The oldest graves

13 June 2017

There are three large gates entering Southampton Old Cemetery, probably designed to be used by carriages, along with several smaller gates like the one we’d used earlier. One is on Hill Lane, one near Cemetery Lake and one on Cemetery Road. We were now standing in front of the main gate on Cemetery Road. This is the oldest part of the cemetery with the most elaborate graves. We still had a little time before we had to meet Commando so we went inside.

In the early nineteenth century Southampton’s churchyards were full to overflowing. A new Cemetery was badly needed and, in 1843, an act of Parliament was passed to allow fifteen acres of Common land to be used. A badly drained cemetery that floods is worse than no cemetery at all so one of the first jobs was to sort out drainage.  Arthur Few and William Capon were given the contract in 1844 and soon began work. The two men were also given the task of building the paths and walls around the cemetery.

The gates we’d just passed through, with their imposing stone mock Tudor arch, were built in 1880 by Barwell & Co of Nottingham to the design of Frederick John Francis who had won the contract for building the chapels and Lodge. The beautifully scrolled wrought iron gates bear the Southampton crest and the words Southampton Villa. It seems an oddly whimsical name, given what is inside.

The new cemetery opened in May 1846 but it wasn’t long before the need to extend became obvious. In 1867 land to the north was incorporated and in 1886 yet more common land to the east was added. In front of us, across the beautifully tended lawn dotted with mature yews, was a chapel.

There are three chapels in this part of the cemetery, Church of England, Non-conformist and Jewish. The three buildings, along with the curators lodge, just to the right of the gate, were designed by London architect  Frederick John Francis of Bruton Street, and built by local builder John Foot. This lovely stone building with long thin arched windows, a bell tower and pink roses growing over the arched door was once the Church of England chapel. It is now the home of an artwork design studio. It’s a beautiful building, all columns and arches with heavy doors painted green and adorned with decorative wrought iron hinges.

On the lawn in front of the chapel is the Cross of Sacrifice, a tall Stone cross on a pedestal inlaid with a smaller wrought iron cross. This is a memorial to the War Commission Graves scattered about the cemetery. On the base were two poppy wreaths, a sign that these men are still remembered.

This is not the first time I’ve wandered in this part of the cemetery but, by now, time was short so we stuck to the area directly surrounding the chapel. There was plenty to see. The graves here are far more ornate than those we’d already seen, large stone slabs topped with crosses, angels and pillars along with stone tombs. The most interesting of these was directly to the left of the chapel.

It is more a building than a tomb, with a pitched roof, portico and columns to either side of the arched wooden doors. It puts me in mind of all the tombs in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and I can’t help wondering if anyone ever opens the lock and goes inside? It is the only walk in monument in the Old cemetery, built by Araline Gamlen Nicholas for her son, Richard Nicholas, in 1901.

Araline was born in Bristol, the daughter of William Gamlen, a pawnbroker. The family moved to Southampton in the 1840’s when William opened an outfitter’s shop in Bernard Street. In 1864, when she was thirty, she married William R Nicholas, a junior chemist under William Dixon of Upper Prospect Place Southampton. He was ten years her junior. The newlyweds moved to Hackney, in London and had two children, William Richard born in 1865 and Araline Emma in 1866.

Poor Araline, who’d taken so long to find a husband, was not destined for long lasting happiness. William died in 1874 in Portsea where they were by then living. He was just thirty one. William left no will and probably little in the way of money. He was buried in Southampton Old Cemetery, most likely at William Gamblin’s expense. Araline and the children lived in Southampton for a time, in Prospect Place. Later the family moved, first to Reading, then to Kensington.

Tragedy struck the family again in 1901. On 4 November William junior, who’d been working in Kensington as an auctioneer, died after a long and painful illness. He was unmarried. On 9 September, he was buried beside his father. William left a will, naming his mother and sister as beneficiaries. His estate was a surprisingly large £10,810. Araline used some of this money to build the ornate mausoleum. She had her son’s remains exhumed and reburied in it. A plaque, written by his mother, commemorates him.

Nine years later, when Araline herself died, she was also buried in the mausoleum. Her plaque was written by her daughter Araline Emma who was the sole beneficiary of her will. Araline Emma was still unmarried at the time, although she was in her mid forties. She finally married in Bournemouth in early 1928 aged 61. By August of the same year she was dead. She was also buried in the mausoleum. Her estate, worth £10,404, may explain a great deal. Her husband, William Thomas Allen, was her sole beneficiary.

With so many more interesting tombs to explore and so little time we had to be selective.  There was another interesting story nearby, all I had to do was find the correct grave. This was far easier than it sounds. It took a few minutes of walking up and down peering at weathered stones trying to make out the names before I finally hit the jackpot.

The grave in question was not as grand as some nearby. It was beautiful nonetheless, a Celtic cross atop a terraced tomb. It belongs to Lieutenant Colonel Sir George Alfred Ernest Hussey and his first wife, Mary. Hussey was born in Southampton in 1864. He became a brewer and, in 1889, he bought a brewery in the city. In 1892 he was elected a councillor. Six years later he became an alderman and, during the Second Boer War, between 1899 and 1901, he was mayor of Southampton. The port was a huge responsibility, due to the movement of troops for the war and Hussey also raised an ambulance corps. He served with the Hampshire Regiment  between 1900 and 1912. For his work he was knighted by King Edward VII.

Hussey may have had fame and fortune in his career but he was unlucky in love. He was married three times. His first wife, Mary, died in 1906 and is buried with him. In 1912 he married Melville Laurie and when she too died, in 1942, he married for a third time. Christine was his last wife. He died six years later.

The next interesting story also comes from the grave of a former mayor, Walter James Dacombe. His grave, topped by a serene looking angel clutching a prayer book and shading her eyes from the sun, is directly behind Lieutenant Colonel Hussey’s. In fact, it’s possible the two men may have know each other. His story is  tragic.

Walter was born in around 1864 in Southampton and baptised in Holy Trinity Church. He began his career as a stone mason and, by 1891, a year after  he married his first wife, Lucy Maude Weston,  he had become an undertaker and sculptor. Sadly  the marriage did not last long. Lucy Maude died suddenly with no warning in 1897. This loss and his somber, even slightly macabre occupation may explain what happened later.

He remarried in 1899. His second wife was  Emma Elizabeth Button, the widow of local builder Alfred button. By the early 1900’s he had become a funeral director and embalmer. In 1915 he became Sheriff of Southampton  and, a year later, he was Mayor.

Whether this second marriage was happy remains to be seen. The pair certainly had something in common, having both lost beloved partners. Even so, Walter must have been a troubled man. In September 1921 his coachman found him  hanging from the rafters of the loft in his business premises. What had driven him to take his life remains a mystery. He was just fifty seven. Poor Emma Elizabeth lived to be ninety but she never remarried.

There was one more grave I wanted to see before we headed back towards the car. It was close to the gate and contained three generations bearing the same name, Richard Dyer Ellyett. The first to be buried was the youngest, Richard Dyer Ellyet III was born in Southampton in 1847. He died just two years later and the praying child sheltering between the marble pillars above the grave is most likely his memorial. Sadly, its head is now missing.

The second burial was that of the eldest Richard Dyer Ellyett, born in 1788 in Portsea. He started a hatter’s shop in Southampton and died in 1865. When he retired to the Isle of Wight he left his business to his son of the same name. This Richard Dyer Ellyett expand the hatter’s shop on Southampton High Street and, in the 1830’s, built an extravagant house with towers and battlements on Prospect Place near the junction of Above Bar and Commercial Road. The house became known locally as Elliott’s Folly. Richard died in 1883 and was the final person buried in this unusual grave. Sadly his folly has long since gone and the only photos of the area show just the corner of it. I would love to have seen it all.

At this point we could have walked through the gate and back down Cemetery Road to the car. We still had a little bit of time before we had to meet Commando though so decided to take the scenic route back through the cemetery towards the Cemetery Lake gate. For a while we wandered back along the main path, enjoying the cooler evening air and the wildflowers between the graves.

As we approached the Belgian war memorial we spotted a grassy side path leading towards Hill Lane. It looked too pretty to ignore and we still had time for a little wandering and even some getting lost, so we followed it. The quiet trail was sprinkled with flowers and dotted with graves that might have revealed stories if only we’d had more time.

We walked through tunnels of trees and discovered a stone so overgrown with ivy it looked more tree than gravestone. If there was a story hidden behind all those leaves its doubtful anyone could reveal it now.

As the light slowly began to turn to gold we finally headed back toward the gate. A little robin redbreast watched us from the top of a grave stone and soon enough we came to the end of our graveyard wandering, at least for now. We’d had enough of the dead for one afternoon. Now it was time to return to the living and find out how Commando got on with his run. There are still many stories here to uncover in the Old Cemetery though so doubtless we will return.

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Writer, walker, coffee drinker, chocolate eater, lover of nature, history and the little things that make me smile

11 thoughts on “The oldest graves”

    1. I shall have to pay more attention to the lichen next time. Wouldn’t it be odd if I stumbled over the grave of one of your ancestors?

  1. Hi Marie,

    What a lovely story. I am a member of ‘The Friends of Southampton Old Cemetery’ and would be very happy to show you around sometime.

    Kind regards,


  2. I really loved your story. I will walk around the cemetery again with renewed interest. Thank you. Is there any chance of a printed copy to take with me?

    1. I’m glad I’ve made you look at the cemetery with fresh eyes. I’m afraid I don’t provide printed copies of the blog but, if you have a printer, it should be fairly print friendly.

  3. I’ve really enjoyed reading your stories and seeing the photos of the old cemetery. My 2 x g grandparents are buried there and possibly the 3 x greats as well. Still looking into these. Billy and Val from the FoSOC have kindly offered to find the grave and take a photo for me.

    1. I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed reading. I love to wander around the old cemetery looking at the graves. So many wonderful stories.

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