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Celebrating 150 years of Layton Cemetery

Layton Cemetery celebrates 150 years in 2023 and on 10th June the Friends of Layton Cemetery will host a Victorian picnic and other activities fro celebrate. Local historian Deborah Contessa describes its early days.

This February marked the anniversary of the first interment at Blackpool Cemetery on New Road Blackpool. On the 14th February 1873 John Slater, a gardener at Bailey’s Hotel on the promenade (later to become the Metropole Hotel) was laid to rest in the grounds surrounding Blackpool’s first sanatorium, as the graveyard situated at Blackpool Parish Church was full.

The requisite plans for the cemetery were designed and laid out by Messrs Garlick, Park and Sykes, architects of Preston. The Blackpool Sanatorium had been established for the treatment of infectious diseases and was ably governed by Superintendent Dr E W Rees-Jones, aided by Miss Whitaker the matron.

The first grave in Layton Cemetery was that of John Slater, a gardener at Bailey’s Hotel (now the Metropole)

When the cemetery began to take shape on the council land surrounding the infirmary and tentatively started to expand, those housed within the institution became all too aware of their mortality.

The cemetery office, situated to the right of the main gates on Talbot Road is currently occupied by the Friends of Layton Cemetery group, although originally it is where John Wray, the superintendent and registrar, resided with his wife and their brood of children. Records show that, by 1891, 11 people dwelled within the bijou cottage.

As you enter the cemetery from the main gate you are now greeted by the magnificent sight of the grade ll listed, former Church of England Mortuary Chapel, a fine example of High Victorian Gothic architecture.

Mr Wray also made a remarkable and significant discovery when tending the land one day. He came across a stone hammer which at first glance appeared to be part of the cobbled track. Interestingly, this artefact could date the original roadway through the cemetery as being from the Iron Age.

As you enter the cemetery from the main gate you are now greeted by the magnificent sight of the grade ll listed, former Church of England Mortuary Chapel, a fine example of High Victorian Gothic architecture, built to receive the funeral party prior to the interment of a loved one. Sadly it hasn’t been used since the 1980s and the interior has fallen into a sad state of disrepair, although I’m told this will be rectified in the near future.

Originally there were three mortuary chapels, Anglican, Catholic and non-conformist, all built of stone and each having an elegant appearance, topped with high-pitched, open timbered roofs covered in Welsh slate but only the Anglican still remains, the other two purportedly demolished to create more space for burials.

By the time Carleton cemetery and crematorium was opened on 18th July 1935, New Road had already been renamed Talbot Road and subsequently Blackpool Cemetery became known as Layton Cemetery. Layton’s Jewish section opened in 1898 and is located a short distance away on Westcliffe Drive. There is also a more recent Muslim section on the far left side of the cemetery where market gardens were once situated.

The Friends of Layton Cemetery are a group of local volunteers, set up in April 2003 with local council support. They protect and promote the cemetery for its historical, social, ecological and environmental values. They offer tours, data searches, help with grave locating and grave photography.

Deborah Contessa is a historian and Friend of Layton Cemetery

This year we are offering a full programme of events and tours especially to acknowledge the sesquicentennial celebrations. On 10th June at 11am I will be hosting a talk and presentation at Layton Library on how to read a graveyard followed by a Q&A session with other Friends. At 12.30pm we will have a picnic in the cemetery. Bring your own blanket or chair as well as your own picnic. And at 1pm-3.30pm we will be running a Victorian photography workshop for children at Layton Library.

Read a Grisly Tale from Layton Cemetery here, and more about Deborah Contessa and Layton Cemetery here.

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