Hopes for child-friendly space in Great Yarmouth Dissenters’ Burial Ground

IT was secretly created nearly two centuries ago to foil grave robbers, and to bury those whose religious beliefs didn’t conform with troubled times.

And over the years the Dissenters’ Burial Ground was slowly swallowed up by nature, covered in wildflowers and weeds – and forgotten, despite being in the heart of Great Yarmouth.

Now all that might change – with youngsters being given the chance to reclaim the site as a place to learn and enjoy.

Established by local businessmen in the early 19th century, the graveyard borders St Nicholas Priory School and until recently was in a state of utter disrepair, despite the best efforts of its neighbours.

Since 1996, school governors had tried to reclaim the site from wild weeds, drug users and feral cats, but faced a formidable barrier of red tape because of borough and Norfolk County council ownership issues.

Governor and councillor Patricia Page took on the challenge and was one of five borough council members last year to take exploratory steps through the foliage.

She explained: “It was like a jungle, and we could hardly get into it. You had nettles reaching 6ft high, and it was overgrown with elderflower and buddleia and you couldn’t see anything.

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“Trying to find your way through the weeds and plants you could only get so far so we had to stop. You just couldn’t get through it.”

It was a far cry from when the site was an important one, and it’s purpose known only by the few.

Established in 1828, the grounds were known as Lampett’s Garden and were bought for �300 by a group known as the Great Yarmouth Cemetery Company.

It was a time of big profits for the graverobbers and notorious locals such as the Irishman named Murphy, who, under the cover of night, would unearth freshly buried bodies from St Nicholas’ Church churchyard to nearby Row 6, which locals had nicknamed Snatchbody Row.

The extra land was to relieve pressure on the available space in the churchyard, which was quickly getting full.

And it became known as the Dissenters’ Burial Ground, offering permanent peace for those of all denominations, with a service offered by a Spanish Catholic Priest named Don Claudio.

The last known burial was in 1892 and then the area sank into obscurity and misuse through the generations.

Now, a transformation has occurred.

Last summer, tree surgeons cleared the way, revealing a long winding path made up of overturned tombstones, and opening up a range of possibilities.

The work also revealed how the site is enclosed by Yarmouth’s historic town wall, at the corner of which is Pudding Tower – a place that overlooks the grounds and used to be the home of the local black pudding industry.

And in a new surge of interest in the heritage, Mrs Page is pushing ahead to put in a bid for �10,000 to the Awards for All lottery grant. The money would allow certain areas such as an elevated tomb area and tower to be safely sectioned off, as well as a new orchard and benches installed.

She said: “We want it as a quiet area for the children. We could even have the gardening club keeping it tidy, with bird and wildlife watching and education over its history. They will be taught to respect the site, and we could even get it on the heritage guided tour once things are completed, with the children acting as guides.”

Mrs Page is now putting together the bid, and emphasised if it was successful there still needed to be hurdles cleared with the borough and county councils, with it not being likely to come into use until the end of the year.

However, although there are still some barriers to overcome, St Nicholas Priory School head teacher Mark Adams is looking forward to the prospect.

He said: “When it was cleared it was amazing to see how large the site was. At the moment the school has no grass at all.

“The children here feel strongly they’re missing out on not having a grassy area, and being able to go on to the site and chat with their friends in the shade would be very attractive.

“Having an opportunity to use a space which is part of the history of the school would be great,” he added.