Saturday, 12 October 2013

The Society of Friends Burial Ground, Southampton.

I must have walked past this place at least 10 times before it actually registered with me that there may be something of interest behind the fence. 


And, even when I finally did have a look I missed the important sign on the gatepost.


My contact at the Hamble Valley and Eastleigh Heritage Guides was quickly able to inform me that this was the Quaker Burial Ground, and that with a bit of luck I would be able to swing a visit to it if I emailed the right person. My curiosity was piqued, and I managed to reach the right person and a visit was organised. Unfortunately I had to pull out at the last minute due to a job interview, but all was not lost because one Saturday morning I went past and the gate was unlocked. 

I did take pics, but was really missing the context of the cemetery from somebody that was connected with it, and sure enough, a visit was organised to the cemetery by the Friends of Southampton Old Cemetery and I headed back again on the 12th of October. Theoretically at this point I should have been living in Salisbury, but my plans there went awry.

It is not my place to explain the history behind the Quaker movement in Southampton, there are others much more qualified than I am, suffice to say that the burial ground has been around since 1662, and is still in use today.


The headstones (technically these are footstones), are all of identical size and shape and are inscribed with name, age and date of death. This exemplifies the principles of equality and simplicity which are part of Quaker belief. 


The graves are laid out in a North/South Orientation on either side of a central path, and the earliest stone now visible marks the grave of Anna Thompson who died in 1817. However, there are much older graves in the cemetery that were not marked with stones, and these date back to the founding of the burial ground. 


In 1841, an additional plot of land was purchased to the west of the burial ground, thereby doubling the size, and making more land available for new burials. The burials are laid out on a map, and while some of the inscriptions are long gone, the map does hold the information as to who is buried in the plots.


The burial ground is a peaceful one, the noise of the traffic outside is easily forgotten once standing amongst the graves of those long passed on, and there is a feeling of tranquility within its walls. Sadly though, it does have its fair share of vandals and ne'er-do-wells, but overall I expect most people just walk past it, blissfully unaware of the history buried within. 


Maybe that is a good thing? because preserving a space like this is important, not only from a historical point of view, but as a green space inside a busy city. 



It is also important to consider the context of this burial ground as a part of the city of Southampton. When George Fox, founder of the Quaker movement visited Southampton in 1662, there were twenty two local Quakers in prison for holding illegal assemblies, refusing to take the oath of allegiance or failing to doff their hats to those in authority. They were probably imprisoned in the Bargate, which today still exists, although no longer a prison or seat of authority. 


The city has changed, rulers have come and gone, and the world has passed this small haven of tranquility by. But, like so many other burial grounds, churchyards and cemeteries there is much to see if you stop and look, and while there try to imagine those who walked this path before you.

Special thanks must go to Margaret Matthews, (Convener of Burial Ground Committee), who took time out to show us this treasure, and for permission to use information from the handouts. And to Friends of Southampton Old Cemetery and Geoff Watts who arranged this visit. 



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