The Eradication of an Ancestor’s Cemetery

That sounds pretty harsh, not only the closing to any further burials, but then the eradication and total destruction of a cemetery where one’s ancestors have been at peace and rest for decades.  The very thought does not even sound possible, but it is true and it has happened, even in more recent times.

It might be imaginable that a tiny private family cemetery on farmland might eventually be covered over especially when there are few, if any, descendants around. However, when you learn of a large public cemetery that dates back to 1836 in a city has met the same fate, you begin to question how often has this occurred in the past?

This was my situation earlier this month when, just by chance, I was investigating more about a cemetery where many of my English ancestors were buried.  The location was the Ardwick Cemetery in Chorlton, Manchester, Lancashire County, England.  It dates back to 1836 in the heart of the city of Manchester and had over 80,000 burials until it was closed to any further burials in 1950. Sure, the cemetery plots are no longer available and all the land was used. However, then 15 years later to remove all the headstones and monuments; crushing the stone and granite to pieces and to totally cover up the burial plots seems in disregard to those buried there, their families and descendants.

That was the actual situation that occurred at the Ardwick Cemetery in 1965. The city did record the basic information off of each headstone and the names, dates are available at the Manchester Monumental Inscriptions with the Manchester Central Library, but the full headstone and whatever was originally inscribed is gone forever.

As if that was not bad enough, the cemetery land was then covered over with soil and sod, and made into a school playground.  The very area where thousands of Manchester residents were laid to rest forever is where soccer games are played today. A monument plaque does stand at the entrance to the named Nicholls Field playground, stating this was once Ardwick Cemetery, but anything else relating to its existence is gone forevermore.

History already has many examples where burial areas were eradicated due to wars, political or religious takeovers or due to forces in nature such as storms or floods.  Yet, when you see an example of a well-known cemetery in an urban environment with thousands of burials, you begin to really question what were the city leaders thinking back in the 1960s?

We are seeing many local and regional areas in the United States and overseas trying to restore some of the forgotten and disregarded cemeteries of all sizes over the last several years. This is a positive step in the right direction. Saving such sacred ground is just as important as saving endangered species and historic buildings. Once any are totally destroyed there is no bring them back.

So in your quest of learning more about your ancestors, investigate about their final resting place.  Is it still being maintained, are the headstones kept in decent condition? It is worth checking up on before it might be too late.

The above image is of the Ardwick Cemetery in Manchester, England in 1959.

< Return To Blog Well, I don't want to see GPS be the only avlblaiae means of finding a cemetery plot. It may be handy for the record keepers to shove a GPS at people but for most people the trip to the cemetery is a pilgrimage and the GPS somehow doesn't cut it. And actually, how does the GPS make up for crowded cemetery spaces?
Lorena 18/01/12

I was very touched to resd your article about Ardwick Cemetery as several members of my family were buried there as far back as 1857.They had moved from a rural area to work in the industrial squalour of Manchester to support the family.I was sad to see the cemetery had gone and the stones destroyed and feel that a sports field is not an acceptable use for a ground where people were laid to rest.Many thanks for your comments.
Doris McDougall 18/01/12

That is why I needed to tell about what happened there at the Ardwick Cemetery because I'm sure it is happening in many locations. Who would have ever guessed such a thing would occur and it wasn't an ancient cemetery at all. Check your own locate area or family hometown, see that it doesn't happen in other places. Many thanks for writing.
alice 18/01/12

A number of my direct forebears were buried at Ardwick. Notably Sir Thomas Potter, first Mayor of Manchester, and responsible for the incorporation of the city etc.... "His family initially turned down a public funeral, but in the end gave way to the request of the Corporations of Manchester and Salford. Ninety carriages made up his cortège to Ardwick Cemetery on March 27th (1845)." It is astonishing to me that all traces of the monuments were destroyed and no-one thought to keep a visual photographic record of some of town's most important political figures as well as those no less deserving ordinary folk. In 1959 I was only 8 and, of course, could not go there to record things for myself before the total destruction of the place. My late Father, Sir Thomas's great-grandson, was in post abroad....Shame on those in power in Manchester at the time for such wanton and stupid actions.
Beatrice C. Potter 18/01/12

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