The St. Nicholas Churchyard and the Old and New Cemeteries on either side of Kitchener Road occupy over 40 acres of green space in the centre of Great Yarmouth. The cemeteries are of local and regional significance, both for the fine monuments which display the town’s rich social history, and as an important habit for wildlife.
Unfortunately, much of the site had fallen into disrepair through neglect, vandalism and lack of maintenance. Great Yarmouth Preservation Trust developed and delivered a project which commenced in August 2012 to clear, record, survey and undertake the repair of graves and memorials. By the end of the project, over 4,000 monuments had been surveyed and recorded, and over 100 had been successfully repaired; achievements well beyond the original scope of the project. The project was also used to provide much needed training, and successfully delivered 12,000 training and volunteering hours upon its completion .
The Project Coordinator was Bridget Heriz. The project was supported by: Heritage Lottery Fund; The Pilgrim Trust; TCHC; The Broads Sustainable Development Fund; Great Yarmouth Sustainable Development Fund; Great Yarmouth Minster Preservation Trust; Great Yarmouth Borough Council and Great Yarmouth Preservation Trust.
The final report submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund can be accessed here.
Training, outreach and engagement
As with all of the Trust’s work, training, outreach and engagement were placed firmly at the centre of the Cemeteries Project. Over the course of the project, 280 volunteers and trainees participated, and over 12,000 hours of training were delivered.
The Trust worked with a diverse range of groups in the community, who offered voluntary or in-kind support to the project. Over 100 people were involved in training, including: the Conservation Training Programme trainees; conservation students visiting from Estonia; a group from Norfolk and Waveney Mind and students from both East Norfolk Sixth Form College and East Coast College. Volunteers contributing to the project in other ways included The Conservation Volunteers, Friends of Great Yarmouth Cemeteries and The Prince's Trust. Additionally, services have been offered by skilled or professional members of the community including historians, archivists, GYB Services personnel, artists and teachers.
Conservation skills training
Great Yarmouth Preservation Trust delivered a conservation skills training programme between January and June 2013, divided into two modules. Training was delivered by conservation specialists Katie Langridge, Darren Barker and Ian Hardy. Trainees were helped with their research tasks by Paul Davies and volunteers at the Central Library, and the artist Jonathan Tooke worked with them to assemble ideas, images and text for a Cemeteries Booklet. Penny Larson delivered individual learning support and development, working closely with the trainees on career development, including CV writing, arranging certificated training in First Aid and Health & Safety and identifying further learning opportunities appropriate to their needs and objectives.
The first module engaged twenty volunteers, teaching trainees how to categorise, record and survey stones and tombs. They were introduced to materials and decay mechanisms, taught how to make measured drawings and conduct historical research using library records, and created databases for their recording activity in the churchyard. By the end of the module they were able to make specifications and show sufficient understanding of conservation issues to select tombs to be repaired in the second module.
The second module engaged fourteen trainees and provided practical training in basic conservation skills. Trainees worked in pairs and selected the tombs they wished to repair, working under the supervision of conservation specialists and with training provided by John Briggs, stonemason, and Nigel Barnett, artist blacksmith. During the second module, many in the team started attending both Monday and Tuesday sessions. They took great pride in their work and achieved far more than expected. Additionally, they participated in other events, such as contributing artwork to the Art Amongst the Stones exhibition presented in the Minster, attending Norfolk Wildlife Trust workshops, supporting the Norfolk and Waveney Mind group and continuing work on drawing up a plan of the remaining marked graves in the churchyard.
The trainees have often commented on how rewarded they felt from appreciative comments made by the many people who walk through the cemeteries and churchyard, revealing the real impact this project has had within the community at large. The trainees have been magnificent, attending in all weather conditions and showing enthusiasm and commitment throughout.
Two of the trainees have been taken on as apprentices with Wellington Construction Ltd., the contractor on a Great Yarmouth Preservation Trust historic building conservation project. Four continued work in the cemeteries on a part-time, self-employed basis with a view to taking up further training opportunities and developing a livelihood in conservation. Another continued further education in conservation studies.
Norfolk and Waveney Mind
Young volunteers from Norfolk and Waveney Mind worked towards completing the record of gravestones and monuments in the churchyard, which was begun by the Friends of Great Yarmouth Cemeteries in 2013. It was a daunting task, but huge progress was made, and most of the stones have been cleared and plotted so that a churchyard plan can at last be drawn up. However, new graves are still being discovered, especially the pebble graves, many of which lay just under the turf. A database is being compiled of all the graves in the churchyard still marked by stones.
East Coast College
Students on a Basic Construction Course at East Coast College contributed to the Cemeteries Project as part of a work experience scheme. As well as learning how to survey and repair tombs, the students cleared around the King Henry Tower in the churchyard, taking care to preserve the veteran elder which grows nearby. Some of the students with a particular interest in conservation went on to volunteer with the St Margaret’s Church project after completing college.
As part of the Cemeteries Project, the Trust also worked with a team of students from East Coast College to conserve a First World War memorial. Dedicated ‘In Honour of the Old Boys of the British, Nelson and Trafalgar Road Schools’, the memorial displays the names of the many local servicemen who fell in the conflict.
The memorial had been in storage for three decades, having been removed from St. George’s School during remodelling works in the 1980s. In 2013, Great Yarmouth Borough Council gave the Cemetery Chapel to the Trust for use as a conservation workshop. Under the guidance of the Trust, students studying basic construction worked to restore this piece of history to its former glory, fittingly in the period marking the anniversary of the conflict.
The plaque is in three sections and is constructed with timber side panels and a central bronze panel, each listing the names of former pupils of the three schools who were killed in the Great War. The memorial is virtually complete, but had been soiled over the decades and a number of the timber panels were also in need of repair. The team cleaned the memorial and added a wax coat to help protect it for the future. The main plaque was unveiled in November 2017 and is now on display at St George's Primary School on St Peter’s Road.
Gary Jefferson, Director of Engineering and Construction at East Coast College, said: “The restoration of this monument is a real honour for our students. They have put a huge amount of effort into the Cemeteries Project and this restoration is particularly important given that this year marks the centenary of the start of the Great War. They will undertake a research project at the College to support their work at the Cemetery, of which we are really proud to support”.
To access the list of names on the memorial, and to see research about their lives and service, please click here. If you have any further information about these individuals which you wish to contribute, please contact us.
East Norfolk Sixth Form College
A group of more than 50 students from East Norfolk Sixth Form College visited the Old Cemetery in September 2013, to study patterns of holly growth as a practical assignment for their A2 Biology course.
St. Nicholas Priory Junior School
Year 5 students at St Nicholas Priory Junior School attended a series of wildlife workshops, delivered by Mark Webster and Bridget Heriz. The children were taught how to make bird nest boxes from kits created by the Norfolk Haw and Old Trust, and visited the Old Cemetery to select trees where they wanted the boxes to be placed. A total of 100 bird boxes were produced by the pupils.
Following on from these wildlife workshops, ten pupils volunteered to create an animation about the cemeteries with the artist and filmmaker Matthew Harrison. Watch their video below:
Five building conservation students from Hiiumaa Vocational College in Estonia visited Great Yarmouth in April 2014 to assist with conservation projects in the cemeteries. This is part of the Trust's international partnerships, which aim to share knowledge about traditional buildings skills on a pan-European level. Two of the five students were part of an earlier team who visited during the summer of 2013 to conserve a listed monument in the churchyard, whilst learning various conservation skills.
The Trust was commissioned by Great Yarmouth Minster to clean and restore the 15th century lancet arch doorway, one of the church’s few medieval features to survive the Second World War. The ornate stonework depicts a king on one side, possibly Edward I, and a queen on the other. Over the centuries, the limestone has been eroded by freezing weather and acid rain, and was in urgent need of conservation. The students also helped to restore the Grade II listed Palmer Chest Tomb, to the west of the Minster.
The students worked under the supervision of Great Yarmouth Preservation Trust conservators William Wallace and Cathy Mijatovic, who were previously trainees on the Trust's nationally-acclaimed conservation training programme, delivered as part of the Cemeteries Project.
Estonian students working on the Cemeteries Project
Great Yarmouth Green Gym
The Great Yarmouth Green Gym is a community group affiliated with The Conservation Volunteers. Running a successful series of volunteering sessions to clear vegetation and tidy graves during the course of the project, the group has continued its work since, and remains very active.
Green Gym members also participated in Heritage Open Days events organised at the Cemeteries, running a demonstration of their activities for the public. During this session, volunteers discovered the grave of Mr. Bishop, "Owner and Commander of the Schooner 'Highlander' or Yarmouth, who died with all his crew when the vessel foundered off the coast of Holland" in the great gale of December 1867. This fascinating insight into a piece of history lost beneath ivy for many decades attracted a lot of interest from visitors – one of whom was recruited there and then, getting stuck straight into clearance work!
Friends of Great Yarmouth Cemeteries
One of the primary aims of the Cemeteries Project was to support the initiation of an independent ‘Friends’ group, to continue care and maintenance of the site after project completion.
By July 2013, the group already had 26 members, and had established a regular programme of volunteering meetings. In addition to clearing and maintaining the cemeteries, the Friends were also responsible for compiling a record of graves, which is now complete, and can be accessed here.
The Friends meet every first Saturday of the month to work in the Cemeteries. They meet at 10 am at the north (second) chapel in the New Cemetery, on the north side of Kitchener Road. Each session usually lasts for about two hours. Membership is open to all, with an annual subscription fee of £5 (£3 for under 18s, pensioners and those on income support). New members are always very welcome.
The Friends have also produced a map of the churchyards and cemeteries, with a guide to some of the more interesting graves. This is available to buy at the Minster shop.
The Cemeteries both provide a haven for wildlife in the town, and support a wonderfully biodiverse habitat. The Trust worked closely with a number of partners to ensure wildlife was protected throughout the works, and has implemented measures to enhance the future biodiversity of the site. We are grateful to Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Great Yarmouth Naturalist Society and Great Yarmouth Bird Society for the advice they provided about best practice to protect habits during grave clearance.
Following a wildflower survey undertaken by Mark Webster of The Conservation Volunteers, a new mowing regime was agreed with GYB Services in 2014. This allows selected areas of the New and Old Cemeteries to grow as wild flower meadows; some for the benefit of spring flowering and some for summer flowering plants. Interpretation panels have been installed in these areas to explain the mowing regime and provide information about the wild flowers and the benefit of encouraging them to flourish.
The Norfolk Hawk and Owl Trust built a peregrine platform, which was installed on a plinth erected on Great Yarmouth Minster Tower. Peregrines have been seen over Breydon Water, so hopes are high that they will be attracted to the Tower, complementing its panoramic vistas.
Naturalist Peter Allard kindly produced a report on migrating birds observed in the Cemeteries in the Autumn of 2013:
'Despite the loss of much cover and undergrowth, the Great Yarmouth Cemeteries has provided another interesting migration location for passage birds moving along the coast and arriving from across the North Sea. Yellow-browed Warblers, a scarce migrant from Siberia have been seen regularly since one was identified on September 25th. At least one was still present on October 31st. At times, perhaps as many as three has been present and attracting many visiting bird watchers. The rarest migrant was a Common Rosefinch, seen briefly on September 22nd. This bird is very scarce in Norfolk and typically winters no nearer than India. Another unusual migrant was a Red-breasted Flycatcher, present on October 11th and 12th, but as usual was difficult to locate at times. Other more typical migrants included up to 4 Firecrests, several Common Redstarts and small numbers of Pied Flycatchers. Also noted were several Ring Ouzels and a Hawfinch briefly on October 4th was a surprise. Migrant thrushes included small numbers of Redwings, Blackbirds and Song Thrushes which are seen regularly if easterly winds persist. 1-2 Black Redstarts appeared towards the end of October perching on the stone walls that surround the cemeteries. The cemeteries and churchyard certainly look much tidier and visiting birders perhaps appreciate this. Despite the loss of many shrubs and cover, migrant birds are still attracted here as seen by the many species recorded this autumn.'
Historic England Angel Awards
The Great Yarmouth Cemeteries Project was shortlisted for the Historic England Angel Awards in 2013. The results were announced in the magnificent Palace Theatre in London. Darren Barker, Project Director at the Trust, and Bridget Heriz, Cemeteries Project Coordinator, attended with three trainees: Rachel Harrison, Cathy Mijatovic and William Wallace.
Although the Trust did not win in our category - The Best Rescue of any other Heritage at Risk Building or Site - we were glad to receive very positive comments at the event. Given a budget of only £120,000, being shortlisted out of 900 projects nationwide was a great acknowledgement of what had been achieved
Anglia in Bloom
Great Yarmouth and Gorleston in Bloom supported the entry of Great Yarmouth Cemeteries and the Minster Churchyard into the annual Anglia in Bloom awards. The judges visited in July 2014 and Great Yarmouth Cemeteries won the award in the Cemeteries category.
Old and New Cemeteries
For those who are buried in the Borough Cemeteries (post 1854), details are available from:
Great Yarmouth Borough Council Bereavement Services
Magdalen Lawn Cemetery,
Norfolk, NR31 7JJ
Telephone: 01493 441974
Many records were lost when the church was bombed in WWII, but some records can be located in the Norfolk Record Office:
Norfolk Record Office,
The Archive Centre,
Norwich, NR1 2DQ
Telephone: 01603 222599
St Nicholas Churchyard, Great Yarmouth Minster
The Friends of Great Yarmouth Cemeteries have compiled a record of gravestones still standing in St Nicholas Churchyard. The record can be accessed here, and the plots on the churchyard plan can be viewed here.
Great Yarmouth Jewish Cemetery
The entrance to the Jewish Cemetery at Great Yarmouth Cemeteries is on Kitchener Road. The cemetery is usually closed to the public. For visitor information, please click here.