Widnes Cemetery and Crematorium
Widnes only became a township in 1864 after industrialisation had led to a number of scattered villages merging together to form a single area of urbanisation. By the 1890s the existing parish burial grounds at St Marys in West Bank and St Lukes in Farnworth, and the catholic burial ground at St Bedes, were struggling to cope with the increased death rates brought about by an expanding population.
The issue of burials and burial space in Widnes was first raised at a Council meeting on 11 March 1893. On 13 March 1894 the decision was made that a cemetery should be provided.
On 9 October 1895 the 49 Acre Moss Brook Estate was purchased for £5,000.
Initially only 15 acres of the 49 acre site was laid out as a cemetery the rest being kept for future expansion. For the construction of the cemetery a budget of £8,000 was provided with an extra £630 being allocated for fencing.
About one third of the Cemetery was laid out for each of the main religious groups in Widnes: the Church of England, the Nonconformists and the Roman Catholics. The Roman Catholic section was to the south (closest to the part of Birchfield Road between the railway and the Cemetery entrance): to the north of this was the Church of England section; and further north again was the Nonconformist section.
The original buildings at the Cemetery comprised three chapels and the Registrar’s Lodge. A Nonconformist chapel was provided next to (and integral with) a Church of England Chapel.
The Roman Catholic chapel was some distance away from the other two. The Roman Catholic chapel no longer exists but its exterior layout can still be clearly seen as a ‘roundabout’ feature at the end of the first vehicular road on the left of the main entrance roadway.
Each of the chapels was positioned to be within the portion of the cemetery assigned to each of the denominations.
In 1959 the Church of England and Nonconformist chapels were used to create the Widnes Crematorium.
One of the most imposing features at Widnes Cemetery is the entrance archway. In October 1897 approval was given for an ornamental stone entrance to the cemetery to take the place of the gateway shown on the original plans. Borrowing approval was sought for an extra £380. Formalities were quickly attended to and a tender was accepted at the end of January 1898.The cast iron gates were said to be copied from gates at Rochdale Cemetery.
Widnes cemetery was opened on Tuesday 27th September 1898. The first burial was on 3rd October 1898. This was the burial of John Thomas Harrison aged 1 year. He was buried in a public grave (referred to as a pauper’s grave) in the Church of England section. He had been brought from 9 Walmsley Street in the Parish of St. Ambrose. That grave now contains 20 people.
The first Nonconformist burial took place on 13th December 1898. The deceased was Thomas Sadler aged 62. He is simply described in the burials register as a Contractor from Widnes Road who had died on 10th December. The Widnes Weekly News of 17th December contains an obituary of Thomas Sadler. It records that Mr. Sadler was a very prominent Widnesian with a direct connection with the building of the cemetery.
The first Roman Catholic to be buried at the cemetery was James Quinn, aged 36 years. He was a brick seller from Lacey Street Widnes and was buried on 27th February 1899.
Widnes Cemetery was extended in the late 1950s and again in 1990. By 2010 it had become clear that Widnes Cemetery would be full within a decade and plans were drawn up to create a new cemetery at Peel House Lane.
Commonwealth War Graves
There are 103 Commonwealth war graves scattered in various parts of the cemetery. 102 from the United Kingdom and one who served with the Australian forces.
After the war a Cross of Sacrifice was erected facing the entrance in honour of all these servicemen. Subsequently a Special Memorial was installed commemorating two men buried in a part of the cemetery which was turned into a Garden of Rest, where their graves could no longer be maintained. A similar memorial commemorates three men originally buried in Widnes (St. Mary) Old Cemetery around the site of a former church, whose graves are now lost.