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Cemetery Records Part One

Posted in Behind the Scenes on 14 Nov 2022

In this two part blog, we take a look at Reading cemetery records and give some tips on how to make the most out of them. This first part looks at Reading Cemetery.

Greyscale photograph of gateway entrance.
Gateway entrance to Reading Cemetery, London Road, 1942 ref. D/EX1028/106/E10

Reading Cemetery started as a private venture and in fact continued as such until as late as 1959. Reading Cemetery Company was established in 1842, and secured a private Act of Parliament to allow the construction of a cemetery. Reading Cemetery opened in 1843 on a large triangular site at the corner of London Road and Wokingham Road in Newtown in east Reading, the entrance to which became known as Cemetery Junction. It was ground-breaking in being one of the earliest garden cemeteries in England. After all the churchyards in Reading were closed for public health reasons in 1856, it became the main burial place for the town, and even accepted some people from outside the town.

Greyscale photograph of Church of England Chapel.
Church of England Chapel at Reading Cemetery, London Road, 1959 ref. D/EX1028/106/E12

The eastern half of the site was consecrated for Church of England burials, and the western half was unconsecrated and was reserved for people from all other denominations and faiths, and those of no faith. There were two chapels, one Anglican, the other non-denominational Christian, both of which were demolished in the 20th century. The cemetery was extended in the late 19th century to the east, and a Garden of Remembrance was added at the south of the site in the early 20th century. It was taken over by Reading Borough Council in 1959, by which time it was almost full. Even after the cemetery was closed for new graves, burials continued in existing family graves which still had spaces. The cemetery is Grade II listed and is now sometimes described as Reading Old Cemetery, or as London Road Cemetery, but it used to be simply called Reading Cemetery.

Greyscale photograph of other Denominational Chapel.
Other Denominational Chapel at Reading Cemetery, London Road, 1959 ref. D/EX1028/106/E14

The first person buried in the unconsecrated section, on 1 May 1843, was Elizabeth Jacobs, a 21 year old worshipper at Broad Street Congregational Chapel (now the Waterstones’ bookshop). Local Methodists and Baptists also used the cemetery as soon as it opened. The first Anglican burial was on 2 July 1843, for Thomas Mason, 28, a resident of King Street. Interestingly, in March 1852, William Wimmera, an Aboriginal Australian boy brought to Reading by missionaries after his mother’s murder by settlers, was buried, aged 11.

Burials in this cemetery up to July 1959 are included on the Berkshire Burial Index, produced by Berkshire Family History Society. The index gives burials here as being in the London Road Cemetery, Reading. You can buy this index on CD from the BFHS, or consult it on one of our bookable PCs on a visit.

Finding a burial in the cemetery records

The place to start when looking for more information about a burial in this cemetery is with the series of order books (series reference R/UC1/1).

A single series of books covers both consecrated and unconsecrated ground from 1843 to 1953. They record date of purchase, the name, age and address of deceased, sometimes name and address of purchaser of grave, whether it was in consecrated or unconsecrated ground, the specific section number of cemetery, the number of grave if an old grave was reused, the date and time of interment, and costs. It also includes stillbirths. Unfortunately, 1953-1958 entries are missing, which makes this period the hardest to find a burial, as although there are burial registers, these do not give the grave number or location.

When Reading Borough Council took over the cemetery in 1959, a new series of notices of interments (R/UC1/7) replaced the order books. The notices of interments were paper forms presented to the Superintendent and Registrar prior to the burial. They record the name, age and address of the deceased, date and place of death, date and place of funeral service, name of officiant, whether consecrated or unconsecrated ground, if family or reserved grave, details of memorials on and persons in existing grave, purchaser if a new grave, size of coffin, name and address of funeral director, and grave number and section of cemetery. This series goes up to 1964. A word of caution as this is potentially confusing, some notices of internment use the Henley Road Cemetery forms, but they do all definitely relate to the London Road Cemetery.

Photograph of entry 786 in Register of Graves.

Register of graves 1843-1988 Ref. R/UC1/5/1

Between 1953 and 1958, and after 1964, you need to start with the burial registers instead, and of course you can also use them if you can’t find the entry you want in the order book. The burial registers comprise two separate series for consecrated and unconsecrated ground (R/UC1/2 and 3), and contain less information than the order books, but they do cover a longer period – up to 1980 for consecrated ground and 1978 for unconsecrated ground. They are on microfiche up to July 1959, in the middle of the last book in each series. This is because there were originally two duplicate sets, one of which stopped being added to after the borough took over, and this was the set we originally had. So for burials after that date you need to look at the original register.

After finding the entry on the order book, notice of interments and/or register, the next useful record to look at is the registers of graves (R/UC1/5). These are arranged by grave or plot number, which you will hopefully have found from the order book or interment form. This numbering system was based on the date the grave was first used, and bears little relation to the area in the graveyard. These registers record the approximate location of the grave (the division number and whether consecrated or unconsecrated), names of all persons interred there with the dates of burial (including interments of ashes), and cross-references to relevant pages in burial register. Because they include all later burials in the same grave, the date coverage is quite extensive and appear to overlap, so always start with the order books or burial registers. The system was computerised in the early 1990s, and almost no new burials are recorded after 1993, but a few were added up to 2007.

Photograph of entry 1312 in Register of Graves.

Register of Graves 1843-1988 Ref. R/UC1/5/1

We also have registers of grants (R/UC1/4), which record grants of vaults and grave spaces in both consecrated and unconsecrated sections. They list grant number, date of grant, name, address and occupation of purchaser, price paid, and description and location of space (including plot number). There is also a single register of transfers of ownership of graves in the same series, 1851-1974 (R/UC1/4/10).

So you have found a record of the grave. Where exactly was it? This is a frequent question, and with most churchyards and civil cemeteries you will sadly be left wondering, as plans of burial grounds are surprisingly rare. Luckily for the London Road Cemetery we do have some wonderful plans.

Plan of reading cemetery showing plot with numbers and names.

Plan of Reading Cemetery 20th century ref. R/UC1/11/2

R/UC1/11/2 and 3 cover sections 1-65 and 66-80 respectively, and armed with the grave number, you can find the exact location and you can take a photograph of it (for our standard self-service photography fee). We would recommend pairing this with a smaller scale plan of the cemetery to show where the sections are – we have an outline plan in the searchroom. We also have a lovely plan showing the original 1843 layout, but this is rather fragile and not really useful for family history (R/UC1/11/1).

Plan of Reading Cemetery showing various sections.
Plan of Reading Cemetery, no date, circa 1843 ref. R/UC1/11/1

In addition to the wonderful series of records of burials, we also have some records relating to the management of the cemetery, but survival of these is patchy, for instance only one volume of minutes for 1899-1925 survives. We have no idea what happened to the other volumes in the series.

The BFHS has also produced a transcript of surviving monumental inscriptions which can be viewed in our library of secondary material. However, be aware that not all burials have a corresponding monument.

So quite a lot to take note of for finding burials at Reading Cemetery, but hopefully it will be helpful for you should you need to search these records. In part two of this blog, we will look at records of Hemdean Road Cemetery, and Henley Road Cemetery and Crematorium.

If you would like to visit us to consult the records or would like us to carry out research for you, please Contact Us and we will do our best to help you.