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Norwich Heart, Heritage Economic & Regeneration Trust

Thomas Drummond

Thomas Drummond - Founder of the Rosary Cemetery

Thomas Drummond (1764-1852) was the founder of the Rosary, which opened in 1821 on the 5 acre site of a former market garden just off the Yarmouth Road in Norwich. It was the first non-denominational cemetery in England.

Thomas was born in Norwich on 1st March 1764, the son of Lawrence and Margaret Drummond who lived, and probably worked, in Lower Goat Lane. His father, a peruke (wig) maker, was said to be originally from Perthshire but his mother had been born in Norwich.

He was admitted as a Freeman of Norwich in 1785, being described as a 'dissenting minister' and in 1801 was living in King Street. By 1805 he was the minister at the Unitarian church at Filby near Great Yarmouth but that year moved to Ipswich to become minister at St Nicholas Street Presbyterian Church (now known as the Friars Street Unitarian Meeting House) where he stayed until 1813. It seems, according to the current minister at the Unitarian Meeting House, that although the church was originally Presbyterian the congregation had become Unitarian by the end of the 18th century, well before Drummond served as the minister there.

During his time in Ipswich he married Anne Pilkington the daughter of his predecessor at the church. Their marriage produced four children; 3 daughters and a son who became a doctor in Ipswich. Leaving Ipswich in 1813 Drummond spent a period as a minister in Derby before, in 1815, returning to Norwich to retire.

Why Drummond decided to open a cemetery is unclear but as a Unitarian would have been very aware of the difficulties faced by dissenters when burying family members. Indeed, whilst in Ipswich he had experienced at first hand the refusal of a curate to allow a funeral service for a young child called Harriet Durrant who had not been baptised by an Anglican clergyman but by Drummond himself. He was also reportedly aware of the loss of a cemetery adjoining a dissenter's chapel in London which had been turned over to other uses when the chapel closed.

Drummond used a legacy of £3,200 left to his wife to buy and lay out the Rosary. This appears to have caused some friction in his family. After being registered with the Bishop of Norwich the cemetery opened in 1821and the first burial took place on 16th November of that year. Sadly it was that of his wife Ann who had died two years earlier giving birth to their daughter Margaret and been buried at the Octagon in Colegate.

The Rosary was open to all, if they could afford the fees. The Deed of Regulation in 1842 stipulated 'That the burial of the dead in the said cemetery shall be performed with such funeral rites and ceremony, and with the attendance of such minister or ministers, or other teacher or teachers of religion, or without the attendance of any such person, and is such manner in every respect, as the friends or relations of the deceased shall choose, Provided always, that every such burial be performed in a decent and solemn manner and do not take up an unreasonable length of time'. It also stipulated that there should be no burial before sunrise or after sunset.

According to the burial registers for the Rosary, Drummond performed the majority of the early burials until 1837 when the register was surrendered to the Registrar General. Of the 640 that took place during the period Drummond performed all but 77 of them. However, at some of the burials other people are recorded as attesting. A number of these attesters are recognisable as prominent dissenting ministers from Norwich such as John Alexander and Joseph Kinghorn. There were few burials during the first few years and it took some years before the Rosary was used regularly for burials. However, it is clear that cemetery was well supported by the dissenting community in Norwich. By the time Drummond set a trust to manage the cemetery in 1841 his twelve fellow trustees included prominent dissenters; including a wine merchant, several local politicians, a member of the Norwich School of Artists and Drummond's son.

A directory of 1839 gives Drummond's address as the Rosary but this may have been a business address as there is no known record of a house at the cemetery. The census returns for both 1841 and 1851 record him living in King Street with his youngest daughter Margaret and her husband Francis Colsey, where they ran a school.

In addition to being a Unitarian minister and opening a cemetery Drummond was a moderately prolific author and published several works including 'Letters to a Young Dissenter', and a book of rules for determining dates. Perhaps during his retirement he used his abilities to teach the children who attended his daughter Margaret's school in King Street.

Thomas Drummond died on February 17th 1852 aged 88 and was buried in the  cemetery he created, alongside his wife Ann and their daughter Margaret, who like her mother, had died in childbirth just a few months earlier. Her daughter, also named Margaret, died 16 months later and was buried in the same plot. Drummond's grave is marked by a low flat topped monument under a large yew tree in the lower part of the original cemetery.

Nick Williams

December 2006