Oasis of peace

St James's Cemetery, Liverpool (1979) – Huskisson Monument in the foreground

St James’s Cemetery, Liverpool (1979) – Huskisson Monument in the foreground

A page of Liverpool City Council’s website [http://liverpool.gov.uk/leisure-parks-and-events/parks-and-greenspaces/st-james-gardens] presents the former quarry below the Anglican Cathedral as an “oasis of peace”, a bland description that matches the 1970s landscaping of one of the city’s most dramatic corners.

The stone for much of eighteenth-century Liverpool was quarried here.  As Mount Zion it was a place of resort, especially after the discovery in 1773 of a chalybeate spring which was thought good for “loss of appetite, nervous disorders, lowness of spirit, headache…proceeding from crudities of the stomach, rickets and weak eyes”.

Renamed St James’s Mount, after the newly-built adjacent parish church, around 1775, it became more genteel.  John Bridge opened “a coffee house of considerable repute…frequented principally by persons of a superior class”.  Visitors relished the contrast between the vast quarry face and the “subterraneous [entrance], supported by arches, [which] has a pleasing and romantic effect”.

When the quarry was practically exhausted in 1825 it became St James’s Cemetery, so immediately profitable that as soon as it opened in 1829 its first year of trading paid an 8% dividend.

The Liverpool architect John Foster Jnr designed a funerary chapel, the Oratory, and built a series of retaining walls, ramps and catacombs into the quarry face.  Mike Faulkner’s informative website [http://www.stjamescemetery.co.uk] provides details of the tunnels that gave access for mourners and hearses.

By the time St James’ Cemetery closed in July 1936, 57,774 burials had taken place.  From that time onwards maintenance became an increasingly severe problem.

The floor of the cemetery was almost entirely cleared by the City Council between 1969 and 1972, isolating John Foster Jnr’s magnificent 1833 mausoleum of the Liverpool MP and President of the Board of Trade, William Huskisson (1770-1830).  Huskisson’s statue by John Gibson has been removed for safety.

Other celebrated Liverpudlians buried here include the architect, John Foster Junior (1786-1846), Sir William Brown (1784-1864), donor of the William Brown Library, and the much-loved Catherine “Kitty” Wilkinson (1786-1860), an Irish-born washerwoman of Denison Street.  She is famous for making her water-boiler available to maintain cleanliness during the 1832 Cholera Epidemic, “indefatigable and self-denying, she was the widow’s friend, the support of the orphan, the fearless and unwearied nurse of the sick, the originator of baths and wash-houses for the poor”.

St James’s Gardens, as it’s now known, provides a green amenity in the midst of the city.

But I miss the Gothick atmosphere of the accumulated gravestones and monuments that filled the quarry floor until 1972.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

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  1. Pingback: Liverpool’s vanished necropolis | Mike Higginbottom Interesting Times

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