St John's Cemetery
Case study: Newcastle upon Tyne NE4 7RR (North East)
List entry number: 1000761
Background and history
St John's Cemetery is situated in a dramatic and elevated location on the north bank of the River Tyne at Elswick. This early Victorian cemetery is a splendid example of the mid-19th century approach to burial. The architects, Johnstone and Knowles, created this funerary landscape to a deceptively formal design. The Gothic style of architecture is used for the construction of the entrance and principal buildings.
The cemetery has four entrances, but the most elaborate is the one from Elswick Road. It is flanked by a Tudor style arch (a grade II listed building) with octagonal piers with gabled pinnacles. You then enter a landscape of formal and informal paths, tree planting and terraces. Immediately inside the principal entrance are two lodges (grade II listed buildings). Beyond these, at the end of a gently curving tree-lined carriage drive, are the mortuary chapels. These are in a symmetrical arrangement, with a central portico topped by an octagonal tower and spire.
The cemetery contains memorials to notable merchants, manufacturers, ship builders and engineers associated with Newcastle's industrial past. There are some unusual and striking monuments. These include the Gothic monument to the Mather family (grade II listed) and the memorial to the surgeon and orator Charles Fox Larkin. Representing Newcastle's coal mining past is a monument to the 38 men and boys who died in the 1923 Montagu View pit disaster.
Is it at risk?
Yes. This is a new entry on the Historic England Heritage at Risk Register.
This high quality funerary landscape has suffered years of neglect and vandalism. It is situated in a deprived area where public open spaces are few, but vital to the wellbeing of the community.
Although the burial grounds are reasonably well maintained, the buildings are vacant. This acts as a magnet for vandals who have worsened the condition of the poorly maintained fabric. The buildings have great potential for reuse. Community ownership of the landscape could open this green space to a variety of uses.
What's the current situation?
Newcastle City Council and Historic England are currently exploring the development of a positive strategy for St John's Cemetery. New commercial and community uses for this public space and its lodges and chapels are being investigated. Finding ways of engaging the local community in this work is essential.
Realising the potential of this important cemetery should ensure the repair and conservation of the landscape, buildings and monuments. It can then be the subject of long term sustainable management by the city council and the local community.