Extra-Mural Cemetery

Having written well over 250 columns for Latest Homes on our local heritage, it’s always satisfying to find a completely new place or building to investigate.

I have been to a number of funerals in the Lewes Road area over the years but, unsurprisingly perhaps, I hadn’t been there in a frame of mind to think about local history. But, after writing about Rose Collis’s New Encyclopaedia of Brighton, I met up with her for a tour of the Extra-Mural Cemetery.

The term ‘Lewes Road cemeteries’ in my mind refers collectively to the Extra-Mural Cemetery, Woodvale Cemetery, Bear Road Cemetery, Woodvale Crematorium and the Downs Crematorium (of 1850, 1857, 1868, 1930 and 1941 respectively). Although the Extra-Mural Cemetery has its own entrance from the Lewes Road, the tour began at the foot of Woodvale’s idyllic driveway. A sharp left turn up a steep flight of steps then took us into the Extra-Mural Cemetery. Incidentally, ‘Extra-Mural’ is Latin for ‘outside the walls’ and refers to the cemetery’s location outside the boundary of early Brighton.

The first grave of particular interest that I saw was that of Sir James Knowles, the architect responsible for the building known as King’s House, the home of Brighton & Hove City Council (originally a terrace of seven immense townhouses in fact). It is marked by a simple stone tablet on the cemetery wall.

My guest, Kerry Underhill, then stumbled across the tomb of her great-great-grandfather, Thomas Robert Ronald, who lived at Elms Lea (an elegant mansion in Withdean which was demolished to make way for the current houses of Elms Lea Avenue).

Other notable occupants of the Extra-Mural Cemetery are former mayors Sir John Cordy Burrows (see his statue on the Old Steine) and Dorothy Stringer, explorer Edward Bransfield, Reverend Arthur Wagner, Reverend Hendy Wagner and rail engineer John Urpeth Rastrick. There are so many more though. It also contains a number of Grade II Listed structures including the Ray and Ford mausoleums.

The Friends of Highgate Cemetery famously keep Britain’s most famous burial ground in an enviable state of repair. “Each contributes what they can, when they can. They give support, time, money, expertise and hard work.”

The Extra-Mural Cemetery, in particular, needs friends and Rose is keen to get something set up. So many are connected in some way to this delightful place – please get in touch with Rose at rose.collis@sky.com to get involved.