Did you know that Hunslet Cemetery is the oldest municipal cemetery in the UK? And have you heard about Leeds’ Guinea Graves, packed full with the bodies of those who paid the equivalent of just over a pound to avoid the indignity of an unmarked grave?
A new project, Leeds Cemetery Volunteers, is being launched this month to get local people more involved with fascinating and historic cemeteries across the city.
The scheme offers people of all ages a chance to learn more about the history, wildlife and architecture of these captivating sites, and to get involved in protecting and improving them.
In total, Leeds has 24 municipal cemeteries and three crematoria. These sites provide large areas of green space ranging from mature woodlands to manicured gardens, containing a wealth of wildlife and a rich history. They also often provide a fascinating insight into the cultural heritage of Leeds and the people that made the city what it is today. And, of course, they also hold a special place in people’s hearts as they are the final resting place of many of our loved ones.
There are already a number of voluntary groups who help care for Leeds’ cemeteries such as the Friends of Lawnswood Cemetery and the Friends of Pudsey Cemetery. This new project, which will be run by Leeds City Council’s Countryside Ranger team, aims to build on this and establish several more voluntary initiatives across the city in the coming weeks.
Opportunities to get involved include;
- Leeds Cemetery Volunteers will be launched on Friday 15th February. Volunteers are being sought to help undertake practical work, such as gardening and nature conservation on cemeteries across the city every 1st and 3rd Friday of the month.
- On Sunday 24th February the Friends of Holbeck Cemetery are gathering to undertake a litter pick and other site improvements.
- Friends of Hunslet Cemetery are looking for volunteers to help undertake practical work on site from March.
- There are a range of other opportunities for corporate volunteer groups to make a difference to cemeteries by undertaking tasks such as cutting back overgrown vegetation, creating wildlife habitats, painting benches and laying paths.
The project team are also currently undertaking some research around the history of Hunslet Cemetery so if you know any interesting stories about the site, or have any relatives there they would love to hear from you on firstname.lastname@example.org
Councillor Rafique, Leeds City Council’s Executive Member for Environment and Active Lifestyles, said:
“The city’s cemeteries provide a rich cultural heritage, a place for peaceful reflection and a home for a wealth of wildlife. This project is a great opportunity for people to find out more about the fascinating history and wildlife of cemeteries in Leeds and to get more involved in their care and improvement.”
Lynda Kitching, Chair of the Leeds Parks and Green Spaces Forum and Secretary of Friends of Beckett Street Cemetery said:
“Setting up the Leeds Cemetery Volunteers group is an excellent initiative. ‘Friends’ groups can always do with extra help and this is an encouragement to them all. By working together the council and volunteers can keep our cemeteries looking good. At Beckett Street Cemetery we are looking forward to getting some more voluntary support to help us care for and improve the site. It’s surprising how much can be done by 5 or 6 people in just a couple of hours.”
Find out more about our cemeteries at the following public events. Everyone is welcome to attend.
- Saturday 13th April, Dawn Chorus at Hunslet Cemetery
- Saturday 11th May, A spring walkabout at Beckett Street Cemetery
- Tuesday 14th May, Guided History Walk at Hunslet Cemetery
- Saturday 1st June, Family Day at Lawnswood Cemetery
- Saturday 13th July, Night time Wildlife Safari, Lawnswood Cemetery
- Thursday 5th September, Bat walk, Hunslet Cemetery
- Friday 27th September, Bat walk, Lawnswood Cemetery
If you are interested in any of the activities described above, would like to discuss getting more involved at your local cemetery, or would simply like more information on this topic, please contact the Countryside Ranger team on email@example.com or 0113 535 1517 / 0113 378 8102.
Notes for editors:
Interesting facts about cemeteries in Leeds:
- Hunslet Cemetery is the oldest municipal cemetery in the UK.
- There are over 1,200 commonwealth graves in Leeds cemeteries
- In Holbeck Cemetery there is a headstone with crossed swords and a shako, which is a tall military hat worn by 19th century soldiers. Frederick enlisted in Canterbury in 1869 when he was 18 and served for 34 years with an exemplary record. His father, Frederick Short Senior was one of the few survivors of the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade.
- Currently, seven of our cemeteries are supported by a voluntary ‘Friends’ group.
- Holbeck Cemetery was recently featured in an episode of DCI banks, and the ABC Murders Poirot series this Christmas was filmed in Lawnswood Cemetery.
- Otley Cemetery has two chapels which are Grade II listed buildings.
- Cemeteries provide valuable habitats for wildlife ranging from birds and butterflies to small mammals and insects. They also provide a home to a range of tree species, wildflowers, fungi and lichen.
- Yeadon cemetery has a range of interesting and slightly more unusual tree species such as the Paper bark maple. In Beckett Street there are some Irish Yews at the front of the cemetery.
- Most of our older graveyards have Guinea Graves – these cost the families 1 Guinea, that’s £1.05 in modern money. These graves hold up to 20 people and the graves were left open until they were filled. Guinea graves meant relatives could have a marked grave rather than an unmarked one and were also often used in times of epidemic.
For media enquiries:
Becky Stubbs, Leeds City Council press office