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Churck (Rock) Cemetery, Nottingham

Coming soon to the Deceased Online database: two historic cemeteries from Nottingham City Council to add to the Nottingham Collection. This week, I explore the history of the renowned Church Cemetery (also known as the Rock Cemetery).

At first glance, the modern visitor to Nottingham's Church Cemetery may think they have wandered into Kensal Green, or another of London's Magnificent Seven cemeteries. The 13 acre site abounds with the kind of gothic stone monuments and large sarcophogi with which the mid-Victorians liked to remember their dead. Yet look harder and you will find something unique to Nottingham - sandstone caves. Since the middle ages, the area around Nottingham was quarried for its sandstone, now known by the name of a nearby village as "Bulwell sandstone". From 1851, after the cemetery was laid out on the former sandpits, local people grew to know it simply as "The Rock". 
Church Cemetery Otherwise known as the Rock Cemetery on account of its sandstone rock faces and caves. ( Copyright Mick Garratt.)
The idea for the cemetery came out of the enclosure acts of 1845. In June 1850, the Bishop of Lincoln met with senior clergy and schoolmasters of Nottingham to discuss a proposed church cemetery. Even at this early date, they planned for a Church of England (Anglican) cemetery intended to replace burials at the city's overcrowded churchyards. The cemetery was located next to Nottingham Forest and was bounded, for reasons of hygiene, by a high wall of Bulwell stone. Originally, the cemetery was laid out on a 4 acre site behind its entrance on Mansfield Road, Nottingham. Work on the cemetery began in 1851, but it did not to open until 1856. 

Map showing the layout of Church Cemetery
One of the complications in laying out the cemetery was the uneven ground and hollows, such as St Ann's Valley. The Valley is today connected to the east cemetery by means of a tunnel. During the construction process, the sides of the banks were strengthened by earth moved by the city's unemployed poor. They also built a long ramped entrance, which leads to a line of paupers' graves. 

At first, funerals took place in a cottage, acting as a temporary chapel, which stood next to one of what had been thirteen windmills dating from the original sandpit site. Twenty-three years later, the official Mortuary Chapel was built; this was demolished in 1965.

Church Cemetery register from 1856
Close-up of the register showing the names, addresses and occupations of those buried
Among the most notable Nottinghamians buried in the cemetery are the splendidly-named Marriott Ogle Tabotton and Watson Fothergill.

Marriott Ogle Tabotton (1834-87) was born in Leeds. He began his engineering career in Yorkshire but in 1859, aged 24, he took up the position of Borough Engineer in Nottingham. He remained there until 1880, during which time Tabotton worked to create a modern, more sanitary city. He is celebrated for designing the city's sewer system, building the iconic Trent Bridge, and helping to move housing out of slum areas. Beside his engineering work, he took a keen interest in Nottingham's weather patterns and was appointed a member of the British Meteorological Society. 
The grave of Watson Fothergill (1841-1928)

Watson Fothergill's offices at 15-17 George Street, Nottingham demonstrate key features of his architectural style, such as the gables, elaborate stone work and distinctive red and blue bricks. (Copyright Darren Turner)
Watson Fothergill (1841-1928), was born Fothergill Watson but reversed the names in order to continue his maternal family line. The son of a Nottingham lace merchant, Fothergill trained as an architect and came to prominence as the designer of more than 100 of the city's distinctive Victorian red-brick buildings. Fothergill drew on the gothic style, much in evidence in the cemetery, for stone carvings and turrets. One of his earliest projects was for the cemetery chapels at Ongar in Essex.
Also buried in the cemetery are James Shipstone of Shipstone Brewery, architect T. C. Hines, lace manufacturer and philanthropist, Thomas Adams (1807-73) and the designer of the cemetery, solicitor Edwin Patchitt (1808-88).
Next week I'll be looking in detail at the history of Nottingham's second oldest cemetery: Basford. 

Do you have ancestors buried in Nottingham's Rock Cemetery, or do you have photographs of its fine monuments and catacombs? Either way, we love to hear from you. Please get in touch via the Comments Box below or on our Facebook and Twitter pages!


  1. I believe my great grandfather Joseph Harrison is buried in the rock cemetery and that the cross from his son William's first world war grave was placed on Joseph's grave. How can I find out more about this?

    1. Have you searched for Joseph on the Deceased Online database at

  2. My great grandmother, Constance Emily Hunter (nee Linney) is buried in Rock Cemetery. She was the eldest daughter of Joseph and Julia Linney of Newark, stationers and booksellers. (Jospeph Linney was the younger brother of William Linney, founder of the Mansfield based Linney company)

    1. Thank you for sharing this. What an interesting link to local business.

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