Grave Matters

Hidden away in a small plot of land between Hardy Street, Southey Street and Waterloo Crescent in Hyson Green is one of Nottingham’s two ‘closed’ (i.e. no longer in active use) Jewish cemeteries (the other being at the top of North Sherwood Street, near the Rock Cemetery). Although I’d known for a while that there was a burial ground in this area, it was only when I was wandering along Waterloo Crescent one day, en route to somewhere else, that the cemetery’s exact location was revealed to me, courtesy of one of those ‘hmm, I wonder what’s behind that wall’ moments.

Formal access appears to be by permission only (although through what authority I am not sure), but ‘informal’ access (ahem) is not too difficult to accomplish. In fact, going on the evidence of the detritus within the walls, one can surmise that visits by the local ne’er-do-wells are not uncommon. In spite of this, the cemetery does seem to be reasonably well maintained, the grassy area to the side of the graves having been recently cut when I visited the site with a friend last week.

The Hardy Street cemetery was built in the 1860s, when the North Sherwood Street burial ground had been outgrown, and was in use until the mid-20th century. There is now a Jewish cemetery at Wilford Hill.

The Stars of David and Hebrew text in evidence on the gravestones here, together with the use of the Jewish calendar for the years of birth and death on some of them, add a certain exoticism to an already atmospheric scene. Some of the plots and their accompanying burial paraphernalia seem in remarkably good condition, while others are the worse for wear.

Perhaps even more so than is the case with other heritage graveyards in Nottingham, the scene before us elicits a feeling that the people buried here have been forgotten – destined to lie neglected in this secluded spot until, the relevant statutory period having passed, a future planning officer decides that the site is ripe for redevelopment and all evidence of the cemetery’s previous occupants is erased. Enjoy your sojourn in this tranquil spot while you can, Mr Lazarus Mendel Glick, et al.

Who are all these people? What did they like to do? Did they enjoy their lives? Did they leave behind any sort of legacy other than their descendants? Any last vestige of their time on this earth?

We leave the cemetery, hubris banished, perspective gained.

A few days later, I begin to reflect on graveyards more generally.

Some burial grounds become places of pilgrimage – witness the visitors flocking to pay their respects to Marx at Highgate or Jim Morrison at Père Lachaise, to name but two examples. Does anything vaguely similar occur, I wonder, in Nottingham? And where are the last resting places of Nottingham’s more notable sons and daughters? Taking as a starting point the people with whom I personally am most familiar (and/or find most interesting), I decided to do a little ad-hoc online research and was not surprised to learn that many of the more celebrated (or notorious) folk who were born in our fair county are actually buried elsewhere.

Richard Beckinsale, Richard Parkes Bonington, William Booth, Eric Coates and Alan Sillitoe are all buried in London (at Mortlake Cemetery, Kensal Green Cemetery, Abney Park Cemetery, Golders Green Crematorium and Highgate Cemetery respectively), while other Nottinghamians who failed to make the final journey to the place of their birth include Jesse Boot (buried at St Brelade’s Church, St Brelade, Jersey), D H Lawrence (Kiowa Ranch, San Cristobal, New Mexico, USA), Henry Kirke White (All Saints Church (previously All Saints in the Jewry), Cambridge), Harold Shipman (cremated in Sheffield) and, to the best of my knowledge, Woodstock alumnus Alvin Lee, who died in Spain.

Others, though, did remain here, or were returned to their roots upon their demise – William ‘Bendigo’ Thompson, Ben Caunt, Frank Robinson (better known as Xylophone Man), Stanley Middleton, George Green, Peter Taylor and, of course, Lord Byron (and his daughter Ada Lovelace)  are all buried locally – Thompson at St Mary’s Rest Garden in St Ann’s, Caunt at St Mary Magdelene in Hucknall, Robinson at Wilford Hill Cemetery in West Bridgford, Middleton at the Northern Cemetery in Bulwell, Green at St Stephen’s Church in Sneinton, Taylor at St Peter’s Church in Widmerpool and Byron and his daughter, as with Ben Caunt, at St Mary Magdelene, Hucknall.

This partial study of the posthumous whereabouts of the great and the good whose fate it was to be forever associated with Nottingham in some way would not be complete without the consideration of folk with a connection to Nottingham who were born elsewhere or who, in one instance, may never even have existed in the first place.

Edwin Starr, born in Nashville Tennessee, was living in Bramcote at the time of his death and is buried at Wilford Hill. Brian Clough, who was born in Middlesbrough, is buried at St Alkmund’s Church in Duffield, Derbyshire. For those who support the team on the other side of the Trent, Jimmy Sirrell (born in Glasgow) is buried at St Helen’s Church in Burton Joyce. Disappointingly, I’ve been unable to determine where Ray Gosling, who was born in Northampton, rests, while Nottingham’s legendary outlaw, one Mr R Hood, is reputed to have been born in Loxley, Sheffield and is purported to be buried at the Kirklees Park Estate in West Yorkshire.

Perhaps there is someone to whose resting place you would like to make your own pilgrimage, to play a small part in helping to keep their memory alive.