St Peter’s Church
High Street, Berkhamsted
Rectory Lane Cemetery was founded in 1842 as a new burial ground for the Parish of Great Berkhamsted, known officially as St Peter’s Churchyard (Detached).
For centuries, the deceased of Berkhamsted had been interred in the churchyard on the north side of the of St Peter’s Parish Church. In the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution resulted in a sharp increase in Britain’s population. Like many burial grounds in England at the time, St Peter’s churchyard became overcrowded, and a new burial ground was desperately needed. The Countess of Bridgewater’s generous gift
to the parish of land on the other side of the High Street enabled the church to open Rectory Lane Cemetery. St Peter’s old churchyard was closed as a burial ground by an Order in Council dated 19th October 1855. Almost all of the headstones there have since been laid flat, and it is now a green space used for parish events.
A church has existed on this site for nearly 800 years, and parish records stretch back to 1222. The church has stood through many significant periods of English history, including the Black Death, the Reformation, the Civil War, the Act of Union and two World Wars. Within its grounds, the fortunes of the town can be traced in its many interesting and historically significant memorials and features. A number of monuments and memorial inscriptions survive from the medieval period. There are also memorials which commemorate departed parishioners who have been buried elsewhere, including in St Peter’s Cemetery on Rectory Lane.
Of particular note are several memorials that connect the church with Rectory Lane Cemetery. The presence of the Smith-Dorrien family, who have several burial plots in Rectory Lane, can be seen in the magnificent neoclassical marble memorial near the choirs stalls, which honours several family members, and in the tall stone churchyard cross erected in memory of Mary Ann Smith Dorrien.
Other memorials here linked to Rectory Lance Cemetery include:
- a plaque in the St John Chantry remembering the surgeon George Frederick Whateley;
- plaque in the chancel commemorating the rector Rev John Wolstenholme Cobb;
- a stained glass window by Heaton & Butler, based on William Holman Hunt’s Light of the World painting, in memory of the publisher William Longman;
- a stained glass window by Nathaniel Westlake in memory of the chemical manufacturer William Cooper.
The noted 18th-century poet and hymn-writer William Cowper is also commemorated in two stained glass windows in St Peter’s Church. Cowper was the son of the rector of St Peter’s, Rev John Cowper, and grew up in the rectory after which Rectory Lane is named.
Discover the memorials in Rectory Lane Cemetery with historical links to St Peter’s Church
24 burials are found — click on a burial below to find out more: