By the 1840s, Ware was fast running out of burial space in St Mary’s churchyard. Over in Hertford, they had the same problem of overcrowding. The gravedigger said burials depended on how easily his iron probe went into the ground and the resistance offered by the coffins of previous burials.
In 1849 land was acquired at the top of Watton Road from Joseph Chuck, a maltser. The Ware Burial Board was formed to manage the project and employ an architect to design a chapel of rest. A chapel was not required by law but if there was to be one, it had to contain a chapel for Anglicans and another for other denominations. It was eventually built in 1854 to the gothic designs of Thomas Smith, a local architect who also designed Hertford Hospital. Although heavily adorned with gargoyles and grotesques on the outside, the interior was quite plain with each chapel containing two pews and timbered ceilings. Smith also planned the porter’s lodge but this was not built until 1884, then to a design by Thorowgood of Amwell End.
The chapel continued to be in use for most of the twentieth century. In WW2 it was upgraded by Hitch and Co at the cost of £115 to accommodate 18 bodies and then given back to the burial committee in 1945. By the 1980s and 90s, it was being used as a store but was starting to deteriorate. The Town Council were in need of funds to boost the £500,000 appeal to repair the Priory so it was sold to a Cheshunt builder, A R Watson who did the renovations. In 2004 it was on the market for £385,000.
Although the cemetery is no longer used for burials, cremated remains are buried on top of old graves whose headstones have long since been removed. There are some several ornate chest tombs and a couple of grand obelisks, though one is leaning precariously. In 1933, W H Lee (local estate agent and auctioneer) compiled a list of epitaphs, though many stones have now gone. He made little notes about some of the people buried there as he knew many of the local families. At that time, there had been 379 burials though they ceased when the newer part of the cemetery opened on the other side of the road. (His list is held at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies, ref Acc 3194)
The oldest person in the cemetery was Alfred Kent, who died on 29th July 1929 aged 98. Thomas Walker died on 14th May 1879 aged 57. Lee noted he was ‘the father of Frederick Walker of Ware, went to Australian gold fields and returned fairly well off’.
Some are typically Victorian with a number of similar inscriptions, such as these: ‘Joseph Siggins, departed this life 6th December 1860 aged 70. A lingering illness did me seize, and no physician could me ease, I sought for ease but all in vain, till Christ did ease me of my pain’. Husband and wife, Walter and Fanny Saddleton died in 1878 and 1880, both aged 26 years. Their stone said ‘not theirs to linger here on earth, consumed by slow decay, death like a sudden whirlwind came and swept their lives away’. Sarah Jennings died in 1868 aged 20 and her sister Emma died in 1872 aged 24. Theirs reads ‘Two loving sisters, sisters dear, faithful friends, lies sleeping here. They was free from malice, void of pride, twas thus they lived and so they died’. The inscriptions may seem morbid to us today, but Victorians had a different attitude to death. They had strong convictions about the eternal soul and the resurrection of the body, and so embraced the subject of death.
Poor William and Elizabeth Mary Page lost five children between 1887 and 1897; all of them were between 1 and 2 years old. Others mention the person’s fate, such as ‘Alfred Watson, drowned at Common Wharf aged 3’. [A report in the Mercury stated that he had been playing by the river with his 5 year old brother when he fell in. The brother ran home to tell his parents who then had to go and retrieve the body. Common Wharf was in Star Street]. Samuel Pavey’s stone says he ‘died from an accident on 14th December 1887 aged 44’. [The Mercury reported that he worked at French’s flour mill and his clothes had got tangled in the machinery. He died ten days later at Hertford Hospital.]
A couple of memorials are for people who died a long way from home and whose bodies were never recovered. Henry Hudson Ward, Lieutenant, was killed in action on 6 February 1902 aged 29 at De Hoop, Calvinia, South Africa and is buried where he fell at Middle Post Farm. Horace Herbert Albany drowned at sea near Bantry Bay on the SS Minnehaha after the ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat on 7th September 1917.