Burials in Stevenage, Early 20th century

May, 2007




Rachel Gujral (Gujral @t t-online.de) St Leon-Rot, Germany, writes: What cemeteries were in use prior to the opening of Weston Road and Almond Lane in Stevenage? I'd like to locate the graves of my g-g-grandparents who died in 1915 and 1944 respectively. So where might my ancestors be buried?

Historically the normal place to be buried was the graveyard round the town or village church, and as the vast majority of graves had no permanent marker the same plot could be used repeatedly over the centuries. In Victorian times several things happened which changed the situation. The coming of the railways caused many small villages and towns to expand. As a result the number of inhabitants - and hence the number of burials - significantly increased. The extra buildings that grew up round the centre meant that it was no longer possible to expand the graveyard by taking over part of an adjacent field - as all possible sites had been developed and the graveyard no longer had a country boundary. Increasing prosperity meant that more graves acquired permanent stone markers - rather than shorter lived grave boards (see burials) - effectively preventing reuse of many of the plots - and a better understanding of disease may have made people more squeamish about the too frequent reuse of old plots.

For these reasons virtually all the larger towns, and some of the smaller ones, opened new municipal cemeteries during Victorian times and the churchyard round the parish church was closed for burials, although later burials in an existing family plot may have taken place. This trend has continued to the present day - although many villages still use the old graveyard, or a recent extension into adjacent fields. At the same time some of the municipal graveyards became full - so yet another municipal graveyard was opened. The coming of the New Towns, such as Letchworth at the beginning of the 20th century, Welwyn between the Wars, and places such as Hemel Hempstead and Stevenage later clearly required an expansion of municipal cemetery facilities to bury the much increased population. More recently cremation has become far more common and there may be no record of what the family did with the ashes. (For instance an enthusiastic gardener may have requested that his ashes are used to fertilizer his favourite rose bush at his home.)

In addition, Victorian times saw many non-conformist churches and chapels being built. Sometimes their burials took place in the parish graveyard or a designated area in the municipal cemetery (where these existed). But in many cases they may have had their own graveyard. Quite a few chapels have now closed - and many graveyards of all types have been tidied up - with memorial stones being moved to make cutting the grass easier. For instance at Hemel Hempstead the surviving stones have been moved against the boundary walls.  In some cases a few stones have been left (following requests from surviving family members at the time of clearance) and the rest have been removed entirely (see Redbourn Church for what has happened to some of the old stones.)  At Codicote Church the graveyard still managed in the old way, while there are some graveyards where, through neglect, part had been allowed to become a wilderness nature reserve.

So what happened in Stevenage? I haven't visited the old town centre so cannot comment first hand. However after the Second  War Stevenage was one of the New Towns, the town expanded rapidly and there was clearly a need for a major town cemetery (see list of the memorials on Jeffery Knaggs webpages  which all relate to the period after the new town was created). There is no town cemetery listed in the 1937 Kelley's directory (the latest I have access too). This suggests that someone dying in 1915 in Stevenage was most likely buried at St Nicholas, and the Herts Family History Society has published a booklet recording the memorial inscriptions. However by this date there was also Holy Trinity (Church of England), a Roman Catholic church, two Baptist Chapels and a Wesleyan Methodist chapel - and I don't know if any of these had their own graveyard.

If your great great grandparents has a gravestone your starting point should be the Family History Society booklet - and failing that you could try the St Nicholas burial register (at HALS and possibly available on microfilm at your nearest LDS Family History Centre) to check that to see if they were buried there.

Jeffery Knaggs web site contains records of the inscriptions of the following cemeteries

If you can add to the information given above tell me.

May 2007   Page created
March 2018   Knaggs website details updated