Arnos Vale – A Garden Cemetery

Queen Victoria had been on the throne for just two years when Arnos Vale Cemetery opened in 1839 as a ‘garden cemetery’, inspired by the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris and later, London’s Kensal Green Cemetery.  By then, Bristol’s old parish graveyards had become overcrowded, and a health hazard.  The Bristol General Cemetery Company was set up to provide a stylish and spacious alternative.  It bought land to the south of the river, outside the Bristol boundary in the picturesque area of Brislington and put forward plans for a cemetery that would be filled with sunlight, fresh air, trees and shrubs, with  architecture and landscaping designed to echo classical Greece.

Despite the attention to style and beauty, at root Arnos Vale cemetery was a private enterprise solution to a public health problem – part of the great Victorian movement to modernise Britain’s cities by equipping them with clean water supplies, efficient sewerage systems and many other services we now take for granted.  Appropriately, the first person buried at Arnos Vale was Mary Breillat, wife of the man who had brought gas street-lighting to Bristol.

For the next few decades, Arnos Vale had a near-monopoly on burials in Bristol.  This is where you will find the graves of most of Bristol’s leading Victorian citizens, industrialists, philanthropists, scientists and soldiers, as well as tens of thousands of others. Even when competing cemeteries, such as Greenbank, Avonview and Canford, opened later on, Arnos Vale remained busy, serving the huge and constantly growing working class suburbs of south Bristol.

By the early 20th century, the prospect of a full cemetery with nowhere to expand, was one of the factors that encouraged the Company to introducing the first crematorium in the West of England.  By the time, the cemetery company ceased trading in the 1980s, Arnos Vale had become the last resting place for more than 300,000 people.

You can learn more about the rise decline and restoration of Arnos vale cemetery here but discover much more by visiting us.  For people with Bristol ancestry, a tour of Arnos Vale, or a search of the cemetery records, or Books of Remembrance may turn up fascinating facts about forebears who were buried or cremated at Arnos Vale.  See the Cemetery Services section for more details about record searches.

Today, Arnos Vale is run by a charitable trust, and its future depends on public donations and the work of volunteers. Please see Support to find out how you can help to preserve this unique and wonderful place.