By the middle of the nineteenth century the town's churchyards were full and the various parishes got together to look for land for a new cemetery. They eventually found land outside the town on Mill Road, which was then in open country. Within forty years it was completely surrounded by housing as the town expanded as a result of the coming of the railway to Cambridge. Half a century later the burial ground was full and the only burials that took place were in family plots which were already in existence.
What to do with a disused cemetery? Although some graves are well cared for there are others that have been neglected. This has made the place ideal for wildlife; a little oasis amongst all the brick and tarmac. It's also a public space for people to wander - with dogs, with baby-buggies and, yes, with cameras.
It's also recently become a place for public artwork to be exhibited in the intriguing form of sculptures created by Gordon Young, an internationally-known artist. His seven "Bird Stones" celebrate the species that occur regularly on the site - Blackbird, Song Thrush, House Sparrow, Goldfinch, Crow, Robin and Collared Dove. These stones (one of which is made of wood, as you can see above) are inscribed with poetry, Biblical quotations and attempts to convey the birds' songs phonetically. And it was these artworks that lured me into the cemetery this week.
Rather than detract from the beauty of the gravestones they seem to re-direct the eye to the earlier carvings.
Some of the stones are heavy with Victorian symbolism and sentimentality, though many are in need of a little love and care. I was pleased to see that quite a lot of restoration work has been taking place around the site and three women, a dog and a wheelbarrow were busily engaged in planting spring bulbs.
A Blackbird Singing
It seems wrong that out of this bird,
Black, bold, a suggestion of dark
Places about it, there yet should come
Such rich music, as though the notes'
Ore were changed to a rare metal
At one touch of that bright bill.
You have heard it often, alone at your desk
In a green April, your mind drawn
Away from its work by sweet disturbance
Of the mild evening outside your room.
A slow singer, but loading each phrase
With history's overtones, love, joy
And grief learned by his dark tribe
In other orchards and passed on
Instinctively as they are now,
But fresh always with new tears.
R S Thomas
The cemetery once had a rather grand chapel in the Gothic style designed by George Gilbert Scott, one of the leading church architects of his day. However good an architect he may have been the building began to fall down before it was 100 years old and it was decided that demolishing it was the only option.
Recently the site of the chapel was investigated and it was found that the foundations are still in place and in good condition. There is talk of excavating them so they can become a feature of the central area of the cemetery, which at present is a rather blank space.
The cemetery is used as an educational resource by local schools and there are several trails exploring war graves, wildlife and other aspects of the site.
One moment they perch to crane and peer
Then like children in a game they spur
Each other into flight, bouncing
Like raindrops, chinking like beads,
Weightless as wind-blown leaves.
They never seem to feed but to exist
On air in air, translucent,
Ubiquitous as dreams, sparks
In perpetual motion without origin
The atmosphere records
Their passage as a flash
Of jewels then
Like spirits they move on.
by Damaris West
I was very taken with this memorial standing in an isolated and wooded corner, unseen by all but the most inquisitive visitor. But clouds were gathering and the light was dimming, so I made my way back out into the hustle and bustle of Mill Road and the evening rush hour.