St Peter’s Church | Rectory Lane Cemetery, Berkhamsted

Rectory Lane Cemetery, Berkhamsted

St Peter’s Church

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.

Several burials in Rectory Lane Cemetery are important figures in the life of St Peter’s Church. Of particular note are the memorials to four Rectors of the Great Berkhamsted Parish:

  • Rev. John Crofts, Rector 1810-1851, built the Victorian Rectory and opened Rectory Lane Cemetery
  • Rev James Hutchinson, Rector 1851-1871, instigated the restoration of the church by William Butterfield
  • John Wolstenholme Cobb, Rector 1871-1883, noted historian and author, oversaw the rest of the Butterfield restoration
  • Arthur Johnson, Rector 1883-1902, donated land for the extension of Rectory Lane Cemetery

During the incumbency of Rev James Hutchinson, a major restoration programme was commissioned from the noted Gothic Revival architect, William Butterfield. Among many changes, he restored the crumbling exterior of the church with flint, raised the south transept roof and removed many ancient memorials. 

There are many other burials in Rectory Lane Cemetery of noteworthy parishioners, including at least a dozen churchwardens, three bellringers, four choristers, a curate, sextons and vergers.

Within the church itself 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.



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