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The Southampton Cemetery Act passed in 1843, enabled the Corporation to establish one of England’s first municipally owned cemeteries – now Southampton Old Cemetery on the Common

By 1833, the population of Southampton had reached approximately 29,000 and burial spaces were a major problem. The Southampton Cemetery Act was passed in 1843, enabling the Corporation to establish one of England’s first municipally owned cemeteries (now Southampton Old Cemetery on the Common). By 1846, a large part of the landscaping had been completed and the first burial took place on 8th May that year.
A mid 19th century funeral procession entering the gates of Southampton’s newly arranged cemetery on the Common.
As the town expanded in the 1800s so burying the dead became a major problem as this article written by the See Southampton Team for the Daily Echo explains:
The census of 1801 recorded the population of Southampton as 7609 but this expanded rapidly as employment in agriculture fell and people moved to towns to work. Birth rates were rising and by 1833 Southampton’s population had reached approximately 29000, a fourfold increase in just over thirty years. This population increase raised the demand for housing and other services, not least space for burying an increasing number of the dead.
Recognising that burial spaces were at a critical level in 1837 the Corporation established a committee to decide what action to take. Two months later the committee reported it had met the Town’s clergy and had sought to purchase Glebe land in St Mary’s around Charlotte place to establish parochial burying grounds but the price asked for the land was too high.
The matter seemed to end there until November 1841 when Charles Deacon, the Town Clerk, was instructed to prepare an application to Parliament for a Bill to create a Cemetery of approximately twenty acres in the north east corner of Southampton Common. A committee was appointed to complete the work necessary to see the Act through Parliament. The cost of creating the Cemetery and other expenses was calculated to require a mortgage of £7000. It was intended that the income from the interment of the wealthy should reduce the charges for burying the poor.
Evidence presented to Parliament in March 1843 shows how pressing this matter was. All Saints with a population of 6891 had a very small Burial Ground and some catacombs, Holyrood with a population of 1989 had no burial ground or catacombs neither did St Michaels with a population of 2151. St Lawrence only had a few catacombs for it 814 parishioners. St Mary’s had a Church Yard of over two acres but a population of nearly 15000. It was in effect the burial ground for the town’s near 35000 residents in 1841.
In fact St Mary’s Church Yard had no more capacity. The accumulated human remains had raised the ground level by several feet and its ground consisting mainly of human matter in various stages of decomposition had become “a dangerous and offensive nuisance”.
The Southampton Cemetery Act was passed in 1843 enabling the Corporation to establish one of England’s first Municipally owned cemeteries. Despite the early involvement of the well known landscape gardener John Loudon the contract to landscape the cemetery went to local nurseryman William Rogers. The planned site of the cemetery had been brought nearer to the town in the south west corner of the Common giving better access. The Council were particularly determined that it should “be ornamental to the Town and attractive to visitors”.
By 1846 a large part of the landscaping had been completed and the first burial took place on 8th May that year.
Today the Cemetery extends to over 27 acres and parts are Grade II listed. It houses over 116300 graves and is a record of the lives of the people of Southampton. The headstones record many events in Southampton’s history including maritime disasters and historical events such as the Indian Mutiny, The Boer War and the Charge of the Light Brigade.