Earlham Road Cemetery opened on 6th March 1856. Two years earlier, in April 1854 the Mayor received an Order from the Home Secretary that all burials in Norwich churches should ceased immediately and that burials in the city‘s churchyards must be discontinued from 1st February 1855. This gave the Council less than a year to provide a cemetery for the 1250 people buried annually. The Council set up a Burials Board but the acquisition of land proved difficult and the government granted an extension for the opening of the cemetery to August 1855. The land was finally acquired and purchased with a loan of £5,000 from Gurney‘s Bank. A request for a further extension of the opening date was granted to 1st January 1856.
The City Surveyor prepared estimates for the setting up of the cemetery which included an enclosure wall 6 feet high, two mortuary chapels (one for the established church and one for non conformists), a cottage for the residence of a sexton, drainage, walks, gates and levelling the ground, together with the planting of trees and shrubs. A figure of £4,150 was produced for a plot of 60 acres and £6,400 for two square plots of 30 acres each.
The original cemetery covered an area of 34 acres, 23 of which were put to immediate use and the remainder given over to agricultural purposes until required. The planting of trees and shrubs, which included spruce and Scotch firs was essential as in the nineteenth century very few people could afford a headstone and the cemetery would have looked very bare. In the first ten months of its opening, 745 burials took place but only 4 headstones were erected. By 1890 burials had increased to 1640 but only 214 (13%) had headstones.
Many of those buried in unmarked graves were soldiers from the Britannia Barracks. At that time mortality rates in the army were considerably higher than those of civilians of similar age, and in 1875 the Burials Board adopted a suggestion from a Mr. J.J. Winter that a piece of ground should be kept expressly for the burial of soldiers. Mr. Winter then proposed that a monument should be raised to the memory of soldiers who died while stationed in Norwich which would record their names. Money was raised by public subscription and a statue, The Spirit of the Army, was unveiled by Lord Waveney in 1878.
In the month the cemetery opened the Watch Committee was asked to provide policemen to be on duty on Sundays and eventually the Board employed a police pensioner at a wage of 2s.0d. a week ‘to prevent the grounds being surrounded with children during the performance of funeral services‘. This was eventually discontinued, and today one can wander along the paths and through the trees without being asked to ‘move along there‘...
Basic source: Minutes of Norwich Burials Board Committee meetings
1854-1900, Norwich Records Office (N/TC 5/4A-D)