A Hidden Gem
Smallcombe Garden Cemetery, as it’s now known, was opened in 1855. Hidden away in a small cwm (Welsh for valley), the garden cemetery has the air of a secret place, yet is barely a mile from Bath city centre. The burial ground and its graves are awash with the history of Bath, and of Britain, from Victorian times through to the mid 20th century.
A taxidermist, John Brown, was first to be buried here on March 9th 1856. About 7,000 burials later, in 1988, the cemetery was officially closed to new grave plots. Then, with local authorities keeping the long grass in check and securing any unsafe monuments, the hidden cemetery was left largely to time and nature – until 2015.
Originally named 'Churchyard of St Mary the Virgin, Bathwick' the cemetery was the overflow from the 1820 St Mary’s Church at the bottom of Bathwick Hill. It is a classic example of the Garden Cemetery Movement, with a sweeping drive up to the chapel for carriages and many footpaths for strolling around the graveyard.
The Anglican or Church of England chapel, with its high arched porch as if for a country house, was designed by Thomas Fuller and noted in Pevsner’s ‘Buildings of England’.
In 1861, a second adjacent cemetery was opened, with a small octagonal Chapel for Non-Conformists designed by Alfred Goodridge. It was to be run not by the church but by the local authority’s Bath Burial Board. The Non-Conformist area is separated from Church of England burials only by a row of stones. Named just ‘Smallcombe Vale’, this cemetery too is filled with history.
By the mid 1880's, the combined cemeteries were well established and burials were socially important events attended by dignitaries. One burial was accompanied by 50 carriages. The Bath Chronicle often reported in detail, as did local papers further afield.
In 2015, the Friends of St Mary’s charity raised funds to care for the little-known but much loved ‘special place’, to rebuild collapsing structures and to research and record the intriguing histories of its occupants . The project continues today.