Beckett Street Cemetery is divided into two sections, one for Anglicans (the Consecrated portion) and one for Nonconformists (the Unconsecrated or General portion). The line of division runs roughly east west from the Beckett Street wall to the Stoney Rock Lane wall. At first it follows the line of the central path known as Marshall Walk, but while it continues directly ahead the path system soon diverges from it. The straight line of the division is marked at regular intervals throughout by short pencil shaped stone posts. The Consecrated portion is to the south of this line, nearer to the main entrance of St James's Hospital. The Unconsecrated portion is bordered to the north by Stanley Road.
Each grave plot has a number on the Cemetery map, but few are numbered on the ground. The consecutive numbering begins in the south west corner (Consecrated portion) and turns at the division line to run back to the boundary wall of the Cemetery. In this way it zigzags through the Consecrated portion to the far end. The last grave on this side is No. 13560. The numbering then recommences at the beginning of the Unconsecrated portion with No. 13561, and continues in the same zigzag manner to the last grave on this side (No. 27120). Hence it will be seen that the direction of the numbering i acv row in either portion is always opposite to that in the row before and the row after. The first 500 numbers in the Consecrated portion have not been used, as they were occupied by the lodge and outbuildings and by the masons' yard and spoil area. It should be noted that Beckett Street Cemetery is not square but trapezoidal, and this results in some irregular rows. A few graves, notably near the former chapels, have a and b numbers.
The Friends of Beckett Street Cemetery have had many memorials along path edges carved with the plot number and an arrow indicating the direction of the numbering. These numbers will be found on memorials on one or other side of the main paths and of the division line (the necessity of choosing sound, upright stones may mean that the numbered memorial is not directly on the path edge, or that the row could not be numbered at all). Numbers are normally carved on the back of the memorial. sometimes on the side facing the path or on the _W9. Elsewhere, especially at the west end of the Cemetery, large white numbers (painted in the 'impermanent' paint used by the Department of Cemeteries to identify headstones as part of the proposed clearance scheme fifteen years ago) still survive, although no direction is indicated. 'Guinea graves' (rows of similar stones massed together) have their number on a plinth at the foot of the headstone and this number can easily be used as a finding aid to other graves.
Plot numbers for burials can be found in the Burial Index (see Burial and Grave Registers). A plan of the Cemetery can be found at the Leeds Local Family & History Library. Help may also be obtained from Leeds Bereavement Services.
The grave can be located at the Cemetery by counting plots (not just headstones!) from the nearest numbered stone, allowing 3 feet 3 inches width for each grave. Headstones can be at the east end of the plot facing west, or vice versa thus, stones which appear at first sight to be in the same row may be in different rows. Only about 7,600 plots out of the 27,000 have memorials.
Several names for different types of grave were used in the nineteenth century, some of which overlapped or were interchangeable.
The general term for a grave belonging to the owners of the Cemetery, in which no private burial rights existed. Common graves were filled over the course of a few days with the bodies of unrelated people who died during that period and who could afford nothing better. No headstone was erected, so the occupants were uncommemorated. (See LOCK UP GRAVE and PUBLIC GRAVE.)
A pauper was a penniless person buried by the Board of Guardians (i.e., at public expense). Any common grave would probably contain some paupers as well as some people whose families had managed to pay for the burial, so there is really no such thing as a 'pauper's grave', and the term is never used officially.
(probably the same thing as 'OPEN GRAVE) The cheapest category of common grave; there were three prices, for stillborn babies, for children under 7 years of age, and for persons over 7. It appears that these graves were only filled to a level which covered the current interment and was appropriate to receive the next. A wooden 'door' was then locked in place on to a framework around the grave, and when the grave was full the superfluous contraptions were removed so that it looked like any other. The last mention of 'lock up' graves in the Cemetery minutes is in 1891. At some point thereafter the wooden framework was superseded by a concrete slab, known as a 'coffin cover', as used today over interments in common graves. During the nineteenth century 3s 6d was paid for the burial of an under 7 in a lock up grave, Ss for an over 7. A 1921 price list uses this pricing structure for what it calls simply 'common graves'.
PUBLIC GRAVE Another type of common grave. The grave was filled up completely after each interment, so that the deepest burial involved most work and cost the largest amount (14s during the nineteenth century). This type was still known as a 'public grave' in 1921.
The third type of common grave, this differed from the other two by having a headstone, and seems to have been a local invention, avoiding the 'shame' of an uncommemorated burial. Each stone served two graves (one to the east, one to the west of it), and the inscription gave the names, ages and dates of death of the unrelated deceased in the graves. There were also kerbs round the grave. We do not know whether the method of burial was that of the 'lock up' or of the 'public' grave, but the simple pricing suggests the former. (See GUINEA GRAVE.)
The inscription grave (see above) originally cost £1-1s is for adults, half price for children, so that it soon acquired this unofficial nickname. In 1921 a'guinea grave' cost £2.
A plot of ground purchased by an individual, who then had the burial rights to the grave dug in it, confirmed by a parchment certificate or 'grave paper', a duplicate of which was kept by the Burial Grounds Committee. Separate fees would be paid for the plot, for the making of the grave (sometimes as a bricklined vault), for each burial in it, and for the right to erect a headstone or other monument. Apparently there was no time limit on the right of the owner or his family to the grave; they could expect to lie there for all time. Some graves were well cared for, usually by the relatives of those buried in them. Other families paid a sum of £10 or so to ensure that the Cemetery authority would tend the grave for evermore; this was called a'perpetuity', but such agreements are now sadly no longer honoured.
The full Burial and Grave Registers are on microfiche and are kept at various locations, as follows:
Central Library, Municipal Buildings, Calverley Street, Leeds LS 1 3AB (Local History Room, Reference Department) (tel. 0113 247 8290)
West Yorkshire Archives, West Yorkshire Joint Service, Nepshaw Lane South, Morley, Leeds. LS27 7JQ. (Tel: 0113 393 9788)
All the institutions which have the microfiche Registers also have the full Index to Burials 1845 1992, compiled by the Friends of Beckett Street Cemetery. The Central Library has a map of the Cemetery. At present it is not possible to purchase copies of the microfiche or of the paper index.
The information to be found in the Burial Registers comprises: chronological burial number, name, address, description (i.e., usually, occupation if a man, relationship if a woman or child), date of burial, age, grave number and name of clergyman performing the service. The Grave Registers list the graves in numerical order, with the burial number and name of those interred in each, so that, by cross referencing, full details of every person buried in any grave can be identified. Hence, in the case of a private grave, it is often possible to find previously unknown family members.
Memorial Inscriptions have been recorded by the Friends of Beckett Street Cemetery and can be seen at the Central Library.
Enquiries about burials at Beckett Street Cemetery from people unable to visit Leeds can be directed to the Leeds Bereavement Services, Farnley Hall, Farnley Lane, Leeds. LS12 5HA. (Tel: 0113 395 7400). A charge is made for answering postal enquiries; a similar fee is charged by Leeds City Library Services. Friends of Beckett Street Cemetery will also deal with enquiries. Please use the 'Send us a Message' Section on the Contacts Page.
Since the Cemetery has been constantly under one threat or other since clearance was first proposed, we welcome new members to the Friends of Beckett Street Cemetery. There is a subscription fee of (£5 individual / £8 family / £8 associate / £25 corporate) a year:
You will receive two Newsletters. We have our AGM, with talks and films, in early summer, and occasional guided tours of the Cemetery, visits to other sites or lectures are arranged. Our aim is 'to prevent the destruction and promote the restoration of Beckett Street Cemetery'.