We have often talked about this city’s proud history of independence that often tripped into dissent and outright opposition against church and state. But after the Reformation the extent to which you disagreed with the Anglican Church would have decided whether or not you could be buried in your local churchyard.
Following the Reformation, Nonconformist factions like the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Quakers were discriminated against by the Established Church for, despite having to pay church rates, Dissenters were still refused burial in their local churchyard. An Act of 1836 allowed Nonconformists to conduct their own funeral services but it wasn’t until 1880  that they had the right to be buried in a parish church, using their own rites instead of a Church of England service .
After the 2011 census, Norwich was reported to be the country’s most godless city  but the 1851 census had already shown that the majority of Norwich citizens attended neither church nor chapel  and as far back as the early C18 – when dissent could well have been under-reported – as many as 20% of Norwich population were classed as Dissenters .
Nonconformist chapels therefore tended to be built with their own burial grounds. The Octagon Chapel in Colegate, built by Thomas Ivory in 1756 to replace a Presbyterian meeting house of 1686, was ‘the first of its kind in England’ .
To the left of the portico is a gate into the small garden that was the burial ground until 1821; the significance of this dates comes later.
In Norwich, The Society of Friends (The Quakers) originally met in private houses or in the open air but in 1676 they bought a modest quarter of an acre in Goat Lane on which to build a Meeting House .
By 1700 their congregation had grown to around 500  so the Friends built a second Meeting House in Gildencroft, in Norwich-Over-the-Water (and now Over-the-Ring-Road), next to an acre of land already used for their burial ground.
However, access to the burial ground via narrow Gildencroft Lane (now Quakers Lane) was difficult for pall bearers …
… and so the Quakers rented land between the burial ground and St Martins (or Whores) Lane off Oak Street to allow horse-drawn wagons to bear the coffin . This strip of land with wagon-turning circle can be seen on a map of 1789, long before the ring road.
A ghost of the turning circle remains in the form of the crescent-shaped wall adjoining the burial ground. This ‘second’ meeting house was bombed in WWII and the site is now occupied by a children’s centre.
A few yards west of Quakers Lane, in Gildencroft, between the inner ring road and Talbot Square, is the site of a small Jewish cemetery established in 1813; it closed when the corporation cemetery was opened at Earlham (1856). Before this, the county’s Hebrew Congregation used a larger C18 cemetery at the top of Horn’s Lane, off Ber Street , on the same side of the city as the synagogue on Synagogue Street (bombed in WWII).
George Plunkett recorded the Jewish Gildencroft cemetery in 1937, five years before the Luftwaffe bombed the Meeting House, which can be seen in the background.A small stone marking the cemetery is visible from St Crispin’s Road.
Side-stepping some of the difficulties surrounding dissenting burials the Unitarian minister, Thomas Drummond, established in 1819 The Rosary Cemetery in Thorpe . He may have been motivated by his time in Ipswich when a curate refused a funeral service in the parish church for a young child who Drummond himself had baptised . The Rosary was the first cemetery in the country where anyone could be buried irrespective of religion, without having to be supervised by an Anglican minister. The first occupant was Drummond’s wife, Ann, who was disinterred from the Octagon Chapel.
The Rosary became the resting place for some of the city’s prominent mercantile families, such as the Jarrolds and the Colmans .
Boardman (1834-1910), “who had more effect on the appearance of Norwich than perhaps any other architect” , was himself buried at The Rosary.
Boardman’s son Edward Thomas Boardman, also an architect, married Florence, daughter of Jeremiah James Colman (1830-1898),managing director of the family mustard business. In 1898, Jeremiah James’ funeral cortège included his firm’s horse-drawn wagons followed by 1200 workers from the Carrow Works . Although Protestant he made point of holding services for his workers on non-denominational lines  and in the same spirit the family’s memorial stones are simply worded: factual and secular. Several members of the Colman family are buried in the family plot. Its Celtic Cross – and there are several at The Rosary – might imply a distancing from Anglican symbolism but inscriptions on the obelisk rectify any such impression with reminders of the Christian afterlife (e.g., ‘I know that my redeemer liveth’).
One of the memorial stones unites Jeremiah James and Caroline Colman with their son Alan Cozens-Hardy Colman. Alan died in Egypt and, in his memory, his sisters Ethel and Helen built the pleasure wherry Hathor – the name borrowed from the Nile boat on which he had been convalescing from tuberculosis. Hathor’s interior contains decoration in the Ancient Egyptian style, designed by Boardman.
When Hathor was launched on the Norfolk Broads (1905), Edward Thomas and Florence Boardman’s young daughter Joan (three and a half) released doves .
The many good works that the philanthropic Colmans performed go unsung at The Rosary: you would never guess from the simple inscriptions that in 1923 their daughter Ethel Mary (1863-1948), who campaigned for female suffrage, became the first woman Lord Mayor in Norwich and, indeed, in Great Britain.
As a memorial, Jeremiah Cozens (d. 1849), whose niece married JJ Colman, has the only cast-iron sarcophagus at The Rosary.
One of the first memorials you see when entering through the carriage porch is dedicated to the Jarrold family of Dutch or Huguenot origin . John Jarrold II started out as a printer and bookseller in Woodbridge, Suffolk. At Wickham Market he was drawn into defending the right to public worship since Dissenters attending services could be stoned by unruly mobs. In 1823, he moved to Norwich where Jarrold & Son opened their new business in London Street where it remains – still selling books nearly 200 years later.
The only mausoleum at The Rosary belongs to Emanuel Cooper, an eminent eye-surgeon (d. 1878). Cooper’s mistress Anne Julia Pearson bore him a daughter – Ada Nemesis – who married John Galsworthy’s cousin Arthur. Ada was not happy in this marriage and entered into a long affair with John, whom she eventually married. Irene in The Forsyte Saga is said to have been modelled on Ada .
The angel gazing heavenwards epitomises Victorian sentimentality; it was carved (1898) by the Stanley family of stonemasons in St Stephens Street to commemorate a father and his two wives.
This cast-iron birdbath (below), with Moorish influences, commemorates the Hines family who ran a foundry (est. 1820) in St Margaret’s Street off St Benedict’s Street.
The collection of heads is said to represent family members .
The ornate memorial below tells the story of John Barker (1837-1897), a Steam Circus Proprietor who, when erecting a railway ride at the Cattlemarket (Plunkett says in Tombland), was fatally crushed between two wagons .
The simple headstone to George Wilde (1825-1887) recalls a man injured in the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War .
The Rosary is a microcosm of Victorian Norwich in which you will encounter figures whose works can still be seen on walks around the city: Robert Tillyard, for instance, whose leather-currying business gave rise to Tillyard and Howlett, later Howlett and White . Edward Boardman designed Howlett and White’s shoe factory in Colegate, which once employed around 2000 workers .
I also came across an obelisk amongst the undergrowth, dedicated to William Stark. The lettering was indistinct but this was surely the master dyer who stained textiles Norwich Red and who – as mentioned in a recent post  – made the Wensum run scarlet when he emptied his vats.
In 1848-9 Norwich suffered a cholera epidemic and from 1855 the Home Secretary banned burial in the city’s overflowing churchyards . But as far back as 1671 the diarist John Evelyn had written: I observed that most of [Norwich’s] church yards (though some of them large enough) were filled up with earth, or rather the congestion of dead bodies one upon another, for want of earth, even to the very top of the walls, and some above the walls, so as the churches seemed to be built in pits .
In 1856 the City established a public cemetery at Earlham and from the beginning it had space for unconsecrated as well as consecrated burial. The original Gothic-styled twin chapels for Anglican and Nonconformist burials were lost when the crematorium was built but Roman Catholic and Jewish mortuary chapels remain.
Possibly the most striking monument in the older C19 section marks the grave of the horse dealer, John Abel (1800-1883).
In several posts I have mentioned the Bullard family of brewers ; their plot is outlined by cast-iron railings. Could these have been made by the Barnard Bishop and Barnard foundry just across the river from Bullards’ Anchor Quay Brewery?
While the versatile and prolific architect Edward Boardman is buried amongst his wealthy relatives in The Rosary his rival, George Skipper – who designed the city’s pops of Victorian genius, like the Royal Arcade, and the Marble Hall for Norwich Union  – is buried in far less prepossessing style at Earlham. Skipper’s (1856-1948) failed investments made for a poor retirement so at the age of 78 was still grinding out plans, like those for the roads and drains of the Christchurch Road extension . A member of the Plymouth Brethren, Skipper married three times, lived to 93, and is buried with his first wife. It took some time for me to find George John Skipper’s grave for, in the five years since Françoise Donovan’s photograph, lead lettering had been lost from his name on the gravestone. “And there, sadly, lie the remains of this visionary architect who left us a unique legacy” .
©2018 Reggie Unthank
- Janet Lister (1993). Nine Nonconformists Burial Grounds 1750-1900. MA thesis UEA.
- Clyde Binfield (2004). Church and Chapel p412. In, ‘Norwich since 1550’, edited by Carole Rawcliffe. Pub: Hambledon and London.
- Kathleen Wilson (1995). The sense of the people: politics, culture and imperialism in England, 17-15-1785. Pub: Cambridge University Press
- http://www.staugustinesnorwich.org.uk/History_-_The_Quakers.html and http://www.staugustinesnorwich.org.uk/History_-_Placenames.html
- http://www.georgeplunkett.co.uk/Norwich/monumentsandmemorials.htm See also: http://www.staugustinesnorwich.org.uk/History_-_The_Jewish_Cemetery.html
- Nick Williams (2012). Buried at the Rosary. Pub: Nick Williams.
- John Evelyn. (1818) The Diary of John Evelyn vol 2 (1665-1702). Ed Wm Bray. Online: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/42081/42081-h/42081-h.htm
- Nick Williams, Jim Marriage and June Marriage (2005). The Rosary Cemetery, Norwich: A Place of Decent Interment. Pub: Friends of the Rosary.
- Jeremiah James Colman, a Memoir by One of his Daughters (1905). Available online as: https://archive.org/stream/jeremiahjamesco01colmgoog/jeremiahjamesco01colmgoog_djvu.txt
- The House of Jarrolds, 1823-1923 (established 1770). Pub 1924 by The Empire Press, Norwich. Online: https://archive.org/stream/houseofjarrolds100jarr/houseofjarrolds100jarr_djvu.txt
- Clive Lloyd (2017). Colonel Unthank and the Golden Triangle. See: https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/unthank-book/
- Françoise Donovan (2013). Norwich Lives: Selected Graves from Earlham Cemetery. Pub: Elysé Publications.
Thanks to: Alan Theobald, my guide around The Rosary and Earlham cemeteries; Stuart McClaren local historian in the St Augustine’s/Gildencroft area http://www.staugustinesnorwich.org.uk/index.html; Peter Cox of Broadsnet http://www.broadsnet.co.uk/waterways/; Nigel Pope of the Ludham Community Archive http://www.ludhamarchive.org.uk/ ; Jonathan Plunkett of www.georgeplunkett.co.uk; and the staff of the Norfolk Heritage Centre at the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library.