Lister Lane Cemetery, formerly known as The Halifax General Cemetery, was opened in 1841.
It was planned as a commercial enterprise by a private cemetery company, answering a much needed demand for burial space outside the overcrowded churchyards of a provincial town. The grounds were designed, according to the ideas of the time, not only as a safe and hygienic place of burial, but also a burial ground whose design and buildings would contribute to the improvement and respectability of the town as well as being a pleasant environment for contemplative walks.
It was the first non-denominational burial ground in the area and its prospectus stated that people of any religion or of none could be buried here, so long as it was done with dignity. The cemetery committee retained flexibility to charge reduced rates to the poor and to ensure that all got a proper burial.
Lister Lane Cemetery is owned by the Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council and managed by the organization Friends of Lister Lane Cemetery.
It covers 12.141 m2 (1.2 ha or 3 acres) and includes 4.735 with 20.000 interments. It is a landscape cemetery - a Garden Cemetery for “any Religion or none”.
People buried at the cemetery are mainly British but there are also some Irish, and a few from further afield. The predominant religion present in the cemetery is Christian. Moreover there are many Nonconformists, Methodists and Unitarians, some Catholics, other groups, and atheists.
Cemetery location and accessibility
Lister Lane Cemetery is situated, 1 km to the west of the centre of Halifax and occupies an area of 1.2 ha within an area of mid to late 19th century development, predominantly residential. The cemetery lies between Gibbet Street to the north and Lister Lane to the south and is surrounded by a high stone wall with gated access. The main entrance to the cemetery is near the western end on Lister Lane which is formed by three stone gate piers containing what would have been a carriage entrance and a pedestrian entrance. Almost symmetrically opposite, on the northern boundary on Gibbet Street is a similar entrance, for carriages only. It is thought that hearses arriving through the Gibbet Street gates would deposit the bier for the funeral service and then leave through the Lister Lane gates. There is another pedestrian entrance (late 2oth century) situated in the south-east corner of the cemetery.
The layout of the cemetery is simple and formal. It is laid out symmetrically about a central axis linking from west to east, with a central walk and a broad flight of stone steps. The steps form the central feature in a terrace which separates a higher level to the west comprising an underlying structure of walled crypts and dominated by a dense collection of fine monuments above ground. In contrast, the lower level in the eastern half is more open in character, dominated by rows of gravestones, more widely spaced. From the terrace, there are good views to the east across the centre of Halifax and to the rising moors beyond.
The mortuary chapel stands in an elevated, central focal position in the higher level of the cemetery. It is a small stone building, in the Greek style with Doric pilasters, and a pedimented east front, and is approached by steps on its east side. Crypts, created in the cellar of the chapel and incorporating space for burial, were never used. It is now derelict, the roof having collapsed some time ago but the walls have been stabilised. A cemetery lodge and a former stonemason’s yard (now demolished) once stood to the west of the entrance off Lister Lane.
Significant aspects of the cemeteryAs Halifax’s first general cemetery it has historical significance as the last resting place of some 20,000 individuals, forming a complete cross-section of Halifax society of the time. It is an important part of Calderdale’s rich architectural heritage, where fine examples of Victorian memorial architecture may be seen. Enclosed by high stone walls, it is a green oasis, three acres of tranquility, a place of ecological value and natural beauty which lies not far from the busy town centre of Halifax offering a place to relax or take outdoor exercise. It is also an attractive location for photography and sketching and for outdoor work for volunteers interested in gardening and conservation work.
Furthermore, the cemetery is listed in Historic England’s ‘Register of Historic Parks and Gardens of special historic interest in England’. The principal reasons for its designation at Grade II included:
- An early garden cemetery (1839-1841) of the second decade of garden cemetery design. It was designed by James Day, a local land agent and surveyor.
- The site survives largely complete with a focal (mortuary) chapel (Grade II listed) now derelict.
- The cemetery contains a notable range of catacombs incorporated into the change of level of the site as a viewing terrace.
- The cemetery was the first in a series of mid to late 19th century developments in Halifax which included the building of Belle Vue House built by a member of the Crossley family who owned a large carpet manufacturing business; almshouses; middle class housing; churches; and People’s Park.
- Local social interest expressed in burials.
Important graves and monuments
Crossley Family vault and monument - Grave No. 147–152
This vault holds the remains of the three Crossley brothers, John (1812-1879), Joseph (1813-1868) and Francis (1817-1872) who built up the largest carpet-manufacturing business in the world at Dean Clough - John Crossley & Sons Ltd. All three brothers were dedicated businessmen, who also sought to serve the borough of Halifax in public life, and to improve the lot of local working people.
Grave of Jonas Dearnley Taylor (1829-1902) - Grave No. 474-475
Founder member and first secretary (a position he held for nearly 50 years) of the Halifax Permanent Benefit Building Society. In 1928, the Halifax Permanent merged with the Halifax Equitable Benefit Building Society to become the Halifax Building Society which was the largest such society in the world. In addition to Jonas Dearnley Taylor, Lister Lane Cemetery is the last resting place of a remarkable number of significant men involved in the early building society movement.
Grave of Benjamin Rushton (1785-1853). Grave No. 3577
The Halifax Chartist and handloom weaver, who was a radical agitator for over thirty years. He championed the cause of the handloom weavers; campaigned against the New Poor Law; and gained a reputation as a nonconformist preacher with a deep commitment to social justice. Attendance at his funeral in 1853 has been described as the last major Chartist gathering in the West Riding of Yorkshire.
Grave of Lieutenant-Colonel Godfrey Phipps Baker (1786-1850) - Grave No. 1276
He saw service in the East India Company, serving alongside Thomas Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore. An amateur archaeologist and surveyor, he was commissioned to undertake surveys for military and political purposes. Baker accompanied H.C. Cornelius to investigate the 9th Century Bhuddist temple of Borobudur in Java, becoming one of the first westerners to sketch the remarkable monument, now a World Heritage site. Many of Baker’s sketches and drawings can be found in the collections of the British Library and Royal Asiatic Society.
Two graves of veterans of the Battle of Waterloo (1815):
- Grave of Robert Nutter (1792-1867) - Grave No. 3819
He joined The Royal Horse Guards on 16th August 1813 serving at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815 in Lieutenant Colonel Hill's F Troop. Discharged as a Private on 7th February 1817 as part of the reduction of the army after Waterloo. His later occupation was as a weaver.
- Daniel Milton (1780-1856) - Grave No. 4200
A volunteer soldier, he was discharged on 15th September 1818 after twenty-one years service which included seventeen years in the 95th Rifles in which he served during the Battle of Waterloo. His death certificate described him not as a be-medalled Waterloo veteran, but simply as “workman at a carpet factory”. He was buried in a public grave. In 2014, a memorial stone was erected over the grave (the first to be installed in the cemetery for some decades), made possible by a legacy in memory of a departed Friend
Conservation and preservation of the cemetery
A main priority is the preservation of the monuments at the cemetery. In collaboration with the Bereavement Services of Calderdale Council and with the help of a local, professional stonemason, the Friends have an ongoing project of re-erection, repair and stabilisation of the monuments.
The original burial registers of the Halifax General Cemetery Company are still extant. The burial records have been transcribed into a searchable database and the intention is to make this information (along with biographical data, images, etc) freely available to family historians, researchers etc., on the Friends of Lister Lane Cemetery website. As a result, we will be seeking professional input to determine the best way of achieving this outcome.
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