Chapels at Jesmond Old Cemetery in Newcastle set to be restored as office space

Another step forward for Jesmond Old Cemetery, in Newcastle, which is last resting place of city’s 19th Century greats

Flanked by one of Newcastle’s busiest roads is a part of the city’s history which is officially in the top five per cent of listed locations in the country.

But it is a place with which few of the thousands who pass it every day will be familiar, and even less will have stepped inside.

Jesmond Old Cemetery, also known as Newcastle General Cemetery, has been described as being among architect John Dobson’s finest works and is grade II-star listed.

In the same listing category are the walls surrounding the 11-acre site, as is the main entrance of archway, towers, and two chapels off Jesmond Road.

In the same listing category is a second entrance and lodge off Sandyford Road, while several of the cemetery monuments are Grade II listed.

Now the latest steps have been taken towards making the site, with all its attendant social history, better known and appreciated.

The two chapels, one Anglican and the other non-conformist, have been newly leased by Newcastle City Council to tenants who will work on their restoration after the buildings have lain empty and deteriorating for several years.

The East Chapel will be used as the new base for Newcastle architects Mosedale Gillatt.

The West Chapel will house Grit & Pearl, a consultancy which commissions public art and has plans to also use the building for artist residencies.

Mosedale Gillatt are contemporary and historic buildings architects whose work includes the award-winning Millfield House visitor centre in Jesmond Dene.

Architect Tim Mosedale says: “This is an opportunity to move into a beautiful John Dobson building, which reflects what we are about, and it will be sensitively refurbished.

“The site is an oasis in the city where its architect John Dobson himself is buried.”

The restoration and return to use of the chapels is welcomed by the Friends of Old Jesmond Cemetery, set up seven years ago to start the task of clearing tangled undergrowth which was enveloping the monuments.

Friends secretary Ray Hayes says: “It is a work in progress and the next stage is to promote the heritage side of the site, with more tours and interpretation.

“It is a hidden gem behind its big walls and I drove past it for 10 years before becoming involved.

“It is home to many of the Victorian men and women who made the city what it is today, all famous names, all instantly recognisable to anyone from the North East and many known to those from further afield.

“Inventors, retailers, engineers, architects and songwriters are examples of the variety of professions and livelihoods represented .

“It is a veritable cross section of local, national and international social history.

“The Friends of Jesmond Old Cemetery are dedicated to promoting the restoration, conservation and respectful enjoyment of the cemetery, including its monuments, buildings, green spaces, wildlife and the overall environment.“

The new occupiers of the chapels are keen to work on projects with the Friends, including the restoration of the biggest monument on the site, to Archibald Reed, who was six times mayor of Newcastle.

This follows the restoration last year of the memorial to Thomas Burt, the first working miner to become an MP, after the Friends raised more than £1,600 for the project.

It was in 1834 that a meeting was held in Newcastle to form a company to open a general cemetery because of the overcrowded condition of church graveyards and the disturbance of burials by new internments.

The site chosen was in Jesmond Fields, owned by Newcastle Corporation, and John Dobson was appointed as architect, with the cemetery opening in 1836. Since then, an estimated 25,000 people have been buried there.

They include:

  • Architect John Dobson, died 1865. Responsible for a number of North East country houses and Newcastle Central Station and fellow architect Thomas Oliver, died 1857, who created streets such as Leazes Crescent and Terrace.
  • Architect John Green, died 1852. Works include the Lit and Phil, Scotswood Suspension Bridge, Ouseburn and Willington rail viaducts. Also his son Benjamin, died 1858, with both working on Grey’s Monument and the Theatre Royal.
  • Muriel Robb, died 1907, member of the Jesmond Lawn Tennis Club who won the women’s singles title at Wimbeldon in 1902.
  • Naturalists Albany and John Hancock, died 1873 and 1890, after whom the Hancock Museum was named.
  • Emerson Muschamp Bainbridge, died 1892, founder of Bainbridge’s department store.
  • John James Fenwick, died 1905, owner of Fenwick’s department store.
  • Frederick Beavan, died 1928, founder of Beavans department store in Shields Road.
  • Thomas Pumphrey, died 1911, coffee dealer who opened his cafe in the Cloth Market.
  • William Campbell, died 1878, who was landlord of the Duke of Wellington in High Bridge, and was 53 stones and 6ft 3ins.
  • Writer Sid Chaplin, died 1986,
  • Alexander Laing, died 1905, who founded the Laing Art Gallery.
  • Christopher Thomas Maling, died 1901, under whom the Maling pottery reached its peak.
  • Artist Thomas Miles Richardson senior, died 1848.
  • Songwriter Joe Wilson, died 1875, who wrote Keep Yor Feet Still Geordie Hinny and Geordy Haud the Bairn,
  • Robert Deuchar, died 1904, who owned 40 pubs on Tyneside and breweries in Sandyford in Newcastle and Edinburgh.
  • Hedley Chapman Junior, died 1916, of the Chapman furniture store which ended up in Market Street.
  • Patrick Freeman II, died 1894 and Patrick Freeman III, died 1888, farmers and corn millers in High Heaton who gave their name to Paddy Freeman’s Park and the Freeman Hospital.
  • William Boutland Wilkinson, died 1902, inventor of reinforced concrete.
  • William Edwin Adams, died 1906, editor of the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle and founder of the Dicky Bird Society which enrolled many thousands of children as members to care for birds and other animals.
  • John Henry Holmes, died 1935, electrical engineer who developed the now familiar quick break switch with snap-off action.
  • Robert Spence Watson, died 1911, solicitor and leading figure in Liberal politics whose Bensham Grove home in Gateshead was visited by many celebrities of the day.
  • John Mawson, chemist, died 1867, killed in explosion on the Town Moor.
  • William Armstrong, died 1857, corn merchant and father of inventor Lord Armstrong,

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