Then and Now

William Rock

William Frederick Rock was a British publisher and philanthropist.  Having worked with the printer and inventor Thomas de la Rue he started his own printing business with help from his brothers.  They specialised in publishing topographical steel-engraved prints, one of which was the 1864 etching (No 5067) of Teignmouth Cemetery.

Thanks to local historian Viv Wilson MBE, who has kindly given us access to an old photograph from her archive, and Geoff Wood, an FOTC volunteer who has taken an equivalent up-to-date picture we now have a unique comparison of almost the same cemetery scene over 150 years.

The three pictures are shown below as thumbprints.  Click on any picture to get a larger view.  It’s fantastic to see both chapels in a photograph, looking so similar to the original etching.  All the more sad that the second of those chapels is now just a ruin.

Below the individual pictures are some close-up comparisons of all three pictures together.

Current View

Date unknown – from Viv Wilson MBE archive

Teignmouth Cemetery 1864







The angles and distances are obviously slightly different but cropping what appears to be roughly the same area from each picture and scaling so that the main chapel is approximately the same size in each gives the following montage:

The “P” on the right-hand etching represents roughly where it would seem that the middle photograph was taken.  Note the path on the etching which still appears to be a stone path in the photograph.  That is now long gone.  The key marker for the modern photograph is the central grave in the middle photograph which is surrounded by low iron fencing, now untidy and slightly overgrown.

There is one constant in all three pictures though – the white cross standing below the left-hand window of the main chapel:

150 years …. a long time in the life of the cemetery.

The Curious Case of the Shifting Shrub

Something slightly light-hearted for Xmas Eve …..

Tales from the Grave so far have focussed on stories surrounding those who are buried in the Cemetery.  But the Cemetery itself has its own tales to tell such as this one from the Western Morning News of Friday 5th March 1880 – a tale of apparent mystery, intrigue and skulduggery which prompted rumours to be spread throughout the town.  I have left the story verbatim as reported in the paper to give it the appropriate ‘period’ feel of a Victorian melodrama but I have broken the single paragraph item up into several for ease of reading.

Curious Proceedings in Teignmouth Cemetery

“At the monthly meeting of the Teignmouth Burial Board yesterday, Mr C H Stooke presiding, Messrs J Tothill and N Hudson also being present, a letter was read by the clerk (Mr Jordan) from Mr G A Hole, gardener, of Fore Street, in which the writer complained that he had found on visiting the cemetery, that a shrub had been taken from his mother’s grave, and on enquiry where the shrub was he discovered that it had been planted on another grave.

The lodge-keeper (Mills) said he knew nothing about it.

The Chairman proposed that, taking all the facts of the case into consideration, the monthly visitor (Mr G Jarvis) be written to, requesting him to have Mills replace the shrub at once.  He (the chairman) heard Mr Jarvis give Mills particular orders not to touch any shrub belonging to any private individual, and Mills should have obeyed those orders.

Mr Tothill thought it possible that Mills might not have been present at all when the shrub was transplanted.  The Chairman thought Mills must have been there the whole of the time.  Mr Hudson inquired whether anyone could plant shrubs on the graves of their relatives.  The Clerk said they could with a “pass” which Mr Hole evidently had.

The Chairman said it appeared that a rumour had gone through the town about this particular shrub, altogether a false rumour, which was got up for a purpose; there was no doubt about that.  He had heard Mills suggest, in Mr Jarvis’s presence, that some of the shrubs in the cemetery should be transplanted, as they were too thick, and were injuring each other, and Mr Jarvis told Mills he must do nothing of the kind with the shrubs planted by private individuals.

Mr Tothill said that might be all very well, but the shrub was removed from a private grave, and placed upon his (Mr Jarvis’s) father’s grave.  It was a thing which he (Mr Tothill) would not have allowed to be done.  Mr Hudson thought it would have been far more satisfactory if both the visitor and the lodgekeeper had been present.  Mr Hudson did not believe that Mills would have allowed the shrub to be removed without Mr Jarvis’s sanction.

It was resolved to order the restoration of the shrub, and to further investigate the matter.

Was Jarvis, the appointed ‘visitor’, the mastermind villain behind this heinous act? Was Mills, the trusted lodgekeeper, the fall-guy?  What was the nefarious purpose of the “false rumour”?  Did Stooke, the Chairman, have a hidden vested interest and was he attempting to pervert the course of cemeterial justice?  Was the further investigation a cover-up, perhaps in the national interest?

We may never know the answers to these important questions – I can find no further report.  The statute of limitations may have passed but this Victorian whodunnit remains a mystery.


Progress Update

Here are a few pictures showing the progress made so far on the main area of graves we have been working on.  It has been HARD work, especially trying to eradicate the many years of growth of brambles and ivy, but we’re getting there.  The next stage for this area will be to decide how we plant up to make it more attractive.  There is also some work being undertaken around the buildings – pictures to follow.  We still have some concerns which we are trying to address with the Council such as removal of all the waste and most importantly whether we can use one of the buildings for storing our equipment.

We found a line of child graves that had been completely overgrown

We have also now had a response from Teignbridge District Council about our proposal for the renovation of the buildings for community use.  Click here to see that response.  We are currently reviewing how we should respond to it since it does not match with our proposal or subsequent meetings we had with the Council.  Our reply will be published here as well.

Charles Ethelred

Finally we have decided to create a separate Facebook page.  Whilst this website is good for keeping a record of everything being done related to the Cemetery it is not as immediate as Facebook.  Facebook will enable us to post information and photos very quickly which is important now that we are getting into a regular system of work parties.  Details to follow.


Our First Survey

Survey site from direction of chapel

Finally we have our public liability insurance and a completed risk assessment. This means that Teignbridge have now been able to give us official permission to be able to work in the cemetery.

Last Thursday a group of us visited the Cemetery to survey the first area which we will be clearing. This gave us a chance to test out the risk assessment document and to mark out the area – this now cordoned off with barrier tape in accordance with the risk register. Looks a bit like a crime scene, doesn’t it?!!

Survey site from below

We photographed all the graves and have also made written records of what could be deciphered on the graves. Interestingly (more to come) we have been offered some assistance with cutting edge technology (associated with Exeter University) which can photographically reconstruct wording which may be unclear or eroded.

One of our volunteers will be starting some historical research on the graves and we also carried out a quick flower survey of the area. We will be attempting to conserve any interesting wild plants which may be dug up as part of the clearance.

Close up of two of the large tombs

Now the hard work can start in clearing the graves. Fortunately much of the bramble and ivy had been cut away previously by Dawlish Garden Trust but there are still roots to be grubbed out. The first working party is planned for next Thursday 4th May at 1pm – anyone who would like to help is most welcome. We are still in the process of purchasing tools so for this first working party it would help if everyone could bring a fork or spade or some hand-tools themselves.

This first area will be significant for us in testing out what the best approach to clearance could be and also how long it takes. That will help in mapping out a long-term plan.

Thanks to everyone for your support so far.

Cemetery Records

Last week I met with Katrine Smith, the Cemetery Officer for Teignbridge District Council.  She very kindly, and with great enthusiasm, showed me the records that are held on the Teignmouth Old Cemetery.

We looked at the fascinating old map of the burial plots and looked up the records of Leah Laforgue, the first person whose grave we cleared as part of this project.

We also identified the records of Mary Bowden, the first person to be buried in the cemetery on 4th February 1856 and is in an unmarked grave.

We are planning to find that grave!

I have posted details on the following pages:

We are not alone

Help Volunteer

Help Volunteer

A few days ago I received an email from Jaki, one of the FOTC Friends:

“Was just in London and friend’s flat backs onto Brompton Cemetery.  Walked through there.  Some areas totally overgrown but they are clearing and working to restore and have an ongoing project.”


Accompanying the text below are some of the photos that Jaki took.




National Federation of Cemetery Friends

Protect our cemetery for everyone

Protect our cemetery for everyone

All over the country there are groups working to restore local cemeteries.  We have contacted the National Federation of Cemetery Friends which represents groups of volunteers interested in conserving cemeteries large and small.  The Cemetery Friends give their time clearing and maintaining areas, often working with local ecology groups to maintain a balance between wildlife and heritage.  Friends may also provide guided walks, open days and special events and work on projects with English Heritage and other organisations.  Some groups have restored memorials and chapels.

Associate members of the National Federation include trusts, councils, organisations who manage cemeteries and burials and individual members who are not part of a Friends group but share in their values.

They have produced an excellent booklet “Saving Cemeteries, A Handbook for Cemetery Friends” which draws on experiences from a number of Friends groups across the country.  It includes case studies on:  Arnos Vale Cemetery, Bristol; Woodbury Park Cemetery, Tunbridge Wells; Flaybrick Cemetery, Birkenhead; Sheffield General Cemetery; Beckett Street Cemetery, Leeds; The Rosary, Norwich; Nunhead Cemetery, SE London.

Why should our cemeteries be saved?

A Green Sanctuary

A Green Sanctuary

Cemeteries are pieces of ground set aside for burials.  There are around 14,000 cemeteries in the UK. Many cemeteries are closed for new burial plots, although they may be open for the interring (burying) of ashes.  Many cemeteries are attached to churches, some are operated privately and many are run by Local Authorities.

However, urban burial grounds in the 19th century were originally envisaged as public open spaces, and were professionally designed to be attractive places to visit in their own right.  As well as functioning as burial sites, they were also regarded as places for visiting and promenading of “a more dignified and morally uplifting kind”.  The nineteenth-century legislation that provided for new burial grounds seemed to have envisaged that they would in due course become public open spaces (for which provision was made in the Open Spaces Acts 1887 and 1906).

Today, many cemeteries are neglected, with little to attract anyone apart from those visiting specific burial plots. This lack of design, planning and ambition means that the potential health and environmental benefits of cemeteries are not being realised.

Incredible Heritage Assets

Incredible Heritage Assets

There is a strong case to be made that cemeteries have especial architectural and landscape interest because they have often been trapped in a time-warp, and have not been modified, adapted, overlaid, or even destroyed, as has so much else in the historic environment.

This is an argument that is becoming increasingly heard elsewhere in Europe.  There are a very large number of listed buildings in cemeteries, according to the National Monuments Record Centre, including lodges and houses, boundary walls, gates, mortuary chapels, cemetery chapels, tombs, and mausoleums.

So cemeteries are a unique mirror on our history and heritage whilst offering an opportunity for the future – a return to the original concept of “Open Space”, providing opportunities for encouraging wide community use.

The above includes extracts from the following sources:

Funeral Map ….

National Federation of Cemetery Friends ….

Cemeteries, churchyards and burial grounds ….




The Ruin

To the left of the lodge is the remains of a second chapel.  Until a couple of weeks ago this was covered with ivy and full of bramble and ivy.  The overgrowth has now been cut back but there is still quite a bit of work left to bring the inside down to its original floor level.  As the clearance progressed a lot of masonry came to light.  It appears that fragments of broken headstones have been left here – it would be interesting to trace their original grave locations.  Click Here to see some photos:

Expression of Interest

We have recently submitted to Teignbridge District Council an Expression of Interest for the community use of the Old Cemetery buildings and site.  As part of that we were also asked to submit a business plan.

Our response to that particular point was:

“With only two weeks, and no prior notice, to produce such a plan it would be disingenuous to produce anything which purported to be a definitive business proposition.  However, we do have a clearly thought through view which is presented in this Outline Business Strategy.  Our strength as a group is that we can call upon a wide range of skills, experiences and views to shape a cogent way forward for full community use of the site.

Our understanding is that at least one other organisation has had prior notice of the Expression of Interest and dealings with Teignbridge about the future of the site.  They will, therefore, have had more time to prepare a full business plan.  We hope that this is not pre-determination and that our proposition will not be discounted simply on the basis of not having had sufficient time or access to knowledge to produce such a plan.”

Teignbridge have said that they will be evaluating all Expressions of Interest over the next couple of weeks.  It is probably best, in case we jeopardise our submission, that we hold back on publicising the full content here.  But you can see a brief summary of the approach we have suggested at the following page:  Expression of Interest Summary.

Wonderful News ….

This is exactly what community action is all about!!

Teignbridge Council withdraw change of use plans for Teignmouth cemetery

TEIGNBRIDGE Council has withdrawn its change of use plans for the old cemetery chapel in Teignmouth. In 2015, the council had put in an application to convert…
Looks like it’s in the Exeter Express & Echo too