On the cross, there are two tulips over four tulips in Art Nouveau style. Tulips were a standard motif of that period.
From our research we know that Henry and Jane married c. 1875. He was a Mineral Water Manufacturer, and they lived at Neptune Cottage, Cross Oak Road. They had 13 children together, of which four predeceased them – hence the representation of the two tulips above four tulips.
These two are examples of natural representations, completely different to what you would find in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, when headstones featured skull and cross bones, or representations of bony skeletons. Instead we now have birds, trailing plants, oak leaves, vines and grapes, roses, sunflowers, tulips. Some of these, such as the tulips here and ivy elsewhere, aren’t even mentioned in the bible!
So, there’s nothing very challenging or gory or terrifying about any of this. This is not a spooky place, it was never intended to be a classic setting for a Hammer Horror Film. The founders of the Cemetery would themselves have been horrified at the thought – we have let our cemeteries become such places through subsequent neglect, and we have let our imaginations run riot on the back of it.
We think of the Victorians in particular as supremos at heavy mourning, funeral ritual and morbid representations of death. We get this wrong all the time. Instead, this is a space in which the tamed and the natural, rather than the unhinged supernatural world is celebrated. (The truly tamed natural world – the concept of the grave as garden – is being implemented here in the graves adjacent to the path).
Indeed, this burial ground was set up almost as an antidote to the horrific, overcrowded burial grounds of the past. The Parish Churchyard around St Peter’s Church was full up, and people were concerned at the dangers of bones piling up (hence the raised ground level in Castle Street – there are as many known burials in that small space – between the Church and the School, as there are in these three acres.)
In complete contrast, this Cemetery was laid out carefully – to resemble a garden, with paths and planting to create formal walks where the inhabitants of the town and relatives could come and promenade. In its association with the Rectory up the lane, it resembles almost a kitchen garden. It is just a smaller version of the garden cemeteries springing up around capital cities at the same time. (Pere Lachaise on the then outskirts of Paris being the first).
In fact, if we can put much of our prejudices and our perceptions of gory graveyards aside then we can hopefully take a much broader look at the cultural references which are evident here and start to understand how our complex past has absorbed a vast range of influences – all evident here if you look out for them.