly half way. And then I saw that inside it was a different ball game altogether. The 2 chapels and lodge are beautiful buildings, and the area surrounding them has some magnificent headstones around them.
The notice board had revealed that there were a number of graves with a connection to the ill fated Titanic, either through family members being buried there, or through a crew member being mentioned on a grave. They had been mapped out over the years and pegged so finding them isn’t too difficult, although reading them is.
The cemetery does not get trimmed as much as would be expected because of the abundant fauna and flora that has made it their home, It is also a popular place for locals to gather and take a stroll, or have a drinking spree depending on their inclination. Parts of it are really very wild and almost impassable, but that does add to the charm of the place. Being a maritime city, there are a lot of graves with a nautical theme, and the anchor is a prominent feature of many memorials. In fact there were a number of memorials that I had not seen before in any cemeteries in London or South Africa.
Of course there are the usual crop of angels and cherubs that seem to be universal in all cemeteries, or should I say compulsory?
And once again moss, lichen, mould, algae and vegetation have created a vivid blanket in so many different ways. It is strange how it seems to have an affinity with certain monuments, or possibly it is the stone that attracts them?
They certainly add a splash of colour to everything, and even the boundary wall of the cemetery is covered with moss.
There is only one mausoleum in the cemetery, but it could be that there was no real urge to show how well to do you were in a town that relied on the sea for its well being; unlike London that had the ever present burden of the court and society to dictate fads and fashions.
However, there are some really nice headstones, and a number do have naval or military themes.
Realistically many sections are really just areas of grassland with the occasional headstone or mound which is in keeping with the maintenance policy. I would not like to have to find a grave in this cemetery unless it was pegged first!
There are a number of graves that do seem to be regularly visited, and quite a few headstones have been tended by relatives. That is an encouraging sign because it does ensure that this cemetery does not become an empty derelict. It is doubtful that any new burials are taking place in its 27 acres, but I am sure specific requests do get carried out.
The Friends of Southampton Old Cemetery regularly undertake conservation workdays and guided walks around the cemetery, and on my second trip were holding two walks geared towards the Titanic related graves. Unfortunately it had been raining for quite some time so I don’t know how well these were attended. But it was a pleasant surprise to find one of the “friends groups” at a cemetery when I was there.
And, yes, there are famous people buried here too, but I like to think that there were more everyday people than notables. Because those huge monuments that get erected eventually become just one more thing to gawk up 100 years down the line.
The one interesting connection to South Africa in this cemetery is the grave of Charles Rawden Maclean, or John Ross as we know him.</ br> Southampton Old Cemetery is the local equivalent of Highgate, and it does a remarkably good job of it too. I have returned to it at least 3 times since I came to Southampton, and it keeps on springing new surprises on me, and I will hopefully return there again because I still have graves to find, and time marches on.
Unfortunately I left Southampton in November 2013, it was a great place to gravehunt, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I also photographed the war graves there as well as attended the Remembrance Day Service there in 2013. It was a welcoming place, and I miss it.
DRW © 2013-2021. Images replaced 31/03/2016, most images replaced 02/09/2021.