A cemetery laid out by a joint-stock cemetery company to the designs of Stephen Geary in 1838, on the site of pleasure gardens laid out and opened to the public in 1834.
In the 1830s steamboats brought in large numbers of visitors to Gravesend and the town underwent a building boom to supply the tourists with entertainments, which included several tea and pleasure gardens. John Robert Hall of St John's Wood purchased some fields c 1km south of Gravesend and laid out the land as pleasure gardens. The 6.5 acre (c 2.5ha) Victoria Gardens, named after Princess Victoria, were opened on 12 August 1834 and closed again at the end of the season on 20 September. The gardens had a Concert Room or Assembly Hall for concerts and dances, an archery ground, bowling greens, and promenades around the gardens. There was a large lawn with ornamental plantations, flowering alleys, grottoes, and alcoves. The entertainments included firework displays, masquerades, an exhibition in the 1834 season of mechanical marionettes called the French Fantoccini, and a Phantasmagoria show in the 1835 season. During the winter a large number of trees were planted in the gardens, and a fishpond and cages for silver and gold pheasants were added. The gardens were reopened in June 1835 under the management of a Mr Rouse and were free of charge. The gardens were not as popular as hoped and Mr Rouse was asked to leave at the end of the season. Hall opened the gardens the following season under new management but despite a successful Horticultural Exhibition in 1836 and different management in 1837, the venture proved to be unprofitable. In 1864 Elizabeth J Brabazon recorded that:
The Victoria Gardens were laid out with very correct taste, and, for a time, much patronised by the townspeople; but the distance from Gravesend proved against them, when the charm of novelty had ceased. The proprietor accepted an offer for their purchase, and the principal portion of the property was transformed into the Cemetery.
Mr Hall decided to turn the gardens into a cemetery in November 1837 and was the main promoter behind the venture, which was funded by speculative business men from London with a capital of £10,000 in 2000 shares worth £5 each. Several of the subscribers were associated with other joint-stock cemetery companies, including the London Cemetery Company. Mr and Mrs Hall sold the gardens for £4500 and the Gravesend and Milton Cemetery Company, owned and managed by the joint-stock company, was incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1838. The architect for the cemetery was Stephen Geary (1797-1854), who had laid out Highgate Cemetery (qv) in 1836-37, and his plans were approved in July 1838. The new cemetery was enclosed by high brick walls and the Assembly Hall was converted into two chapels (cost £315). Geary designed the entrance lodges and a range of terrace catacombs. The existing paths and planting were incorporated into the cemetery plan although some of the paths were straightened and the main drive from the entrance lodge to the chapels, and possibly its continuation on to the catacombs, was a new addition. The catacombs were designed to take 500 coffins and the work took a substantial amount of the capital. By November 1838 work on them had been halted, to the annoyance of Geary, and they were never completed. By the mid C19 catacombs were no longer fashionable and the catacombs at Gravesend proved a financial failure. Geary sold almost half of his shares in the cemetery company in November 1839 and, although he had marked a plot for himself at Gravesend on his plan of 1838, he was buried in Highgate Cemetery (qv). The remaining part of the former Victoria Gardens was divided from the cemetery by a high brick wall and continued as the Victoria Tavern and Tea Gardens.
The profit forecasts for the cemetery were inaccurate and the Cemetery Company went bankrupt in 1847. The cemetery remained in private ownership until 1905 when it was acquired by Gravesend Corporation. The C19 cemetery was extended in 1923 to include a plot of land to the east, formerly Dashwood House and its grounds together with two cottages (outside the area here registered). Further extensions (all outside the area here registered) were made in 1926 (the small triangular plot of land to the south of the catacombs), in 1931 (the ground to the south of the public footpath, known as 'B' part), and in 1948 (the southernmost part of the cemetery, known as the New or 'C' part). In the late 1970s the eastern part of the catacombs was demolished and the area was landscaped as a grass terrace. The chapel was restored in 1991 and the lodge in 2002. The cemetery remains (2002) in use and in municipal ownership.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING
Gravesend Cemetery is located c 1km south-west of Gravesend town centre. The c 2.5ha site is bounded to the north-east by Old Road West (B261), by the C20 cemetery extensions to the east and south-east, by Bedford Road to the south-west, and the gardens of houses in Cecil Road to the west. The boundary is formed by early C19 red-brick walls to the west and north-east, an early C20 red-brick wall to the east and south-east, and the terraces of the catacombs to the south-west. The cemetery is laid out on virtually flat ground, with vistas along the main drives.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES
The cemetery is entered from the north, from Old Road West, by the early C19 approach. A semicircular forecourt is located immediately off the road, from where a drive leads through a high round-headed archway into the cemetery. The archway is flanked by Doric columns supporting a panel and pediment over the arch. On either side of the arch are two-storey stuccoed lodges, flanked by low curving stuccoed walls on top of which are spear-headed railings between square pillars. The gateway and lodges (together listed grade II) were designed by Stephen Geary in 1838.
The southern boundary of the early C19 part of the cemetery (the area here registered) is approached through the catacombs along a path which runs for 50m from north-west to south-east through the triangular extension of the cemetery added in 1926 (outside the area here registered). At the south-east end of the path through the 1926 extension, there is a gated entrance onto a public footpath which divides the early C19 and 1920s parts of the cemetery from the 1930s and later extensions to the cemetery.
The one-storey stuccoed neoclassical building that serves as a chapel (listed grade II) was designed in 1834 as an Assembly Hall. In 1838 the Assembly Hall was converted two chapels: an Anglican one at the south end and a Nonconformist one at the north end. The north front has a parapet with a raised pedimented panel in the centre below which is a Doric portico with round-headed arches between four columns. The south front has a smaller portico with four engaged columns around the doorway and the longer west and east sides each have two buttresses between three sashes. Geary found the Assembly Hall unsightly and had originally planned a more elaborate conversion which included a tall bell turret over the Anglican chapel. The interior of the building was converted in the late C20 into one chapel.
From the chapel the main drive runs south-west for c 120m to the south boundary of the early C19 part of the cemetery, which is marked by a range of terrace catacombs designed by Geary in 1838. The catacombs take their architectural form from Geary's gothic terrace at Highgate Cemetery and the Egyptian style of his Egyptian Avenue there. The catacombs were designed as a long, fifteen-bay structure, built in brick and rendered in Roman cement. They had a central entrance with an oak door and Egyptian porticos at the entrance and at either end, with fluted columns. The catacombs were never fully completed and were altered in the 1920s when an entrance was made through the centre to the cemetery extension to the south. The eastern portion was demolished in the 1970s, and some of the decoration on the west side has now gone (2002). To the west of the remaining part of the catacombs there is a curving wing which is terminated with an obelisk, with a matching obelisk on the east side. The wings provide an inclined walkway up to the top of the catacombs, where there was a terrace walk. There is no longer access to the west side and the east side is now a grass terrace.
The cemetery has three built features, the lodges, chapel, and catacombs, which are on a central axis and are linked by the main drive which runs from north to south through the centre of the early C19 part of the cemetery, bending slightly due to the alignment of the chapel which preceded the layout of the main drive in 1838. A complex system of drives is arranged symmetrically around the main drive laid out in 1834 as part of the Victoria Gardens layout and incorporated into the cemetery design. Within the framework of the paths and drives there are scattered C19 and C20 trees, including two large copper beeches and some C19 holm oaks. The graves are arranged along the drives and paths and within the lawns between them. Together they form a good collection of monuments from the C19.
From the early C19 lodges, a drive runs south for c 35m to the chapel and then branches to either side of the building in the shape of a wish-bone. At the northern end of the cemetery, between the lodge and the chapel, there is a drive which forms an approximate square, with the north side running west/east across the south side of the lodges, and the south side running west/east along the south side of the chapel. The west and east sides follow the boundary of the early C19 part of the cemetery. The main drive divides the square into two sections, each of which has a further system of two paths in a cruciform with a circular path around a mound at the crossing point. The mounds are planted and were the site of picnic shelters in the 1834 layout.
Immediately south of the chapel, a circular drive leads off to either side of the main drive, crossing the main drive again c 80m to the south of the chapels, and c 40m north of the catacombs. Around the circular drive is a further drive forming an approximate square with curved corners. The north side of this drive runs along the south side of the chapel and the west and east sides follow the perimeter of the early C19 part of the cemetery. In the C20 the path system was simplified and the square drive was partially removed in the north-west corner and the circular drive removed in the south-west corner. In the C19 there were also smaller circular paths which filled in the corners between the circular and square drives but these were grassed over when the path layout was simplified in the C20. The main drive then runs south-west to the former boundary of the cemetery which is marked by the range of catacombs.
To the east of the C19 cemetery is the 1923 extension (outside the area here registered). It is triangular in shape and is laid out on a grid pattern. The C19 west/east paths continue across the former eastern boundary (from which the wall was removed in 1923) and into the eastern extension. Four paths run north/south parallel with the C19 eastern perimeter path, linking the west/east paths. The easternmost path runs around the early C20 perimeter wall where a war memorial is situated between the wall and the path.
E J Brabazon, A Month in Gravesend (2nd edn 1864)
Transactions of the Gravesend Historical Society 30, (1984), pp 8-19
C Brooks, Mortal Remains (1989), p 26
Bygone Kent 18, no 5 (May 1997), pp 260-67
OS 6" to 1 mile: 1938 edition
OS 25" to 1 mile: 1st edition published 1858
Plans and elevations by Stephen Geary, 1838 (Gravesend Cemetery)
REASONS FOR DESIGNATION
Gravesend Cemetery is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* An early garden cemetery (1838) of the second decade of garden cemetery design, for a provincial resort town.
* Laid out by a notable cemetery designer, Stephen Geary, at the same time as he was working on Highgate Cemetery (qv).
* Unusually for a cemetery, it utilised the layout of an earlier designed landscape pleasure garden (1833-34).
* The design is focussed on an unusual range of catacombs which take their architectural form from Geary's gothic terrace at Highgate Cemetery (qv) and the Egyptian style of his Egyptian Avenue there.
* The site survives largely complete.
* Local and national social interest is expressed in the variety of monuments and catacombs.
Description written: May 2002
Register Inspector: CB
Edited: November 2002
Upgraded: November 2009
This List entry has been amended to add the source for War Memorials Online. This source was not used in the compilation of this List entry but is added here as a guide for further reading, 11 July 2017.