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24 September 2014
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The Victorian way of...death! (3)
Hidden History
Take a trip back in time!

In the second of a series in which Bradford people look back at the district's hidden history Pete Crosier - who works at Bradford College - shows that in that city the dead were not always allowed to lie in peace...

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Undercliffe Cemetery

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FACTS

Undercliffe Cemetery is described by some as possibly the finest collection of Victorian funerary art in the North of England

The cemetery was opened in 1854 by the Bradford Cemetery Company, and many of the rich, famous and notable inhabitants of Bradford have been buried there.

Undercliffe is still in use for burials and is now in the care of the Undercliffe Cemetery Charity, a voluntary group who maintain and promote the site as a valuable educational resource and monument to Bradford’s Victorian Heritage.

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The first half of the nineteenth century saw cholera epidemics which brought about scenes of horror in many graveyards with heaps of bones and partially rotted bodies being dug up to make way for even more burials.

Diseases such as smallpox, typhus, scarlet fever and even malaria were prevalent in the Bradford area and there were cholera epidemics in 1832, 1849, 1853, 1854 and 1856.

Nor was Bradford known as a clean town. James Smith In his report for the Health Of Towns Commission in 1844 concluded "...of Bradford I am obliged to pronounce it the most filthy town I visited." Central Bradford in the 1840's is described as having "courts, yards and dingy alleys with overflowing privies, open cesspits, pig styes and slaughterhouses and effluent laden watercourses".

But there were others who thought other things equally to blame. In 1849 Titus Salt, then Mayor of Bradford, commissioned a Report into the Moral Condition of Bradford which concluded that alcoholism and venereal disease ranked along side tuberculosis as the three major evils, to an extent even greater than smallpox.

In 1854, the year that Undercliffe Cemetery opened, a Report To The General Board Of Health included an account of the condition of the graveyards in the township of Thornton. John Ingham, Sexton of Thornton Church, described the overcrowding in his graveyard: "I have taken as many as five skulls out of a grave only four feet deep......we have taken out eight coffins to put in a ninth... we are compelled to take out coffins to obtain depth…many [coffins] would not be eight inches [deep]."

The joint stock companies who built and maintained private graveyards, such as Undercliffe, undoubtedly went some way to alleviating the problem but the ultimate answer would be the establishment of public cemeteries. But that's another story…

If you are digging deep into West Yorkshire's hidden history and would like to share your findings then please email us at:
westyorkshire@bbc.co.uk

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