Wisbech General Cemetery was established in 1836 and followed the mid-19th century style of building public cemeteries laid out along the lines of a formal garden.
The first of its kind was Pere Lachaise in Paris while in this country the Rosary Burial Ground in Norwich was opened in 1819. Further public cemeteries grew up in Liverpool, in London and other large cities throughout the country. Wisbech was probably ahead of its time for a relatively small, provincial town, pre-dating the famous Highgate Cemetery which was established three years later.
At the time, the church yard at St Peter & St Paul’s church was seriously overcrowded to the extent that it was a hazard to health, and many of the new chapels did not have a burial ground at all. A group of non-conformists purchased an area of land, approximately three acres in extent, on the outskirts of town in Leverington Road. The site, previously a garden, was redesigned as much for the living as the dead like a public park, and was laid out with gravel paths, lawns and flowering shrubs.
The establishment of public cemeteries to make money out of death was a nineteenth phenomenon. From the start plots were sold and in 1841 the Wisbech General Cemetery was formed. The sale of shares raised valuable funds which allowed further improvements. A wall with railings and gates extended the full length of the frontage. This has long since gone, save for one remaining brick pillar and the front of the cemetery was sold off so that it is now concealed from the road.
A chapel was finally erected in 1848 when a loan of £500 was raised. It was built in classical Doric style and people could choose funeral rites and ministers of any denomination or none.
The first two burials were of infants. During the next thirty years many burials took place and the cemetery continued to be a successful enterprise although it probably never paid a dividend to its share holders. A total of 6571 people were buried in the small area of the cemetery, most of them in multiple graves and many with no headstone.
Many prominent residents of Wisbech were buried here during the 19th century including Samuel Smith, the celebrated Victorian photographer, and members of the Dawbarn family, Ollards, Southwells and Gardiners. Ten soldiers who died in this country as a result of action during the First World War are buried in the cemetery, eight in unmarked graves. A further twelve who died in action are commemorated on family memorials.
Towards the end of the 19th century the number of burials declined when the new borough cemetery was opened in the Mount Pleasant area of town. By the 1960s only six burials took place in ten years and in 1972 the cemetery finally closed. The site became neglected and nature and vandals took over. It was invaded by seedling trees of ash and sycamore, together with shrubs including hawthorn, elder and holly. Nettles, brambles and ground elder dominated the ground flora where previously there had been flowers and spring bulbs.