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  • Writer's pictureSheldon Goodman

The Importance of Being Bristol

Today we welcome Mark to the Cemetery Club fold! Mark is a lover history and works with the public, in low-level conservation and performs public presentations such as behind the scenes tours and lectures.

Hello! Welcome to stage 1 of the masterplan to encourage Sheldon to move to Bristol. We all know Sheldon likes graves, graveyards and burial grounds and fortunately for Bristol, we have many here!


So, what better way to entice him here than lay a trail of well-carved, tombstone-y breadcrumbs all the way to the West Country.

1) Rajah Rammohun Roy – died 1833, buried at Arnos Vale in 1842 We’ll start with the most famous (and the biggest) – Sheldon and I both met this gorgeous hunk of stone when we got our tour of Arnos Vale Cemetery earlier in the summer with Janine. Careful readers will know exactly what I’m talking about because Sheldon already wrote briefly about this’un in his blogpost, ‘Big, Fat Goths explore Arnos Vale’


Anyway, Roy was a Hindu reformer who came to England and specifically Bristol in 1831 because he’d met Mary Carpenter on her Indian travels. Unfortunately he wasn’t here very long before he caught contracted Meningitis and died in 1833.

cemetery club 1

CC BY-SA 4.0 – BristolIcarus

His body was originally buried in the grounds of Stapleton Grove, but 9 years later his followers and dedicants started building the distinctive Chattri in the prime spot in Arnos Vale Cemetery (which was only 5 years old in 1842).

The memorial is a place of pilgrimage for those who admire Roy’s modernising hand in Indian Society and he’s well-represented in the city too. A statue erected outside City Hall to commemorate Indian Independence and a portrait so large that it had to be hung on a stairwell (because it won’t fit the height of any gallery in Bristol Museum and Art Gallery) was hung in 1831.

2) Amelia B Edwards – died 1892, buried at St Mary’s Church, Henbury One of my great favourites is the grave of Amelia B Edwards. Can you guess what Ms Edward’s career might have been about?

cemetery club 5

tw: @nickuae,

Ding ding ding, correct, she was a well-renowned and accomplished Egyptologist (and traveller and journalist and novelist – who ever said a portfolio career was a millennial invention?)

Edwards first travelled to Egypt in 1873-74 and recorded travelling South from Cairo in a work called ‘A Thousand Miles up the Nile’ which became a best-seller.

Buried next to Edwards is her romantic partner and cohabitant, Ellen Drew Braysher. Earlier in her life, Amelia Edwards was married in the church, standing at the altar, by the vicar to Ellen Gertrude Byrne, who … er … happened to already be the vicar’s wife. It is understood (though obviously not well recorded) that the three lived in a relationship for some time.

The grave is the Braysher family plot in the churchyard, which already featured the obelisk, but after Edwards was buried there the Ankh was added.

PS. There’s a rumour that she also kept a mummy in her wardrobe. ❤

3) Scipio Africanus – died 1720, buried at St Mary’s Church, Henbury

You don’t get to talk about Bristol and history in the same blogpost without making reference to slavery. This is the grave of Scipio, which is also in the churchyard of St Mary’s, Henbury.

cemetery club 2

CC BY-SA 2.5 – William Avery

Scipio was born in 1702 in West Africa, was sold into slavery and became the property of Charles William Howard, Earl of Suffolk. Unlike most enslaved Africans, Scipio took the opposite route round the transatlantic trade triangle and was brought to Bristol because the Earl of Suffolk lived at the Great House in Henbury. He died aged 18 and his grave stands out in the graveyard for it’s brightly painted surfaces (most recently repainted in 2007) (and because it has a footstone as well as a headstone, but that’s just by the by).

The text on the grave is pretty much the only documentary evidence we have of Scipio, which tells us that he converted to Christianity while alive. Unfortunately he doesn’t even feature in the burial registers for St Mary’s church, Henbury.

Kate Malone (off the telly), Bristolian* and world-renowned potter, used the angel on Scipio Africanus’ grave in her design for the ceramic ‘fountain’ on display in Bristol Museum and Art Gallery (and the bronze version in Castle Park)

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CC BY-SA 2.0 – Rob Brewer

*She was born in London but I was born in Milton Keynes and am Bristolian, so shush.

4) The Church Cat, buried at St Mary Redcliffe churchyard in 1927

Whenever I take people round St Mary Redcliffe and it’s churchyard we hunt for this little grave marker for the Church Cat. I have checked the burial registers and there’s no mention of a burial, but clearly someone cared very much for a cat which for 15 years made ‘the fairest, goodliest, and most famous parish church in England’* it’s home. Awwwww.

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CC BY-SA 4.0 – Motacilla

*QE1 may or may not have said this. But she famously may or may not have said it, so it gets quotation marks.

So, there we have it – a few snapshots of the death-based wonders of Bristol. There are of course more, because I am not all-knowing, but these are some my favourites.

Other than peppering the blogpost with a few Zoopla ads and revelling in the gasps as Sheldon sees the Bristol rent costs compared to London prices, I’m not sure what else I can do… now, to write the next blogpost to convince the next London friend to move to Bristol!

#Slavery #photography #Egypt #Cat #India #Brsitol #ArnosVale #Museums #Archives #LGBTQ

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