Burials formally end at Ripon Cathedral graveyard

Cathedral administrator Ian Horsford and local historian Maurice Taylor at Zacharias Jepson's tomb in the cathedral churchyard.
Cathedral administrator Ian Horsford and local historian Maurice Taylor at Zacharias Jepson's tomb in the cathedral churchyard.

Burials at Ripon Cathedral churchyard have officially been discontinued, ending a century-old history of interment at the site.

The ancient cathedral churchyard and nearby Ailcey Hill graveyard were officially closed on February 21 after the sites became too full decades ago.

“People who have funerals here will now invariably be buried in Harrogate,” cathedral administrator Ian Horsford told the Gazette.

“The cathedral churchyard has been closed for burials for some time now and by May it will be fully under the control of Harrogate Borough Council.”

The ancient Ailcey Hill graveyard – once used as a burial mound and now a Scheduled Ancient Monument – will also be taken over by the borough council as part of the official closures.

The cathedral churchyard – which dates back to the medieval period and was used for the burial of monks – was last extended more than 140 years ago.

Local historian Maurice Taylor told the Gazette: “It was extended back in the 1830s and then again in the 1860s to accommodate the 19th century population boom.

“There has been no inclination since to extend it any further.”

“There was such an influx of people and the churches couldn’t cope so bodies were just shoved in and piled on top of each other, with sewage seeping out of the ground.”

And it wasn’t just corpses being piled up in the graveyard – behind the east end of the churchyard an old bone house was over-filled with thousands of bones stacked up and put on display for people to pay and see, until it was cleared in 1865 to make way for a chapel.

Mr Taylor said there has also been a problem with maintenance at the graveyard over the centuries.

“The problem with headstones is that they can fall down and deteriorate because families often aren’t around anymore to maintain them,” he said.

The churchyard was also a popular burial spot in the 19th century for people living in the Ripon city boundary – known as the “liberty of Ripon” – which encompassed up to 40 surrounding villages.

And in addition to countless monks and bishops of Ripon, one of the most prominent figures buried in the ancient grounds is the city’s famous philanthropist Zacharias Jepson, who donated money so boys from the orphanage could receive an education.

“He is certainly one of the most notable people buried in the churchyard,” Mr Taylor said. “His memorial is an obvious one in the grounds.”

The cathedral and Ailcey Hill graveyards will continue to have burials of ashes, but burials of bodies in Ripon will now take place at the recently-opened Little Harries Lane cemetery, which sits just off Kirkby Road. Planning permission to build a 2.2 hectare graveyard on the site – which is scheduled to be used for burials over the next 30 to 50 years – was given the go-ahead in April 2012.