Closed burial ground

Decorating the Bath skyline, Beckford's Tower can clearly be seen glinting as the sun catches its gilding. It was built by William Beckford following a move to Lansdown Crescent from Fonthill Abbey (which he had had designed and built). An eccentric, he purchased extra land in 1823  and set about building again. This time a tower with breath-taking views over the countryside (Bath was not then as big as it is now).

And at its base he created a planted area of land stretching from his house in Lansdown Crescent to the tower. He enjoyed riding along it to and from his tower retreat during his lifetime and wished to be buried there after his death. But in 1844 when he died it was not consecrated ground so initially he was buried in the new Abbey Cemetery and the tower was sold.

However one of his daughters, the Duchess of Hamilton, repurchased the tower and donated it together with the land to the Parish of Walcot. The land was duly consecrated as St Swithin's burial ground and Beckford's remains, granite sarcophogus and enclosure (wall and railings designed by the same architect who had designed the tower - H E Goodridge) were moved to the new cemetery in 1848.

The wall and railings were incorporated into the wall and main gateway into the cemetery, which is worthy of close scrutiny as it encapsulates so many death related icons - although perhaps not to everybody's taste!

The cemetery is included in the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest.

 

Maintenance of grounds

The cemetery was closed in 1992 and the responsibility for grounds maintenance transferred to the then Bath City Council  in the usual way. The older area between the tower and the laurel hedge had been neglected for some time, so much so that it is an important example of limestone grassland which Bereavement Services has ambitions to improve.

Beckford's Tower itself had a checkered history following Beckford's death and is now currently managed by the Beckford Tower Trust a registered charity whose sole turstee is the Bath Preservation Trust.

Shortly after it became the council's responsibility the Beckford Tower Trust also began to take an interest in the cemetery, forming an offshoot known as the Lansdown Cemetery Trust, and together with cemeteries staff a management plan was agreed which allows the grassland to grow uninhibited over the graves whilst keeping grass pathways for ease of access, by cutting them fortnightly during the growing season.The Lansdown Cemetery Trust was able to access a grant from the council's ecological service enabling its members to place an interpretaion board near the main gates detailing the type of flora and fauna visitors can expect to see.

The whole cemetery is cut annually during the winter months and the arisings removed to reduce enrichment of the ground thus encouraging natural vegetation. Other works such as hedge cutting, shrub pruning, etc. are carried out during the winter months. Saplings are sprayed as necessary during the growing season.

Having carried out a number of improvements to the cemetery, such as uncovering the original pathway and re-instating an exact copy of the original railings (which had been removed during the war) plus many other projects, the Lansdown Cemetery Trust was disbanded and the Beckford Tower Trust now keeps a watchful eye, liaising with Bereavement Services as necessary.

Bereavement Service's cemeteries staff work closely with Bath and North East Somerset's Community Landscape team too, in order to support the council's commitment to biodiversity. An ecological survey was carried out late in 2008 to enable cemeteries staff to update their management plan in conjunction with the Landscape team staff - this is not yet complete, but will be published as soon as it is finalised.

 

Graves

Bath and North East Somerset Council's Community Landscape Team also made a grant available to the Beckford Tower Trust to enable them to produce a Tomb Trail leaflet which points the visitor to some of the more interesting graves - and there are many well worth looking at for their memorials alone (one of the very few wooden memorials to be seen in any of our closed cemeteries is there,  and a relatively modern memorial in the shape of a gigantic book - very unusual).

Bereavement Services carry out memorial testing as part of a five year programme to prevent memorials falling, breaking and/or causing damage to surrounding memorials. Walcot Parochial Church Council have recently refurbished or reinstated a number of graves for which they are responsible due to bequests for this purpose made by their original owners and all burial records are held by them.

The Bristol and Avon Family History Society have recorded all the inscriptions in the cemetery, copies of which are available from them for a small fee.

 

Military connections

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission have an interest in four graves in Lansdown relating to people who died as a result of the 1914 - 1918 war. And the grave of Captain Edward Jerome who gained a Victoria Cross for his gallantry during the Indian Mutiney in 1958 is almost opposite that of Beckford and is marked by a red marble cross.

The cemetery is also near to the site of the Battle of Lansdown - turn left on exiting the main gates and on past the racecourse and you will find a memorial on the right hand side of the road (which replaced the old turnpike road). The monument celebrates both the battle (which resulted in a Royalist victory)  and the mortal wounding of Sir Bevil Grenville not forgetting the courage of his Cornish Infantry who were attacking Royalist forces already ensconced on the hilltop. 

This area has been a favourite Sunday jaunt for the citizens of Bath from Georgian times to the present day.

 

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