In 1843, as the population of Leeds grew exponentially, Leeds Town Council was granted permission by Act of Parliament, to set out and run municipal burial grounds. In 1845, Hunslet and Leeds Burial Grounds opened 3 months apart. Leeds Burial Ground’s name was changed several times over the years, finally becoming Beckett Street Cemetery*.
The Cemetery is now closed to new burials, but within its 16 acres lie 180,000 people in 28,000 graves. There are only approximately 7,000 headstones marking graves, so the majority of people were buried in unmarked ‘Common’ graves.
Sadly, we don’t know the designer’s name, but the Cemetery was designed with one half for Anglicans and the other for Non-Conformists also known as Dissenters. Each half had its own Chapel of Rest, staff, including a Superintendent with a lodge as his home and workplace, and where the burial registers were housed.
This publication is an acknowledgement by the Friends of Beckett Street Cemetery of service personnel, who were mostly from Leeds families, but who might have been forgotten. Almost all of them do not appear in the burial records, but they are commemorated in the Cemetery – read on!
From shortly after the Cemetery opened until the late 1950’s, when no new graves were opened, there were buried many soldiers, including a survivor of the Battle of Waterloo. Several are referred to in Sylvia Barnard’s book, To Prove I’m Not Forgot; Living and Dying in a Victorian City (details in ‘Sources’), but from walking around the Cemetery and during working parties, we noticed headstones which referred to sons and husbands who had been ‘killed in action’ during the 1914-18 conflicts. As the centenary of the First World War approached, we started to look for more. Consulting the Memorial Inscriptions and the Yorkshire Indexers, here we are with almost 200 names!
The majority of people died abroad, mostly in Europe, and are either buried in Commonwealth War graves, or, if their bodies were not found, have their names engraved on one of the many memorials to ‘lost’ personnel.
This work comprises names of local men and one woman, from families often living in the streets close to the Cemetery, commemorated on the headstones of family graves. We must acknowledge the invaluable early work of the Friends in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s, who physically recorded the inscriptions on those 7000+ headstones. What a mammoth task!
Many service personnel survived the War of course and returned to their families in the area. Others returned home injured and led an impaired, shortened life as a result. Some lived with their injuries for many years after. If they lie in Beckett Street Cemetery, they were buried, not as service personnel, but as private citizens.
Some men were brought home wounded, died shortly afterwards, and were buried in the Cemetery, where it’s likely that their graves have the traditional Commonwealth War Grave headstones. There are exceptions, some buried in shared, ‘Inscription’, or ‘Guinea’ graves, with their names shown on shared headstones, whilst others have been buried in unmarked graves, also likely to be shared.
On each grave with a headstone, the Friends have placed a stick-on poppy, which highlights these graves for our visitors and is another way of commemorating those individuals. And of course, we have the Memorial Inscription records.
Photographs of some of the headstones can be seen on our website: on many though, the inscriptions have weathered, whilst others have additional lettering on kerbstones, which cannot easily be photographed.
This is not a detailed Family History publication. We have concentrated on the individuals’ experiences of war and their link with the Cemetery. However, web-links for further information are shown, and it would be satisfying to think that this publication might help to ‘fill in some blanks’ for someone researching their family history, or even be their starting point. It also contributes to the story of Leeds’ history.
Alun Pugh and Lynda Kitching
Chairman and Secretary, Friends of Beckett Street Cemetery