Brief History of Tavistock Burial Grounds
The ground in front of Abbey Chapel (pictured 1905 – picture courtesy of Abbey Chapel) was used for burials from probably at least 1736 (the earliest date on an extant memorial) for members of the Independent and Unitarian congregations, who occupied that Chapel. The latest surviving memorial is dated 1845.
There are no extant burial registers for the Abbey Chapel itself before 1874, but as all of the interments there which still have monuments are included in the Tavistock Parish Church burial registers, it is very likely that all of the Abbey Chapel burials were recorded in those registers. Unfortunately these registers do not indicate which burials were carried out in the Chapel yard. Most memorials were moved in the 1940s to the edges of the Chapel yard to facilitate maintenance, so in most cases it cannot be ascertained where particular burials were made as there is no plan of the original plots. A Tavistock Local History Society (TLHS) member transcribed the Abbey Chapel memorial inscriptions some years ago. These were checked and a location plan made by TLHS members in 2020.
The churchyard around St Eustachius Parish Church (pictured in 1862 – picture from Gerry Woodcock’s Tavistock’s Yesterdays, vol. 6, p.18) was in use from the fourteenth century. Originally it was much smaller than today, being bounded on its south side by the Abbey Church until that was taken down, and then a schoolroom, since demolished, built in the south-west corner of the site. Between 1614 and 1845, some 22,000 persons were buried there. In the 1830s, concerns were being expressed that the churchyard was full and creating potential health problems, but it continued in use for all established church burials until 1845, and occasional ones until closure in 1882.
The Parish Church burial registers contain burials in the churchyard from 1614, earlier registers having been lost. Independent and Unitarian burials in the Abbey Chapel yard are also included in the church registers (but not noted as such), and other Non-conformists could be buried in the parish churchyard by permission of the Vicar. From 1845 the church registers also contain burials in the new Dolvin Road Cemetery, but they do not distinguish between reopened graves in the original churchyard or those in the new cemetery.
The earliest date upon a memorial in the churchyard is 1625 and the latest 1893. The burial registers do not contain plot numbers and there is no plan of the original plots. Most of the memorials were moved next to the church in 1947 to facilitate maintenance, so in most cases it is not possible to know where particular burials were made. A TLHS member transcribed the churchyard memorial inscriptions some years ago, and TLHS members have checked these and have made a location plan in 2020 to 2021.
Between 1834 and 1845, the Duke of Bedford gave four adjoining pieces of land along Dolvin Road as an alternative space for burials within the town (pictured below– 1857 courtesy of Tavistock Museum). The first in 1834, at the south-western end was for the use of Non-conformists. The second in 1835 was for the Society of Friends (Quakers), who built a Meeting House there – later closed and demolished in 1877. The burial yard, containing only a few Quaker burials, was then incorporated into the adjacent consecrated ground. The third part of the land was given to the Parish Church and consecrated in 1845. At the same time, the Non-conformists were given the fourth piece of land, at the north-eastern end (pictured below left– the cemetery as it appeared on 1885 OS Map – reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland. All four grounds are merged into one as they remain today, except for the disappearance of the Mortuary Chapel(s) at the SW end).
Within Dolvin Road Cemetery are buried some 3,200 non-conformists and 3,500 from the established church, including 17 cholera victims. By the 1860s the cemetery was becoming full. In 1872 a Burial Board, including representatives from the Parish Church and Non-Conformists, was established and a new cemetery in Plymouth Road opened in 1882 on land donated by the Duke of Bedford. Dolvin Road cemetery remained open for burials until 1883, with occasional ones since then in family vaults or plots.
The Parish Church Burial Registers contain burials in the consecrated area of Dolvin Road Cemetery, but do not distinguish between reopened graves in the original churchyard and those in this new cemetery.
Records of Non-conformist burials exist for Abbey Chapel (1874-1949) and the Congregational Church (1867-1883) which must cover some of the burials in the Non-conformist sections at Dolvin Road. There are no extant burial records for the Friends’ Meeting House.
Tavistock Town Council holds separate burial registers for Dolvin Road Cemetery covering dates 30 April 1834 to 4 September 1886. These include burials in the two Non-conformist areas, but do not include those in the Parish Church consecrated area. Burials taking place after 1886 are noted in the Plymouth Road registers.
The memorials in the cemetery seem to be in their original positions, but there are no official plans. Only in the first Non-conformist area can unmarked burials be located by reference numbers in the registers corresponding to numbers set into the walls of that first cemetery. TLHS members transcribed most of the memorials a few years ago and, starting in 2021, TLHS plan to check these and make a plan of the plots.
In the 1860s Dolvin Road Cemetery was becoming full. In 1872 a Burial Board, which included representatives from the Parish Church and Non-Conformists, was established and the new cemetery in Plymouth Road opened in 1882 on land donated by the Duke of Bedford (pictured- an excerpt from 1885 OS Map – reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland – with the 1946 extension indicated).
Two large sections were laid out either side of the central path leading from the entrance lodge up to the cemetery chapel, to the right for Non-conformists and to the left the consecrated ground for the Established Church. Additional areas may have been consecrated for burials since then. Land for an extension ground to the east of the chapel was gifted in 1946 which should, as of 2021, provide burial space for Tavistock for a further 25 to 30 years.
The Parish Church maintained its own burial records well into the twentieth century, covering those in the consecrated section. Records of Non-Conformist burials for the Abbey Chapel will cover some of the burials in the Non-Conformist section, as should registers of Methodist and Roman Catholic churches if they exist. However, Burial Registers for the whole of the cemetery are held by Tavistock Town Council. They also hold a plan of the cemetery with plot numbers.
TLHS members transcribed many of the memorial inscriptions in the Non-conformist section some years ago and this has now been completed, in 2020-2021, by TLHS members for the whole cemetery, with the position noted of as many unmarked burials as possible.
1832 Cholera Victims
There was a Cholera outbreak in the town in 1832. Gerry Woodcock wrote: The (parish church) vestry, impatient to provide alternative accommodation to cope with this emergency, found a site over the river and about 200 yards up from Abbey Bridge. The site of this burial-ground for cholera victims was used only in 1832, and has long been hidden. A clue, however, is offered in the listing, in an 1841 valuation, of a three acre plot of land that was sited in the garden of St John’s House. The land was described as the ‘burial ground pasture’ (Homage to St Eustachius, A History of Tavistock Parish Church, 2012, p.143). These burials are not distinguished in the parish burial records, if they were recorded there at all.
Parish Church Interior
St Eustachius Church was founded in 1265. It was rebuilt in 1318, and extended around 1400 and in 1447. It contains a very large number of memorials in various forms including several stained glass windows, large stone tombs (pictured- Glanville memorial 1616 – picture by Ossie Palmer from Tavistock Parish Church Guide Book, 2005), carvings, wall panels and floor slabs. These memorial inscriptions were transcribed by a TLHS member some years ago and TLHS plan to check them and make a location plan when Covid regulations allow.
Enquiries about monumental inscriptions in Abbey Chapel and the Parish Churchyard, covering the period 1625-1893, may be made via the TLHS Tavistock Memorial Transcriptions: Look-up service. It is hoped that soon the memorial inscriptions and the locations of marked and unmarked graves in Plymouth Road Cemetery (post-1882) will be added to this enquiry service, followed in due course by those for Dolvin Road (post-1834) and the memorials within St Eustachius Church (1589-1982).