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Cockermouth Post Article August 2015 – Cemetery chapels and headstones

This year sees many national commemorations: 200 years since the Battle of Waterloo, 100 years since the founding of the Women’s Institute, 100 years since the appointment of the first female police officer, 100 years since the sinking of the Lusitania, to mention but a few. Here in Cockermouth it is 150 years since the opening of Christ Church and the opening of Mitchell’s Agricultural Hall on Station Street. 160 years ago five acres of land, was bought from General Wyndham of the Castle to create the Cemetery. Charles Eaglesfield was the architect who designed the two imposing Cemetery Chapels – Dissenters’ Chapel on the left and Churchmen’s Chapel on the right. Today, what must have been a rather featureless piece of land, is now a place of great beauty and an oasis of calm.

Here are buried the great and the good; probably the largest memorial in the cemetery is that of George Freeman Biddall, a travelling showman and friend of Buffalo Bill. George often visited the town, putting on performances on the Fairfield, delighting folk with his Ghost Illusion Show. When he died in 1909 (in a caravan on the Fairfield) his passing was marked with huge crowds, lining the streets, as his coffin was carried to the Cemetery. There it was buried within sight of the Industrial School at Strawberry How, according to his wishes; George had entertained the boys at the School on many occasions, and he had supported many deserving causes in the town.

Here in the Cemetery you will find Robinson Mitchell (founder of the Auction Company), members of the Wyndham family of Cockermouth Castle, John Steel (MP for Cockermouth in the early 19th century), shipbuilder Thomas Williamson (of Oakhurst), to mention but a few. Here too you can find the stories of many ordinary people reflected in the inscriptions; young men who died fighting in other lands, babies and young children (sometimes from the same family and dying within days or weeks of each other), people described in terms of their occupations (churn-maker, saddler, waller, missionary, woollen manufacturer). Inscriptions tell stories that are invaluable for family and local historians; they often include several generations and provide clues for further research. We now need volunteers to help us with the second part of a headstone recording project at Cockermouth Cemetery. If you think you might be interested in helping with this worthwhile project (the results of which will be added to our website), please get in touch. Full instructions will be given but it is very easy to do and can be carried out whenever suits you.

Gloria Edwards

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