Exeter Dissenters' Graveyard Trust

Magdalen Street, EXETER, Devon, EX2 4HY

Tel: 0 1392 436000

Clearing up at Dissenters' Graveyard

About

The Dissenters Graveyard trust have made the informal decision to start informal openings again in July 2020. Gates open approximately 10am - 4pm. They politely ask that visitors observe social distancing guildlines when others are visiting at the same time.

In the period from 1748 to 1854 more than 1520 Dissenters - Protestants who dissented from the strictures of the Anglican Church - were buried in this small plot on the outskirts of the walled city of Exeter (Devon, U.K.).  The site was owned by various Church groups until the 1980s when it passed into private ownership.  Sadly, over the intervening years, the site has fallen into neglect and disrepair.

The small, almost rectangular, graveyard is situated at the junction of Magdalen Street and Bull Meadow Road, Exeter, within the Southernhay and Friars Conservation Area and within the statutory Exeter Area of Archaeological Importance.  It is also included in the Devon Gazetteer of Parks and Gardens of local historic interest as well as on the Exeter City Council schedule of heritage assets of local importance.

The appearance of dissenting congregations in seventeenth and eighteenth century England should be viewed in the context of the history of division in the Christian tradition from the split between Roman and Orthodox churches in the first millennium; the rise of Protestantism in Europe; Henry VIII's establishment of the Anglican Church (arising from Papal hostility to the annulment of his earlier marriage but also a convenient opportunity to annexe much of the wealth of the many monastic orders); and later divergence from Anglicanism producing numerous dissenting churches. Dissenters were forbidden burial in Anglican churchyards. The need of local protestant non-conformists for a burial ground was met by the acquisition of a plot of land from from Wynard's Almshouses on a 999 year lease in February 1748 by members from three Meeting Houses (James Meeting, Bow Meeting and Little Meeting).  Burials in this, now known as the Dissenters Graveyard, took place from 1748 to 1854. There were at least 1,300 burials on the site, possibly as many as 2,000 (close by is a Jewish cemetery which was established around 1758; and the much earlier Quakers’ cemetery across Magdalen Street). In the 19th Century the rule forbidding burial in Anglican churchyards was rescinded and health hazards and overcrowding of burial grounds resulted in municipal and commercial cemeteries so the need for separate establishments was removed.

Exeter Dissenters' Graveyard belonged to George's Meeting until the 1980s, when it was sold to the first of several hopeful developers. The last of these, though interested in building social housing, was also sympathetic to preservation. He challenged local people to come up with a funded renovation plan. The challenge was met and thanks to a generous anonymous donation the site was purchased by Exeter Historic Buildings Trust (EHBT) to be passed on to the newly formed Exeter Dissenters Graveyard Trust (EDGT) when formally incorporated as a charity. Grants have been awarded of £1,000 from the Council for British Archaeology and £7,900 by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and there have been generous private donations as well as those from EHBT, Exeter Civic Society, St Leonard’s Neighbourhood Association and Devon Gardens Trust, which have enabled a start on Phase 1 of the project: clearance and investigation of the site.

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Opening Times

Exeter Dissenters' Graveyard Openings (Saturdays) (3 July 2021 - 30 Oct 2021)
SaturdayOpen
Exeter Dissenters' Graveyard Openings (14 July 2021)
Exeter Dissenters' Graveyard Openings (11 Aug 2021)
Exeter Dissenters' Graveyard Openings (8 Sept 2021)
Exeter Dissenters' Graveyard Openings (13 Oct 2021)

* Approximate opening hours are 10am - 4pm.

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