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Tyne and Wear HER(5010): Bishopwearmouth, Rector's Gill Cemetery - Details

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Bishopwearmouth, Rector's Gill Cemetery



Religious Ritual and Funerary

Funerary Site


Early Modern



By the 19th century there was a need to extend burial arrangements beyond the churchyard of St. Michael's (HER 161). The earliest extension took place in 1806. The Corder Manuscripts give the following information: " the grounds on each side of the burn in Low Row. That on the east side extended to the National School and when this was rebuilt as a parish hall many remains turned up… the west side I am told was largely used for cholera cased buried in trenches and hence the lack of tombstones. Vaults were constructed and offered by auction in 1813, 13 in number and in 1815 12 large vaults under the National School and 2 more beyond… With the rapid increase of the Parish the above were only a mere stop-gap. In 1837 the Hon, Rev Dr. Wellesly offered part of the Gill, being 2 acres and one rood, the ground to be tunnelled to let let off a collection of water and soil used from Hartley's glassworks (HER 2817) excavation to fill up and level the ground and Mr. Moore, architect, to prepare plans for chapel and wall… in 1838 a tender was given Johnson Oats for the tunnel £742 and for the road £120". The cemetery continued in use until 1854. Corder reports "a notice in Council that a new burial ground is to be opened within two miles of the Borough boundary and burials to be discontinued in the vaults of the Parish Church, National School ground and vaults, Bethel Chapel.. And after May 1st 1856 in the Jews Burial ground at Ayres Quay. In December 1854 the new burial ground was commenced". Corder, writing probably in the immediate post-war period adds: "it only remains to add that a recent scheme turned Gill Bridge into a temporary playground for children and a sewer driven across it with pagan indifference to the burials, children playing football with skulls so I was told and the tomb stones scattered and all record lost. A very indecent and callous business even if they were dead for years". The state of the towns graveyard was a cause for concern as the Appendix to the Second Report of Commissioners of Inquiry to the General Board of Health on.. The Sanitary Condition of the Borough of Sunderland reported: "The attention of the Committee has been called to the state of the churchyards… They are all crowded with the remains of the dead and scarcely a day passes over but that in preparing a place of sepulture all decency and propriety are outraged by the exposure to the public gaze of the mouldering remains of some fellow mortal… under a large free school in the Low Row, Bishopwearmouth there are a series of vaults in which already upwards of 60 or 70 bodies are deposited, and where it is intended to deposit more. Your Committee are informed, that on these vaults being opened, the effluvium which escapes is most offensive and dangerous…". The Rector's Gill Cemetery, with vaults and Episcopal Chapel are marked on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map of 1854. When the Galley Gill area was landscaped in 1972 a number of tombstones were stood against the perimeter wall of the site. Most are now illegible, but the earliest dates from 1816/7 and the latest possibly 1871. It is not known whether the bodies were removed from the graveyard or whether the ground was deconsecrated. The cemetery was opened after the largest of the town's cholera outbreaks which took place in 1831. There were other outbreaks during the cemetery's use, notably in 1848.




<< HER 5010 >> I. Ayris, 1996, Galley Gill, Sunderland, An Appraisal of the Historical Development and Arch. G.E. Miller & S.T. Miller, 1988, Sunderland: River, Town and People, p 2-3 Corder, Volume 28, p 73-74, Volume 29, p 267 Northern Archaeological Associates, 2004, Galley Gill Cemetery, Bishopwearmouth, Archaeological watching brief; ARS, 2010, Galley's Gill, Sunderland - Archaeological Watching Brief

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