Henrietta Road, Bathwick
This is the older of two closed churchyards relating to St Mary's, Bathwick. (The newer closed churchyard is located off of Horseshoe Lane in the Smallcombe Valley.)
It was opened when the original 12th century St Mary's church was demolished to widen Bathwick Road. Stone from the original church was used in the building of the mortuary chapel which was designed by Thomas Pinch. The mortuary chapel was needed to enable funerals to take place during the time between the removal of the old church and completion of the new church. Thomas Pinch was as famous an architect as John Wood in his time, although his name is less well-known today. He is buried beside the ruins of his mortuary chapel which is a grade 11 listed building.
The churchyard was opened in 1808 and closed around 1825, although burials continued to take place there until the 1860s.
In the years following it fell into disuse and gradually the chapel became more and more dilapidated until the gates to the churchyard were locked and closed to public access. Gradually it became so overgrown that it was unrecognisable as a churchyard and council staff visited only to maintain a small grassed area in one corner.
More recent history
When the council embarked on its memorial conservation and safety programme it applied for a Faculty for the Diocese of Bath and Wells in order to be able to carry out the work. As part of the process notices were placed in all closed churchyards. A number of people in the Bathwick area wrote to the Chancellor of Bath and Wells to express their disatisfaction with the state of the churchyard and the fact that it was not open to them for historical research. These letters were passed to Bath & North East Somerset's Bereavement Services and it became apparent that enough people were interested to form a 'Friends' group with whom the council could work in partnership to eventually open the churchyard up again.
The 'Friends' group was formed and together with council staff it was decided to make a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for money to refurbish the churchyard by putting in a pathway, realigning and repairing some memorials and creating a 'cemetery trail' with information boards, plaques and accompanying leaflets. (Unfortuately the building did not meet the criteria for funding and would in any case have required a more detailed and elaborate bid requiring time that was just not available.)
The chairman, secretary and others from the Friends Group met with council staff on a regular basis to coordinate the submission which was made by Bath and North East Somerset Council and St Mary's Parochial Church Council jointly (St Mary's PCC has the responsibility of representing the landowner, the Church of England).
After an anxious wait the HLF gave the go ahead for a small grant of approximately £35000. The Friends and council undertaking a commitment to provide a percentage towards the overall costs by means of officer and volunteer time and effort, plus subsequent maintenace in future years.
The Friends worked tirelessly to clear vegetation without destroying anything worth conserving. One of their number used his expertise to write the specification for the pathway. Suppliers were sourced by the group, whilst council staff tendered the work to authorised companies and together staff and Friends awarded the project. The council took advice from a badger expert and applied for a licence from DEFRA to try to move a sett away from the chapel and provided an artificial sett in the hope that the badgers would move into it and away from the main areas of the pathway. The Secretary of the Friends supervised the installation of the pathway using his expertise as a retired quantity surveyor.
On 23rd September 2006 a grand opening was held in the presence of The Right Worshipful the Mayor of Bath, Councillor Carol Paradise. Adrian Tinniswood represented the HLF and Father Prothero, St Mary's PCC. Alastair Cowan the chairman of the Friends group organised the whole thing, even contacting groups such as the Shipwrecked Mariner's Society which was founded thanks to one of the people buried in the churchyard. Alastair had arranged a display from such groups, plus old photographs in the local pub, and all in all it was a wonderful occasion. Alastair was helped throughout by Alan Bell (Secretary) who also gave his time unstintingly, as did other volunteers too many to mention but to whom the council is very grateful.
Since then the churchyard has been opened daily and is rarely found without a visitor strolling around, although it is still a peaceful oasis away from the hustle and bustle of city life going on around it. It is also a valuable resource for local schools. Collect a 'St Mary's Trail' leaflet from the Tourist Information Office and you will be amazed at the history in such a small area - there is even a Roman sarcophogous built into one of the churchyard walls. It is a step back in timeand, unusually in Bath, it is on level ground. One newspaper described it as a forgotten gem - it is a space for everyone to enjoy.
The Chief Executive of the Heritage Lottery Fund visited a year or so after the opening and was delighted to see the results of their generosity, via their small grant scheme, in action.
Maintenance of grounds
The Friends group still plant it and undertake volunteer work there on a regular basis. Their planting has met with many setbacks often due to the badgers, but they persevere and learn by their mistakes.
The council continues to maintain the grass in accordance with a management plan agreed with the Friends designed to promote natural flora and to provide the group with support when needed.
The council's arboricultural office keeps the trees under a 3 yearly review and agrees minor works with the volunteers. All major tree works are carried out by the council's tree specialists
The Cemetery trail produced by the Friends group as part of the HLF funded project guides the visitor around the most interesting graves. Leaflets are obtainable direct from the Friends group or the Tourist Information Office.
Bereavement Services carries out a 5 year rolling programme of memorial testing to ensure that memorials are preserved as well as possible. The council does not have the right to restore memorials, but it does have the responsibility to make the cemetery a reasonably safe place to visit which enables it to lay down any memorials in danger of falling. Safety in cemeteries has improved so much since such programmes were introduced, that now the main benefit from testing is to ensure that memorials are not left to rot until they fall smashing themselves, or neighbouring memorials, or both, in the process.