Essential reading for studying garden cemeteries

I hope to do a lot of book reviews and resource lists for studying death and burial, but it’s hard to know where to start, so I’ve decided to do a top 5 list of introductory texts for those who want to learn more about 19th century garden cemeteries, which are the subject of my PhD thesis

What is a garden cemetery?

In the 18th century rapid industrialisation and urban expansion created a severe shortage of burial space. Churchyards became over-crowded, unpleasant to visit and dangerous to health. An alternative place of burial was needed and in Paris a new type of funerary landscape was created to address the problem.

Inspired by 18th century romantic gardens which aimed to evoke Arcadian fields by use of memorials and temples in beautiful landscapes, and the ‘graveyard poets’, Pere Lachaise cemetery was designed as a place for mourners to be comforted by the beauty of nature and inspired by memorials to the great and good. It became hugely popular was inspired visitors from far afield to create similar cemetery landscapes across Europe and North America.

Features of Garden Cemeteries

  • Extra-mural (outside settlement) with garden-like appearance
    • Varied planting, meandering pathways and beautiful sculpture
  • Not attached to a church but usually had one or more funerary chapels
    • In Britain commonly Anglican, Non-conformist and sometimes also Catholic chapels
  • Often had provision for different religious denominations, having both consecrated and unconsecrated ground.
    • Might also have areas set aside for Jewish and Muslim communities
  • Early garden cemeteries usually owned by joint stock companies but later more municipal cemeteries were created.
  • Initially aimed mainly at a middle class market due to cost of grave plots/memorials, although most also had common graves or other provision for public burial

Top 5 Publications

In no particular order, 5 of the books which I think are most informative and accessible for introductory study:

  1. The Victorian Celebration of Death by James Stevens Curl (2000, Sutton Publishing)
  2. The Victorian Cemetery by Sarah Rutherford (2008, Shire Library)
  3. Last Landscapes: The Architecture of the Cemetery in the West by Ken Worpole (2003, Reaktion Books)
  4. Silent City on a Hill: Picturesque Landscapes of Memory and Boston’s Mount Auburn Cemetery by Blanche M. G. Linden (2006, University of Massachusetts Press)

  5. The Hour of Our Death by Philippe Aries (1981, Penguin Books)

There are plenty of other great books out there which contain information about garden cemeteries, which are your favourites? Let me know in the comments!

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