Rosary cemetery in Norwich is so special

Matthew SparkesIt is the final resting place of the founders of Norwich, victims of both World Wars and several renowned artists - as well as 18,500 others.Matthew Sparkes

It is the final resting place of the founders of Norwich, victims of both World Wars and several renowned artists - as well as 18,500 others.

Yet hundreds of people pass by this wealth of local history every day without even realising that it exists.

But the importance of Rosary Cemetery in Norwich has finally been recognised, as English Heritage has upgraded it to sit alongside some of the most famous buildings in the country.

The cemetery, which was founded in 1819 by local man Thomas Drummond, has been declared an area of 'exceptional historical interest' and upgraded to a Grade II* listed site.

Grade II* listing is reserved for buildings and sites that are of 'more than special interest', and only around 5pc of listed buildings qualify for the category.

Only three other sites in Norwich fall into the same category, all of which are relatively modern buildings at the University of East Anglia.

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When it was built it was the only non-conformist burial site in the UK, where people could choose to be laid to rest with any ceremony they chose.

The cemetery is now split in two, with the older half largely static, but the newer half still in use.

Mark Shopland, of the volunteer group Friends of Rosary Cemetery, said that there are 'very strong beliefs underlying its reason for being there' and that it was a 'magical site'.

'The founders of Norwich were very much non-conformist. All the names; Jarrolds, Colmans, Boardmans, they're all there,' he said. 'You look at the Rosary and you can see what's happened over its lifetime. The cholera epidemic, those killed in the first and second World War. You can see history occurring there.'

Among those buried there are local poet, novelist and Lord Mayor of Norwich, Ralph Hale Mottram, who passed away in 1971, and John Prior, the train driver killed in the 1874 Thorpe rail accident.

Cameron Self, who runs the Literary Norfolk website, dedicated to the history of the county's authors and artists, said that a number of the Norwich School of painters are also buried there.

Mr Self explained that at the time it opened the city's church yards were full to bursting point, and choosing where to be buried was a serious decision for the city's residents.

'It opened at the time when there was a lot of body snatching going on and a lot of the graveyards in the city were prone to that,' he said. 'I suppose because it was out of the city it was a better place to be buried and you might have had a better chance of not being dug up.'

As well as the historical value, the churchyard also has a wide range of important wildlife, much of which cannot be found elsewhere in the county.

More than half of the lichens found in Rosary Cemetery only exist in Norfolk in graveyards, as there is little native stone for them to grow on.

'It's interesting because it's so overgrown,' Mr Shopland added. 'I think if it was beautifully kept it would lose something.'

Have you got a story about Norwich's heritage? Contact Matt Sparkes on 01603 772439 or email