• The Cemetery is a Grade II listed ‘Park and Garden of Special Historic Interest’
  • Contains 286 Commonwealth war graves from the two World Wars
  • Such was demand for space that extensions were needed to the cemetery in 1854, 1859, 1860 and 1869

Park and Garden of Special Historic Interest

Welford Road Cemetery has its roots, like many of its Victorian contemporaries, in the urbanisation of the industrial cities. Due to the population growth in Leicester during the industrial revolution there was a desperate need for private and municipal cemeteries.

By the early 1840s Leicester’s seven churchyards and seventeen burial grounds could no longer cope. The Leicester General Cemetery Company was formed on 22 September 1845 by the Corporation with Richard Harris as Chairman. A public competition was launched in 1848 to design the cemetery with 100 guineas or 5% of the project funds as prize, with the winners announced later that year as the Gloucester firm of Hamilton and Medland.

Extensions and growth

The cemetery was opened by the Mayor, William Biggs, on 19th June 1849.  Over 3,000 people turned out in pouring rain to see the Mayor bury a sealed bottle containing gold and silver coins under the foundation stone of one of the chapels.

The first burial took place on 28th July 1849 when James Page was interred. In September 1850 application was made to the Board of Health for an order prohibiting interments in the town’s churchyards and burial grounds and by 1855 they were effectively closed. It was clear that extensions were needed to Welford Road and in 1854, 1859, 1860 and 1869 land was purchased between the cemetery and Lancaster Road. By 1869 the cemetery extended to the 31 acre site that you see today.

Between 1855 and 1902 the cemetery was in effect the only place for burials in the town. Belgrave cemetery opened to serve the population growth of that rapidly growing village in 1881 and in 1902 a second cemetery was opened for the town at Gilroes. Gilroes rapidly took over as the main cemetery, especially when crematoria were built there and burials at Welford Road fell away between the World Wars.

There are many notable local people buried at Welford Road including local business owners, politicians, architects and one of Leicesters most famous women, suffrage campaigner Alice Hawkins.

The Chapels before they were demolished in 1958. Leicestershire Record Office

Military Burials

The cemetery contains 286 Commonwealth War Graves from the Great War and 46 from the Second World War in the cemetery. Many are buried in a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery, which, along with the Cross of Sacrifice and Memorial Wall, form a separate ‘cemetery within a cemetery’ enclosed by low hedges. It was opened on 30th April 1923 by the Duke of Rutland and commemorates those servicepeople who died while on active service in the 5th Northern General Hospital and who are buried in mass graves in front of the memorial wall. Other casualties are located in individual plots throughout the cemetery. Many more soldiers are remembered on family memorials but buried in Flanders, France or further afield. All, including eight Australians, seven Canadians and nine Belgian soldiers from the Great War, are commemorated with individual poppies and a ceremony on the closest Saturday to November 11th (in the case of the Australians, on ANZAC day).

There are also many veterans of conflicts stretching back to the Napoleonic Wars, including the Crimean War and the wars of empire. Notable among these is William Green of the 95th Rifles who survived horrific wounds at the siege of Badajoz in 1812 to live well into his 90s and John Winterton, who lost a leg at Waterloo. Also remembered are civilian casualties of war including those killed in the Leicester blitz of November 1940.

Regeneration of a green haven

A third cemetery opened at Saffron Hill in 1929 and by 1958 the chapels were in such disrepair that they were demolished. The final plots were purchased in the 1970s and as the cemetery neared its 150th birthday in 1999 the Council and the newly formed Friends group began a process of regeneration that culminated in the award of a Heritage Lottery Grant in 2006.  This enabled the building of the Visitor Centre and the renewal of roads and paths plus the installation of 100 plaques on the site of the chapel to commemorate notable people buried here.

The cemetery is still used for burials although there are only around a dozen interment's a year in family plots now. It has become a popular green haven close to the heart of the modern city with many species of fauna and flora flourishing alongside visitors from Leicester, Britain and the world.

Find out how to visit.

With thanks to the Friends of Welford Road Cemetery.

Gallery

Roman Leicester

(47- 500) A military fort was erected, attracting traders and a growing civilian community to Leicester (known as Ratae Corieltauvorum to the Romans). The town steadily grew throughout the reign of the Romans.

Medieval Leicester

(500 – 1500) The early years of this period was one of unrest with Saxon, Danes and Norman invaders having their influences over the town. Later, of course, came Richard III and the final battle of the Wars of the Roses was fought on Leicester’s doorstep.

Tudor & Stuart Leicester

(1500 – 1700) The wool trade flourished in Leicester with one local, a former mayor named William Wigston, making his fortune. During the English Civil War a bloody battle was fought as the forces of King Charles I laid siege to the town.

Georgian Leicester

(1700 – 1837) The knitting industry had really stared to take hold and Leicester was fast becoming the main centre of hosiery manufacture in Britain. This new prosperity was reflected throughout the town with broader, paved streets lined with elegant brick buildings and genteel residences.

Edwardian Leicester

(1901 – 1910) Electric trams came to the streets of Leicester and increased literacy among the citizens led to many becoming politicised. The famous 1905 ‘March of the Unemployed to London’ left from Leicester market when 30,000 people came to witness the historic event.

Early 20th Century Leicester

(1910 – 1973) The diverse industrial base meant Leicester was able to cope with the economic challenges of the 1920s and 1930s. New light engineering businesses, such as typewriter and scientific instrument making, complemented the more traditional industries of hosiery and footwear manufacturing.

Modern Leicester

(1973 – present day) Industry was still thriving in the city during the 1970s, with the work opportunities attracting many immigrants from all over the world. While industry has declined in recent years, excellent transport links have made Leicester an attractive centre for many businesses. The City now has much to be proud of including its sporting achievements and the richness of its cultural heritage and diversity.

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