Growth of the Cemetery
Before the Cemetery
It is the early 1800s. In rural Berkhamsted, the town’s burials all take place in the graveyard at St Peter’s Parish Church. On Rectory Lane stands the Old Rectory of St Peter’s. On the other side of the lane are gardens belonging to Egerton House.
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Tap the red hotspots on the map to reveal more about the area.
On 9th June 1976, the original 1842 section of the Cemetery is closed to burials by Order of Council.
By the side of Rectory Lane there is a wooden well-house containing the well which supplies water to the Old Rectory from a spring. It is named after Rev. Cowper, Rector of St Peter's Parish Church 1722-1756 and father of the poet William Cowper who was born here at the Rectory.
Around the time of the opening of the Cemetery, ornamental yew and monkey puzzle trees have been planted near the Old Rectory in the south-west corner of the new burial ground.
In 1990, Dacorum Borough Council attempts to tackle antisocial behaviour by cutting down a large number of trees, including an avenue of yews. By clearing the overgrown areas, the council hope to make the cemetery less attractive for "glue-sniffers and other nefarious activities".
By 1980, Rectory Lane Cemetery is in a sorry state and reports of vandalism hit the headlines of the local press. An Express article describes littering, drunkenness, monuments being smashed and tombstones being smashed by wayward youths. Both St Peter's Church congregation and Dacorum Borough Council struggle to look after the disused burial ground.
St Peter's Parish has sold off the Victorian Rectory and it is now a private house.
A 36-foot (11-metre) strip of land is left at the end of the extended cemetery (the southern end, at the top of hill). This is being safeguarded for an access road to a planned extension of the cemetery. The new boundary wall stops short of the strip, leaving room for a future entrance.
A second extension is made to the cemetery when the 3rd Earl Brownlow, Adelbert Brownlow-Cust, a successor to the Countess, donates land to the south.
Local volunteers get involved in a community initiative to tidy the cemetery, pruning overgrown trees and shrubs and digging up invasive weeds.
The volunteer facility will be simple but cleverly designed wooden building at the top of the Cemetery.
In 1871 the original wooden gates and gateposts are removed and replaced by large octagonal brick gate piers. It is thought that this was done by relocating the gate piers from the the Rectory driveway entrance across to the Cemetery entrance.
New resin-bound paths which will make it much easier for everybody, including visitors in wheelchairs and buggies, to get around the lower two-thirds of the Cemetery. These new path surfaces will improve accessibility for everyone.
New designer benches are to be installed across the cemetery, making it a more pleasant place to relax.
A new Garden of Remembrance is planned to continue the Cemetery's role as a place to remember loved ones.
The memorial arch is restored, with decayed stonework repaired and cleaned, and the cross put back on top.
The leaning gate pillars on Rectory Lane have been carefully underpinned and realigned, and the stone caps repointed. The rusty entrance gates have been restored to their former glory and re-mounted.
Some historic graves that had succumbed to frost damage and the stonework had shattered. These two graves have been expertly pieced back together by stonemasons.
Several memorials have suffered from subsidence and have been listing. The Holloway Memorial shown here has been underpinned and straightened.
Several historic memorials had become unstable. The Leaper memorial seen here has been set straight and invasive ivy cleared.
The Memorial Arch has become weathered and overgrown, and the cross falls off the top. Next to it, the Seat of Remembrance crumbles away, broken by a sapling, to be forgotten for years.
The gates, once an imposing entrance to the Cemetery, have rusted. Over many years, ground subsidence under the brick gate piers has caused them to list.
Over time, saplings have sprouted and have severely damaged some historic graves, cracking open stone sarcophagi.
Decades of unchecked tree growth allows saplings to sprout among the graves, breaking historic monuments and toppling headstones.
Over the years, neglected memorials fall into disrepair. Headstones fall over, monuments suffer from frost damage and vandalism.
More former land from the Highfield House estate is used for council housing, and by the end of the 1960s, the Ashylns Housing Estate has been completed, providing new homes for many people. The flats on Hilltop Road, pictured above, overlook Rectory Lane Cemetery.
St Peter''s Church builds a new rectory
Three Close Lane is widened for traffic and the lower portion of the eastern boundary wall is re-aligned and re-built
War in Europe has once again taken its toll, and by 1946 more war graves have appeared in the Cemetery, commemorating the sacrifice of many young men from Berkhamsted. Most of the Commonwealth War Graves headstones can be distinguished by their simple, white stone design. Many of the inscriptions speak of local families' sorrow at the loss of their sons.
By the 1940s, the Highfield estate has disappeared after Highfield House was demolished in the 1930s and the estate sold off. Three Close Lane, Victoria Road and Highfield Road, which were all cul-de-sac roads, have been extended and new council housing has been built on the land.
Next to the Memorial Arch there is now the Seat of Remembrance, a bench which features two sculpted stone Irish setters. It was installed in 1934 by Lucy Anne Foot in memory of her late husband, Brigadier General Richard Mildmay Foot (1865 -1933), next to his grave. Lucy Anne died in September 1946, leaving behind a touching memorial and one of the Cemetery's most distinctive monuments.
In 1936 the Elizabethan mansion Egerton House is bought by the Shipman & King cinema circuit and demolished. The new Rex Picture House, opened in 1938, now stands in its place on the corner of Three Close Lane. The cinema was designed in a highly fashionable Art Deco style by the architect David Evelyn Nye.
In 1924, Earl Brownlow donates nearly 2 acres of additional land at the top of the hill. A further extension of the Cemetery is planned here, with an access path running across the southern edge and new entrance gates on Three Close Lane and Chesham Road. This scheme is never executed.
Today, the Priory Gardens houses stand on the land shown on the map.
Where the Chesham Road gate would have been is now the entrance to The Glebe apartments.
This photo shows the consecration of the Cemetery in 1921. This is probably the Rt Rev Michael Bolton Furse, Bishop of St Albans, and behind him Canon Chipchase Stainsby, Rector of St Peter's Church. Behind the crowd of parishioners can be seen the metal railing which was then removed to open up the upper section of the Cemetery.
World War I has claimed the lives of many young men and boys from Berkhamsted. Most were killed in action and have been interred in the large battlefield Cemeteries of Belgium and France, but some returned home and died of their wounds. War graves have now begun to appear in Rectory Lane Cemetery; the earliest here is in 1913, Charles Brewer, who died during training with the Territorial Army just before war broke out, aged 22. His military funeral is pictured above.
In 1904 the Llewelyn Davies family move from Kensington in London to Berkhamsted, and live in Egerton House on the High Street. The family are close friends with the playwright J.M. Barrie, who often visits them in Berkhamsted. Barrie plays with the Llewelyn Davies children in the garden which overlooks Rectory Lane Cemetery. He bases his Peter Pan on stories he has made up for the children, and names the character after the eldest child, Peter Llewelyn Davies.
Today, Egerton House is gone and the Rex Cinema stands on the site, but it is charming to think that perhaps the original Peter Pan himself once played near Rectory Lane Cemetery.
In 1900, the young Clementine Hozier is brought to live Berkhamsted by her parents so that she can complete her education at Berkhamsted School for Girls. She lives at 107 High Street, overlooking the Cemetery. After leaving Berkhamsted she goes on to marry a promising young politician named Winston Churchill in 1908.
After Winston's death in 1965, she is created a life peer as Baroness Spencer-Churchill and sits in the House of Lords.
Following her death in 1977, Clementine is buried at St Martin's Church, Bladon, Oxfordshire. Today, a plaque on Clementine's Berkhamsted house commemorates her life here, unveiled in 1979 her youngest daughter, Baroness Soames.
A small brick shed is built for use by the sexton (the parish officer in charge of the Cemetery). The Sexton's Hut is used to store gravedigging shovels, gardening tools etc.
Along the top of the Cemetery runs a railing to mark the new southern boundary. From the Highfield House estate, there is a clear view over the cemetery to St Peter's Church, unobstructed by houses, and a horse grazes in the neighbouring paddock.
A memorial arch of red brick with stone dressings is built at the bottom of the new north-south central path to create a focal point between the old and new cemetery grounds.
A new entrance gate is created to serve the Cemetery extension with a turning space for horse-drawn hearses on Three Close Lane.
In the 1840s, the entrance to the cemetery on Rectory Lane has wooden gates and gateposts.
Next to this is a long driveway leading up to the newly built Rectory, and three large octagonal brick gate piers stand at the entrance. It is thought that these piers are later moved to form the cemetery entrance.
A large Foundation Stone is erected at what was in 1842 the southern boundary of the cemetery. It commemorates the gifts of the Countess of Bridgewater and other benefactors, and the Cemetery consecration date is recorded here as 11th October 1842.
An avenue of Irish yew trees is laid out with a private gate to the Rectory at one end, and an exit onto Three Close Lane at the other end. Yew trees have an ancient significance in burial grounds, as they traditionally symbolise everlasting life.
Highfield House was an 18th-century mansion which stood to the east of the cemetery. The entrance to its extensive grounds was on Three Close Lane. The house was demolished around 1870 and Highfield Road and Victoria Road were constructed on the land.
An Elizabethan manor house, Egerton House, stands on Berkhamsted High Street. It was probably built during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I by Thomas Egerton, an ancestor of the Earls of Bridgewater. Behind the property is a large garden. In 1842 it is purchased by the Countess of Bridgewater, widow of John Egerton, 7th Earl of Bridgewater, and she donates a large part of the land to the Parish of Great Berkhamsted.
Rev John Crofts, Rector of St Peter’s Church 1810-1851, demolishes the Old Rectory and builds a new Rectory on land further up the lane.
In the 21st century, this building is still in use as a private house; in the 1960s it is sold by the church and a new Rectory built .
The Old Rectory stood to the west of the Cemetery. This was the birthplace of the poet and hymn-writer William Cowper in 1731, the son of the Rector of St Peter’s. Around 1845 a later Rector, Rev John Crofts, demolished this house and built a new rectory further up the lane.