Arnos Vale Cemetery in Brislington, Bristol, is a superb example of an 1830s company cemetery laid out as an Elysian landscape with fine classical buildings and a rich collection of monuments up to and including the past decade.
The cemetery was designed by the Bristol architect Charles Underwood (1791-1883) and the landscaping, including two thousand ornamental trees and shrubs, was the responsibility of the local nurserymen James Garraway and Martin Hayes (c1801-1858).
The cemetery opened, after the consecration of the Anglican chapel by the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, in October 1840. Successive extensions were added from 1855 until the time of the Second World War.
Because military hospitals were concentrated around Bristol in the First World War soldiers and seamen who were wounded in action and died after repatriation came to be buried at Arnos Vale. All these graves are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
To maintain income in the face of changing fashion, the cemetery company built a crematorium, cloister and columbarium, designed by H G Malcolm Laing, around the nonconformist chapel in 1927-9. This was for a time the only crematorium in the South West, and attracted business from far into Devon and Cornwall. Latterly, the equipment became superannuated and was maintained only with difficulty.
By the 1970s the physical and financial condition of the site caused considerable concern, and it took until 2003 for Bristol City Council to take ownership. It is now maintained by the Arnos Vale Cemetery Trust and reopened to the public in May 2010.
Under its new ownership, Arnos Vale has become distinctive among restored Victorian cemeteries for promoting its buildings and amenities. With lottery grants and other funds the lodges and the two chapels have been fully restored: the Anglican chapel is available for religious wedding ceremonies and the Nonconformist chapel is licensed for civil ceremonies: http://www.arnosvale.org.uk/cemetery-services.
At first it may seem odd to get married in a cemetery, but what could be more appropriate than to commit to a life partner – or, for that matter, to name a child – in the presence of ancestors?
And on a daily basis, the tactful glass extension of the Nonconformist chapel provides a superb café, operated by Whisk!, a highly regarded firm of Bristol caterers, where visitors can unwind in glorious Elysian surroundings: http://www.arnosvale.org.uk/atrium-cafe.
A visit to the basement loo provides an opportunity to see the workings of the catafalque and relics of the former crematorium.
The Atrium Café is open every day except Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.
There’s an attractive account of Arnos Vale by the son and grandson of successive superintendents at http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/oct/30/experience-i-grew-up-in-a-cemetery?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Gmail?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Gmail.