Layton Cemetery Blackpool
This week’s walk is a circuit of one of Britain’s most interesting heritage sites – the Victorian Cemetery at Blackpool.
Created in 1873 when the resort's parish church, St John's burial ground had reached capacity the cemetery served the town for the next 60 years. By the mid 1930s with over 17,000 graves Layton was full and a new cemetery and crematorium was established at Carleton. Now Layton only accepts internments in existing family graves.
Because of this Layton acts like a time capsule for period of its active life - pun intended. Every headstone tells a story and because Blackpool is a place that has always attracted interesting characters there are a lot of interesting stories. Outside of Highgate Cemetery in London there can be few other graveyards in Britain that can offer the curious visitor such a rewarding walk. Moreover since the cemetery is so infrequently used for funerals there is little chance of intruding into private grief.
For this we owe much to Blackpool Council and a voluntary group the Friends of Layton Cemetery. This farsighted organisation was set up 11 years ago to maintain, improve and promote this vital community asset. Once a month there are guided tours of the grounds and as one would expect there are extra events during Heritage Weekend Open Days which take place in September. This is when Lancashire Dotcom Walkers toured the cemetery guided by one of the founding members of the Friends group - Graham.
The cemetery lies between Talbot Road and Mansfield Road occupying some 22 acres and a circuit following the perimeter of the site would in itself produce a pleasant enough walk of about half a mile. Broadly the plots are arranged denominationally with non-conformist graves to the left as you enter from Talbot Road, Church of England in the middle and Roman Catholic to the right. On our visit Graham led us on a loop roughly clockwise from the entrance.
One aspect became quickly obvious. Many of the largest memorials were situated close to the driveways. The plots of lesser mortals tended to be located in the middle of plots. Thus the Victorian class system asserted itself even in death - plots close to the drives were much pricier because high class ladies would not want to muddy their long skirts attending funerals of their loved ones.
The Dotcom Walkers spent a fascinating hour and a half in Layton Cemetery. Instead of a conventional route description what follows is a list of some of the famous and noteworthy people whose lives and deaths were presented to us during our tour.
Gerald Richardson (1932 - 1971)One of the highest ranking police officers to be killed in the line of duty. In attempting to arrest an armed robber Richardson was shot at close range and later died of his wounds. In recognition of his gallantry he was awarded the George Cross. (Plot 2z)
Alfred Tysoe (1874 - 1901) British althlete and double gold medal winner at the 1900 Olympic Games at Paris and half mile world record holder. Tysoe's headstone has recently been restored.
William Crookes (1882-1924) & Leslie Dawson (1902 - 1924)On 3rd November 1924 the Liverpool Express train travelling through Lytham at 50 mph suffered a tyre failure which derailed it at a level crossing after which it ploughed into a bridge with the loss of 15 lives. Crookes was the engine driver and Dawson was a passenger. Their graves in the CofE section beyond the memorial cross lie either side of the drive.
William Butler (1827 - 1901) It Seems remarkable that given that the Charge of the Light Brigade (1854) was an action notorious for its high mortality rate that Layton is the last resting place of two of its survivors. Troop Sergeant Major Edwin Hughes of the 13th Light Dragoons in plot FF close to the Mansfield Road entrance was indeed the very last survivor and was buried in 1927 with full military honours. Sergeant William Butler's headstone is at the opposite end of the cemetery (Plot I) He died in 1901.
Sir John Bickerstaffe (1848-1930) The Bickerstaffe Memorial near the chapel marks the grave of someone who made a vital contribution to the success of Blackpool as a resort. In the 1890s John Bickerstaffe a former Mayor of the town took charge of the company that constructed Blackpool Tower which was opened in 1894.
Polish Air Force memorial. After Poland was overrun in 1939 at the start of World War Two its free forces carried on the fight against Nazism from Britain. In the Battle of Britain the most successful fighter squadron flying Hurricanes was the Polish 303. As Blackpool was a vital RAF training centre many Polish servicemen passed through the town. There are 24 interred in a special plot designated as Polish soil in the Roman Catholic section near to Mansfield Road.
For further information go to www.layton-friends.org