Buildings & Monuments
The chapels and gate lodges at Arnos Vale are listed buildings – that is, they appear on the UK’s register of places of special architectural merit &/or heritage value. In addition, the site contains 25 Grade II or Grade II* listed monuments, as well as many others which, although not listed, are still of great historic or artistic interest. The recently restored Indian style chattri or memorial to Rajah Rammohun Roy is listed Grade2*, and is a Bristol landmark. Many of the cemetery’s most significant monuments are in the lower, older, part of the site. Much of this area is now overgrown, creating a ‘Gothic’ appearance, but in Victorian times it would have looked much more like a park, with far fewer trees, less undergrowth, and clear views of the classically elegant Anglican and Non Conformist chapels.
The symbols found on many of the gravestones and monuments often intrigue modern visitors. Most derive from the complex and rigorous etiquette which governed life and death in Victorian times. For example, a broken column usually donates a life cut short, while the death of a girl or young woman is often marked by partially opened rose. To find out more about Arnos Vale’s architecture, special monuments and graveyard symbols, take one of our fascinating guided heritage tours, or see the latest Arnos Vale guidebook, which can be bought from the West Lodge office or by mail.
Managing a site like Arnos Vale is often complicated by the need to balance respect for the deceased and their families with personal safety, good conservation management and the protection of heritage assets. It is for these reasons, for instance, that ivy is still growing on some graves, as removing it could damage the underlying stonework. Conservation volunteers are an essential part of the Arnos Vale team and new recruits are always welcome. For more information, please see Volunteering.
Modern Memorial Sculpture
Within the landscape are placed four pieces of sculpture created by independent memorial artists have been carefully chosen from The Lettering Arts Trust national collection, as part of a public display across 6 UK venues, creating a series of public spaces across the site for visitor reflection. The themes of the pieces bear a strong relationship both to their location and the wider site at Arnos Vale.
‘Abundance’ – Alyosha Moeran – The dispersal of Sycamore seeds is a prominent feature in the changing landscape of Arnos Vale. These seeds descend in a spiral over the visitor staircase of the Spielman Centre.
‘Stone Circle’ – David Crowe – Carved text reads: “Our environment shapes our thoughts, our thoughts shape our environment” – The stone circle draws visitors into the site from the entrance, acting as a focal point for Garden of Rest 2.
‘Flame’ – Iain Cotton – Piece located at narrow end of Garden of Rest 1, a tribute to the people remembered here, and within view of the historic crematorium and original landscape planting.
‘Hidden Beauty’ – Celia Kilner- Text reads: “Happy are those that find beauty in hidden places”. The setting for this standing stone is a wildlife-rich area of woodland and scrub, beside an area of common interments. On the reverse of the stone is a hidden carving of a bird in flight.
Rajah Rammohun Roy
Rajah Rammohun Roy, a great Hindu reformer and thinker died of meningitis, on the 27 September 1833, while on a visit to Bristol. He wrote and spoke many languages, mastered Greek, Hebrew and Latin and wrote books on grammar, geography and geometry and published newspapers. Tomb of Rajah Rammohun Roy (restored Sept 2008), this picture was taken shortly after the annual remembrance service in September 2012.
His statue was erected between the Council House and the Central Library, College Green, Bristol to mark the 50th anniversary of Indian Independence. On his death, the Rajah was buried in the garden of Beech House, where he was staying whilst a visitor to Bristol. Ten years later, in 1843, his body was moved to a permanent burial site at Arnos Vale so that the public might have access to it. The ‘chattri’ or funeral monument was built of Bath stone and was designed by William Princep. Its architectural importance has assured its Grade II* listing. It remains an important place of pilgrimage for people all over the world who come to remember the man who has been called, “the father of modern India”.
Types of Burial
Over the course of its history, Arnos Vale Cemetery offered a range of different services. During the 19th century, particularly, it held a mirror to stiffness of the Victorian social order, where everyone – rich or poor, servant or master – was expected to “know their place” and stick to it, even in death.
For the middle and upper classes, a bereavement was an expensive business. The whole household, including the servants, would need mourning clothes. Then there was the cost of a headstone or monument. One of the listed monuments at Arnos Vale, for Thomas and Mary Gadd-Matthews, was reputed to have cost an astronomical £1,000 – almost the equivalent of 23 year’s earnings for an unskilled labourer.
Then, there was the cost of the funeral itself. One reason why we associate the Victorian era with such elaborate funerals, with hearses drawn by horses decorated with black ostrich-plumes, was precisely because of the growth of out-of-town cemeteries. It was no longer possible for pallbearers to carry the coffin a few hundred yards to the parish graveyard. In the 1880s, a “first class” funeral from Lee’s Reform Funeral Establishment (“The Best and Cheapest in the City”) cost £5, not including fees for the church service or clergy.
There were cheaper options. Both the cemetery and undertakers offered several grades of service in keeping with the social order and incomes.
The working classes placed just as much importance on a decent funeral as the wealthier ones. Arnos Vale boasts a number of so-called “guinea graves”, the lowest level of “respectable” burial, which included a small headstone, and cost a guinea (£1.05) or thereabouts. Cheapest of all was a “common interment” – burial without a headstone or any kind of memorial, in a grave with several other people – a pauper’s burial.
Today, it is possible to honour family members buried in Arnos Vale, in marked or unmarked graves, by adding a tribute to our new Books of Remembrance. A grave records search service is also available.
Epitaphs & Inscriptions
One of the things people like to do as they stroll around cemeteries is to read the inscriptions. With its 50,000+ graves, Arnos Vale has plenty to offer and some examples from the cemetery are shown here. It was possible to buy books of verses to choose from and some verses are to be seen repeated often while others seem to be original.
Jane Ashe by her husband William
Sacred to the memory of Jane the beloved wife of William Ashe esquire of St James Square in the City of Bristol who departed this life on the 21st day of February 1845 aged 70 years.
There is a world of peace and light where heavenly angels dwell.
Into that world so pure and bright, I yield ye love – farewell
And with a calm and settled mind I’ll sail o’er life’s rough sea
Still hoping when my days shall end, to dwell again with thee.
Underneath this stone is all that was mortal of William Ashe esquire. He was a man of strong natural understanding and great mechanical genius. He died at Saint James Square in the City of Bristol on the 1st day of September 1850 aged 69 years.
In loving remembrance of Thomas Tovey Smart, late of Southville, Bedminster L.A.C. L.R.I.P Edinburgh.
Who departed this life on the 26th day of August 1882 in the 68th year of his age.
He was for a period of 42 years a medical officer of the Bedminster Union and in this capacity earned a very high reputation for his professional skill and the kindness he uniformly displayed towards his very numerous patients.
He was a truly and pre-eminently conscientious practitioner and the poor lost in him a kind and sympathetic friend.
This memorial has been placed here by his bereaved widow and numerous friends.
Payton Robinson by his parents
In memory of Peyton, beloved son of Elisha Smith and Elizabeth Frank Robinson who was born March 31st 1859 and died March 31st 1861.
When time shall reach its final hour,
Thou wilt arise a fairer flower,
No more to drop, no more to die,
But bloom unfading in the sky.
Agnes,the dearly loved wife of Charles Hill of Bedminster
You’ve watched for me beside my bed, Now I will watch for you,
And when you reach the golden gates, I’ll come and lead you through.
From our happy home and circle, God has taken one we loved,
Borne away from pain and sorrow, To a nobler rest above.
Mary, the beloved wife of James Tyler died 18 months after her marriage aged 27 years
In early life she wisely sought her god
And with submission bore his chastening rod.
Taught by his spirit she his truth revered
And faith in Christ her dying moments cheered.
Thus blest with grace that heaven alone can give
She learned to die ere thousands learned to live.
William Tayler died January 7th 1844 aged 42
And is he gone? Is he indeed no more?
Has he forsook the pains and woes of time?
He has removed to yonder heavenly shore
Where spirits pure in robes of glory shine.
Alfred James the beloved son of Thomas and Mary Scott of this city. Who died 13th August 1852 aged 7 years after two days illness
Weep not for me my parents dear, now I am gone to rest,
God call’d me in my early years, to be for ever blest.
Percy Petruse – A poignant respectful message from a grieving mother or father
In memory of my only child Percy Petruse D.C.M. M.M. Croise de Guerre.
Late Scout Sergeant 2nd Northumberland Fusiliers.
Died from the effects of the war. April 8th 1921 Aged 23 years 11 months.
A brave noble soldier, ‘Thy will be done’. See the memorial