A mid-C19 Burial Board cemetery laid out to the designs of the surveyor to the Great Torrington Burial Board.
In the C19 the town of Great Torrington expanded and grew in prosperity, partly as the result of the arrival of the railway. The only place of burial remained the graveyard associated with the medieval parish church in the centre of the town, which by the 1830s was becoming overcrowded. In 1833 a proposal was debated by the Vestry that a new burial ground should be created on a piece of land known as Yeo or Barley Grove and an adjoining plot between it and Castle Green, but this scheme did not find favour and was subsequently abandoned (Alexander and Hooper 1948). By 1852 the problem of burial space had become urgent, and a public meeting held in August that year voted in favour of the creation of a cemetery on a piece of common land at the end of New Street under the supervision of a Burial Board. This proposal was not realised until 1854 when the Burial Board was established and the site laid out, apparently to the design of the as yet unidentified surveyor to the Board. The design included a substantial boundary wall fronting New Road (now Bideford Road), a lodge, and a pair of chapels placed symmetrically for picturesque effect. Substantial belts of planting on the boundaries screen the burial areas north of the chapels. Despite opposition from Bishop Philpotts of Exeter, who objected that the failure to separate the Anglican section of the cemetery from the Nonconformist section with a wall contravened Canon Law, the site was eventually consecrated in 1856 (Brooks 1989). The site remains substantially unchanged today (2001) and is in the care of the local authority.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING
Great Torrington Cemetery is situated c 0.75km west of the centre of Great Torrington, to the north of the A386 Bideford Road. The c 2.5ha site is bounded to the south by a high buttressed stone wall which separates the cemetery from Bideford Road, while to the north and east the site is enclosed by low stone walls separating it from Great Torrington Common to the north and domestic properties to the east. To the west the cemetery is enclosed by traditional Devon banks, hedges, and walls which separate it from further areas of Common. The site slopes down from the southern boundary to the chapels and the burial areas beyond, allowing views north across Great Torrington Common and the steep-sided valley of a stream, Common Lake.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES
The cemetery is entered from the A386 Bideford Road to the south at a point c 50m east of its junction with Limer's Hill. Low stone quadrant walls surmounted by ornamental cast-iron railings extend north from gothic stone piers with gabled caps which are set in the boundary walls. The quadrant walls are terminated by further identical stone piers which flank the entrance which comprises a pair of cast-iron carriage gates with quatrefoil ornaments and down-swept top rails with flame finials. The carriage gates are adjoined to the east by a single pedestrian gate of similar design which is supported by a cast-iron pier. To the east of the entrance stands a two-storey Tudor Gothic-style lodge of stone construction with Barnstaple brick details around the windows. The lodge has picturesque details including ornamental bargeboards and stands behind a small garden which adjoins the drive.
From the entrance a wide tarmac drive drops gently north for c 100m to reach a carriage turn immediately south of the chapels. The drive is flanked to east and west by grass banks which rise to artificially raised and levelled burial areas. The banks are separated from the drive by low evergreen hedges of laurel, holly, and rhododendron which continue to enclose the south side of the carriage turn south of the chapels, and are planted with specimen evergreen trees including Deodar cedars, Douglas firs, and yews.
A pair of stone Gothic-style chapels stands on an artificially levelled terrace c 100m north of the entrance to the cemetery. The chapels are placed symmetrically to flank the axis of the drive leading from the entrance to the burial areas north of the chapels, while a First World War memorial in the form of a monumental granite cross on a square stepped base placed at the centre of the carriage turn south of the chapels emphasises the formality of the arrangement; the war memorial was constructed by the local monumental mason, Parnacott (signature on monument). The chapels are of identical external design with rubble-stone buttressed walls, dressed stone window openings, and steeply pitched slate roofs. Each chapel has a projecting gabled wing on its south side. The Anglican chapel to the east is entered through a gothic-arched door beneath a small stone-framed quatrefoil-shaped window in the west facade; the Nonconformist chapel to the west is entered in a similar way from the east. The entrance facade of each chapel is surmounted by a small bellcote.
The chapels form the focal point of the mid-C19 cemetery scheme; their designer has not been identified (2001).
The north, east, and west boundaries of the cemetery are planted with a thick belt of mature beech, conifers, and evergreen shrubs. There is a further dense area of evergreen shrubbery on the western boundary and at the south-west corner of the site.
For the better accommodation of graves, the site is partly terraced. To the east and west of the drive, and raised above its level by steep grass banks, are two approximately rectangular burial areas. That to the east is surrounded by mature trees and evergreen shrubs, while that to the west adjoins the dense areas of shrubbery on the site boundary; there is a late-C20 area for the interment of cremated remains adjacent to the south-west boundary wall. Each burial area is characterised by a large number of late-C19 and early-C20 slate headstones of traditional form: those in the eastern or Anglican area are predominantly manufactured by the monumental mason Parnacott, while those on the western or Nonconformist section are signed by Edyvean, who succeeded Parnacott in the early-C20. This reflects the different dates at which the respective terraces were appropriated for burials: that to the east was already in use by 1886 (OS), while the area to the west remained densely planted with shrubbery and specimen trees in 1904 (OS). Curved walks descend from each terrace to reach the carriage turn south of the chapels.
Immediately north of the chapels a steep grass bank drops down to the level of a series of approximately rectangular burial areas which are arranged to east and west of a central walk which continues the axis of the entrance drive towards the northern boundary of the site. The burial areas are divided into a grid pattern by tarmac walks which are planted with regularly spaced pairs of clipped Irish yews. The eastern perimeter walk is curved to reflect the line of the east boundary, and ascends past a rhododendron hedge and mature specimen conifers to reach a further burial area to the east of the Anglican (east) chapel. The western perimeter walk leads to a similar area to the west of the Nonconformist (west) chapel. At the lower or northern end of the site, parallel to the northern boundary, is a late-C20 lawn cemetery; this replaces some of the dense boundary shrubbery shown on the late-C19 OS map (1886).
The cemetery retains a good collection of mid and late-C19 and early-C20 funerary monuments. These include, c 10m east of the east chapel a headstone with armorial carvings surmounted by an urn commemorating members of the Hole family (c 1880), and a group of monuments west of the west chapel including a marble angel erected in memory of William Vaughan (d 1903). A further significant group of monuments to the north of the west chapel includes a Classical-style sarcophagus with acroteria ornaments commemorating the Rev James Buckpitt (d 1866), and a short stone obelisk in memory of the Rev Richard Noble (d 1877). Some 15m north of these monuments, a Classical-style pedestal in memory of Valentine Farleigh (d 1859) is enclosed by ornamental cast-iron kerb railings, while c 10m west of this monument, a marble headstone commemorating Robert Henry Palmer, RN, who was killed at the Battle of Jutland in 1916, incorporates at its head a carved relief of HMS Black Prince, the vessel in which he served. On the south-west terrace, c 20m south-south-west of the west chapel, a stone headstone commemorating Corporal Frederick Rhodes of the 105 Company, Canadian Forestry Corps, who was killed on active service in May 1918, is decorated with the insignia of the Corps, a pair of forester's axes.
Great Torrington Cemetery is little changed in layout since the early-C20. It remains a good example of a rural cemetery established by a Burial Board and retains many features reflecting its mid-C19 origins.
Alexander J J and Hooper W R, The History of Great Torrington in the County of Devon (1948), 82
Brooks C, Mortal Remains (1989), 49, 67, 135
Brooks C, English Historic Cemeteries, (English Heritage theme study 1994), 66
OS 6" to 1 mile: 1st edition surveyed 1886, published 1890
2nd edition published 1906
OS 25" to 1 mile: 1st edition surveyed 1886, published 1887
2nd edition published 1904
Minutes of Great Torrington Burial Board (Great Torrington Museum)
REASONS FOR DESIGNATION
Great Torrington Cemetery is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Great Torrington Cemetery is a High Victorian cemetery (1856) laid out by a provincial Burial Board.
* The layout of the cemetery survives intact, together with substantial areas of original planting.
* The cemetery contains contemporary associated structures including two chapels, a lodge and entrance gates.
* The cemetery contains a good collection of C19 funerary monuments which reflect the development of this small rural market town during the C19.
Description written: October 2001
Amended: November 2001
Register Inspector: JML
Edited: December 2009
This List entry has been amended to add sources for War Memorials Online and the War Memorials Register. These sources were not used in the compilation of this List entry but are added here as a guide for further reading, 8 December 2016.