New Street burial ground was opened once the graveyard at the Parish Church was deemed to be full. The ground, an area of 2154 square yards in the historic centre of the (then) new Leamington, was presented to the parish by Mrs Wise and her son Matthew Wise of Shrubland Hall. It was consecrated on 21st May 1828 by the Bishop of Worcester accompanied by Rev R Downes who led the formal procession from the Parish Church. On 12th December 1850 following a petition to the General Board of Health in London by 28 inhabitants of the town, Mr G T Clark, a Superintending Inspector was appointed to carry out an inquiry into the state of the local burial grounds and to take into account any new schemes in the pipeline.
A verbatim report of his findings can be found in contemporary copies of the Leamington Spa Courier. Mr Clark found the “new ground” at New Street very full but arranged in an orderly manner, and land beyond it laid out for housing, thus preventing any possible expansion. Between May 1838 and 31st December 1849, 1890 burials had taken place, with a minimum of four to a grave which were 9ft deep in this location. Each grave was filled with earth until required for the next interment. Mr Clark concluded that “Mr Brown, Parish Clerk looks after the yard well, …….. but it contains too many corpses.”
In April 1850 Mr Cundall the church warden had reported that there were only 6 plots left in the Burial Ground. Although James Brown thought these might afford room for 30 or 40 more occupants, it was clear that there would be no more burial room in the ground in 6 months’ time. The Inspector concluded that the burial ground should close. In the interval since Mr Cundall’s report in April, the total number of burials had reached 2074, some of which were under the footpath. James Brown had been shown the newly acquired burial ground on Whitnash Road and on receipt of the Inspector’s report, New Street burial ground was closed and the new site brought into use.
In 1948 it was suggested that Leamington Borough Council could take over ownership and maintenance of the ground. The Borough Council’s minutes show that the burial ground was to be maintained as a Garden of Rest and quiet retreat. This never happened.
In March 1958, when the Council realigned New Street, some graves were exhumed and the coffins reburied in Brunswick St Cemetery, and responsibility for the burial ground was transferred first, in 1968 to the Borough Council and then in 1974 to the newly formed Warwick District Council. The conveyance deed posted on the New Street Nature Park Facebook page states that:
“the Local Authority shall do as soon as is reasonably possible and in any case within 12 months of the conveyance, layout the said burial ground as a public garden and open space and will henceforth fully maintain the said burial ground and open space and will make and enforce bye-laws for the regulation of said public garden and open space to the intent that nuisance may be prevented and order preserved therein.
It will provide by the said bye-laws that no public meeting for the discussion of political, religious, trade or social questions or other matters of controversy shall be permitted in the said burial ground and that the same shall not be used for recreational activities of any kind;
[it will] take all necessary steps to preserve order in the burial ground and to keep it closed on Sundays, Good Friday, Ascension Day and Christmas Day;
[It will undertake] not to erect any building on the said burial ground”.
The closed Burial Ground now comes within the Leam Terrace/Russell Terrace Conservation area at the historic heart of early Leamington. It stands close to the home of Benjamin Satchwell, one of the people responsible for the growth of the town following his and William Abbotts’ discovery of a mineral water spring nearby.
The 2074 citizens buried at New Street thus include not only visiting adults and children who came here for the sake of their health, but also some of the founders of the new town. Their final resting place deserves wider recognition, careful management and discreet support, – a fitting tribute to the pioneers of the spa.
B A Franklin and M M Rushton
Sources: Leamington Spa Courier. Photographs, B A Franklin
A slideshow about other burial grounds in the town can be found by Clicking Here