Wootton Bassett Cemetery is in Downs View, five minutes’ walk from the town centre. Burials have taken place there since 1872. To find the garden, go down Station Road (opposite the Town Hall), turn left into Tanners Close and straight on into Downs View.
The original plans for the cemetery, the minutes of the Burial Board, their accounts, a small bundle of papers and two watercolour design drawings of the chapel are all held at the History Centre in Chippenham. The minutes are very thorough and I look forward to making a detailed study of them. The cemetery plan shows the layout and plot numbers of the graves, which are poignantly divided into areas for adults, children, and children under 7 years. The size of the children’s areas betray the extent of infant mortality in Victorian Wootton Bassett.
The first burial at the Cemetery in Wootton Bassett was that of 95 year old Thomas William James Waite, a Cordwainer (shoemaker) who lived in the Barton. He had died on March 16th 1871. The funeral was reported in the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette on Thursday 23 March 1871:
“A singular notice was posted in the chapels of this town on Sunday, that the first funeral in the Nonconformist part of the new cemetery would take place on Tuesday, that ministers of the different chapels of the town would take part in the service, and inviting persons to make a procession on the occasion. The notice had the effect of bringing together a large number of people; and it is rather remarkable that the funeral, besides being the first, should have been that of a stranger, a native of the Forest of Dean, who was born in 1776, who had three wives and 21 children, the youngest of which is a daughter only 9 years of age; and that the man’s faculties were good and his eyesight clear till the last – so good, that he did a good day’s work as a shoemaker, last Monday week.”
The Cemetery was consecrated a few weeks later on Thursday 13th April by the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol. (Source: the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette, Thursday 20 April 1871).
The creation of a new Cemetery for the town of Wootton Bassett in 1870 was not without its controversy. In the Western Gazette on Friday 02 December 1870 it was reported under the headline “The Sheep and the Goats”:
“We hear that the Bishop of Salisbury, on examining the plans of the chapels and grounds adjoining, has refused to consecrate the chapel, not being sufficiently detached from the Nonconformist chapel, or the ground not being properly fenced off. We advise the Wootton Bassett Churchmen, before taking any further trouble in the matter, to try the effect of burying and being buried in ground on the which the foot of a bishop has never trodden.”
The matter must have been resolved because the two chapels were constructed back to back. The chapels were demolished in the 1980′s when they became uneconomical to repair. The Remembrance Garden has been constructed on the site.
A Wellingtonia, an old giant redwood tree, stands behind the Remembrance Garden. The original plans for the cemetery reveal a circular path at that point in the cemetery. Although no tree is drawn on the plan, this suggests that the spot was earmarked for a feature tree early in the design process.
The Sequoiadendron giganteum, commonly known as the Wellingtonia, was introduced from North America by William Lobb, a Cornish plant collector employed by Veitch Nurseries of Exeter in the autumn of 1853. John Lindley of the Horticultural Society, who was assigned the task of naming the introduction, opted for the decidedly un-American ‘Wellingtonia gigantea’ to commemorate the lately deceased Duke of Wellington. This was greeted with indignation across the pond, sparking a debate that would rage for years. That we persist in affectionately—or stubbornly—calling it the Wellingtonia is a testament to its value as a living monument.
Burial records can be searched on the Town Council website.
We have a separate page about the Remembrance Garden in the Cemetery.