An Exquisite Place in York To Rest In Peace?

One of only two privately owned Victorian cemeteries in the UK today, York Cemetery dates back to 1837.  Far from being a sad place where people come to mourn the dead, it is an oasis of peaceful serenity and quite unique beauty.  Here the old sits alongside the new and wild plants and shrubs rub shoulders with beautifully manicured lawns and flower beds.

In parts, nature is almost reclaiming its own as ivy creeps up and over beautifully carved and weathered gravestones.  It is a mosaic of different areas within which one will find a section where angels watch over their charges, a herb garden where fresh herbs freely grow within the kerbs of the graves, a scented walk – specially planted with perfumed plants, butterfly walk – as the name suggests planted with shrubs to which butterflies are attracted, Soldiers Lawn, Belle Vue Terrace, Felicity Gate Wall and, of course, Emerson’s Lawn all have been named with special meaning.

It hasn’t always been so well-cared-for as it is today, however.  In 1966 it entered a period of voluntary liquidation, it wasn’t until 1984 when York Cemetery Trust bought the cemetery for a nominal sum that the restoration work still taking place today began.  The following is an excerpt from “Reflections”, written by and reproduced by the kind permission of Richard Keesing, Chairman of York Cemetery Trust, which is his personal account of what he found when he “discovered” the cemetery for the first time.


When I first clambered through a fence into the cemetery and wandered along its forgotten paths, the grounds were overgrown and everywhere there was a sense of the peaceful returning to nature.  I did not know how old or how extensive the burial ground was but all about me bore the cloak of nature reclaiming what was its own.  The inscriptions on the gravestones were weathered and were quietly being taken into care by the loving embrace of time.  I wandered through this silent land which seemed to have no beginning and no end.  The paths took their own mysterious ways and one was enfolded by the sounds of the silence and stillness of a late summer afternoon.  Every now and then I read an inscription on a tombstone which spoke of the sadness of the ending and the bearing away of a life into an unknown and unknowable land. And everywhere there was a cloak of mystery and a beauty which hung in the air as of the presence of the bearing away by angels.  And it seemed that the graves were enfolding me into a presence of delicate sadness and reassuring me that all would be well and that all manner of things would be well.
The cemetery is a place of mystical beauty, where its peace speaks of eternal values and asks one to leave, for the moment, the hustle and bustle of the world and find tranquillity and renewal in a place of endless, poignant sadness.  We have in our care a timeless land which has been here forever and will be here for time without end.  It offers to all a refuge and a place of quiet reflection upon the eternal values of life and of our beginning and of our passing onto eternity.  This land is of peacefulness, and of beautify and it is our bound and duty to do all that is in our power to enhance the mystery which it enfolds so that future generations can be held in it’s protecting embrace.
…This land is sacred, for its beauty and tranquillity is born in sadness for the passing of a soul and the hope for the future of both the living and the dead.  Every inch of this beautiful and mysterious land is precious and all that we have done and all that we will do must help to enhance the presence of the eternal peace and mystery which is enshrined here so that all who come here can share in its peace and tranquillity….”
If you would like to become involved with helping to preserve this beautiful cemetery there are a number of ways in which to do this.  Please follow the following link to learn about the work of the Friends of York Cemetery:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *