Local Burial History

To understand Bristol’s burial history is to understand some of its problematic growth.

The first Public Health Act

A seismic change occurred in Bristol’s burials in the mid-nineteenth century as a direct consequence of the national 1848 Public Health Act.

John Latimer (1824-1904) was a contemporary journalist who later wrote several volumes on Bristol’s history covering 1601 to 1900. Latimer suggests that by the 1830s the population of Bristol was about twelve times greater than it had been in the mediaeval times. However, the land available for burial had not increased significantly.

The parish churchyards together with a few small private and denominational burial grounds were insufficient and many of them were no longer fit for purpose and clearly a health hazard. Thus the 1848 Public Health Act required the closure of most of the inner-city churchyards by 1854 and alternative provision became necessary.

Discontinued Burials

The 1848 Public Health Act discontinued burials at:

  • All Saints church and passage
  • Broadmead chapel yard
  • Christchurch in the crypt, churchyard and Pithay burial ground
  • Counterslip Baptist chapel
  • Dolman's burial ground, Pennywell Street
  • Francis's burial ground, West Street
  • Howland's burial ground Newfoundland Street
  • Rackhay burial ground
  • SS Philip & Jacob's churchyard
  • St Augustine-the-less churchyard
  • St James's churchyard
  • St John-the-Baptist churchyard
  • St Joseph's Roman Catholic chapel
  • St Mary Redcliffe churchyard
  • St Michael's churchyard
  • St Nicholas, in the crypt and before the church
  • St Paul, Trenchard Street
  • St Peter's churchyard
  • St Stephen's churchyard
  • St Thomas's chancel churchyard and new burial ground
  • St Werburgh's churchyard
  • Temple churchyard
  • The Infirmary burial ground
  • Thomas's burial ground near Clarence Place
  • Welch burial ground
  • William's burial ground, West Street

Restricted Burials

In combination with the closure of many burial grounds, the same 1848 act placed restrictions on many other burial locations.

Burial groundRestriction
Bunhill Fields, Redcross StreetBurials discontinued, bar tabernacle congregation, one body a grave, none within five yards of buildings
CathedralOnly one body in each grave, and no burials within five yards of a building plus restrictions in certain areas
Jews burial ground, St Philips MarshKnown as Barton Road, St Philips (see below*) only one body in each grave
Jews burial ground, Temple ParishKnown as Great Garden, Rose Street (see below*) only one body in each grave
Portland Street Wesleyan ChapelNo burials within five yards of a building
Quaker burial ground, RedcliffeOnly one body in each grave
Quaker burial ground, WorkhouseOnly one body in each grave
Quakers Friars burial groundOnly one body in each grave
Redcross St. Baptist burial groundBurials discontinued except to members of the congregation and only one body in each grave
Redcross St. Wesleyan Chapel yardBurials discontinued except to members of the congregation and only one body in each grave
St Georges, Brandon HillOnly one body in each grave and no burials within five yards of a building
St PaulsBurials discontinued except of member of the families of those already interred there
Zion Chapel, BedminsterOnly one body in each grave and no burials within five yards of a building

Private burial companies, before 1848

  1. Howland's Burial Ground was founded by Thomas Howland, a house painter, in the early 1800s on land in Newfoundland Road which he had owned since 1786. At the time of its closure in 1854 (subsequent to the 1848 Public Health Act), John Howland of 10 Wilson Street was the manager. The Bristol Archives has the burial register 1804-1854.
  2.  Arnos Vale Cemetery was set up in 1836. The Bristol General Cemetery Company bought 28 acres of land adjacent to the Bath Road and employed Charles Underwood as architect to lay out a cemetery using about half of the land initially. The first burial took place in July 1839. Business was slow at first and only about 100 burials took place each year in its early years. The 1848 act changed all that and from about 1860 the rest of the 28 acres were brought into use. Further expansions took place in the 1890s and in the early 20th century so that the cemetery extended to 45 acres. The first crematorium in the South West of England was opened at Arnos Vale in 1928. It was the only facility in the South West until a crematorium was opened in Plymouth in the mid 1930s and the only facility in Bristol until 1956 when the Crematorium at Canford opened. Arnos Vale was the subject of a compulsory purchase order in 2002 and is now owned by Bristol City Council who delegate day-to-day management to The Arnos Vale Cemetery Trust.

New Burial Grounds after 1848

After the closure and restriction of so many burial grounds in the mid-nineteenth century local burial boards opened several new cemeteries. These were eventually acquired by the Bristol City Council.

Jewish Cemeteries

Bristol has a recorded history of a Jewish community dating back to the 12th century. At least three Jewish cemeteries are known to have been established here:

  1. Barton Road, St Philips was established in the 1740s and the earliest identified tombstone is dated 1762. Believed to be the first Jewish cemetery in Bristol since the 13th century, it continued in use (subject to the restrictions indicated above) until the 1900s and the last burial took place there in 1944.
  2. Great Gardens, Rose Street was established in 1811 when Lazarus Jacobs, successful glassmaker, set aside part of his land for use as a burial ground. The land was compulsorily purchased by the Great Western Railway in 1913. In 1924, 27 remaining tombstones were removed and erected in the Jewish Ridgway cemetery.
  3. Ridgway, Eastville was established in the 1890s and the first burial there was in 1898. It contains several First & Second World War commemorations. The cemetery continues in use today.

More information can be found on the Jewish Communities & Records website.

Catholic Cemeteries

  1. Holy Souls is adjacent to Arnos Vale Cemetery. It was established in the 1860s when acquired by the Catholic church due to the generosity of a Liverpudlian businessman. Within the last few years, a decision was made to limit burials at the cemetery to existing graves only. The first burial was in 1867 and the first register covers the period 1867 to June 1886. The entries in their register are in Latin. There are six further registers, in English, covering the period 27th June 1886 to the present day. Unfortunately, the second register, covering the period January 1904 to February 1922 is missing. The original old registers are held in the Diocesan archives in Alexandra House, Pennywell Road, Bristol. Information on enquiries can be found on the Clifton Diocese website.
  2. Rosemary Green Burial Ground was attached to an Eastville workhouse. It opened in 1847 as the Clifton Union Workhouse. The burial ground was used for common interments of deceased inmates from sometime in the 1850s until 1895. The records are in the Bristol Archives but full details and lists of names are published on the Bristol Radical History Group website.

Shop indexes

The BAFHS shop includes several indexes for local burial grounds.

  1. Avonview Cemetery was opened in 1883. We indexed Avonview Cemetery 1883-1991 in 2017 and that index is part of Volume two of the Bristol Municipal Cemetery Burial registers.
  2. Brislington Cemetery was opened in 1905. Volume two of the index also includes Brislington Cemetery 1905–1991.
  3. Bunhill Fields is a little-known burial ground in Redcross Street. Our 2018 index includes 7,600 records from two recently discovered registers covering 1805 to 1880. Bunhill Fields Index is available in our shop.
  4. Canford Cemetery was opened in 1903 and the crematorium was opened in 1956. Volume two of the index also includes Canford Cemetery 1903–1991.
  5. Greenbank Cemetery was originally set up for the out-parish of St. Philips in 1871, it was extended in 1880 and again in 1899. In 2014 we published an index of burials at Greenbank cemetery 1871-1991. This is available in our shop as Volume one of the Bristol Municipal Cemetery Burial registers.
  6. Henbury Cemetery was opened in 1923. Volume two of the index also includes Henbury Cemetery 1923–1991.
  7. Ridgway Park Cemetery at Fishponds was set up by a private company in 1888. This company was wound up in 1949 and the corporation was obliged to take it over in 1954 due to its deterioration; from that time burials only took place in existing graves. Unfortunately, we have not been able to find a plan of the areas in this cemetery. Ridgway Park Cemetery 1888–1991 has been indexed and is also available in our shop as part of Volume two.
  8. Shirehampton Cemetery was opened in 1898. We have a database of Shirehampton Cemetery monumental listings up to 1980. Shirehampton Cemetery 1878–1991 is available in our shop as part of Volume two.
  9. South Bristol Crematorium at Bedminster Down was opened by the council in 1971 and a cemetery was also laid out with the first interments taking place in 1974.