By the 1830s, Chester’s ancient churchyards were full up. The Bishop of Chester had spoken of the disgraceful state of these burial grounds and of a “general feeling that the interments of the dead should be removed from the abodes of the living”. A private company proposed to develop the Little Roodee area as a new cemetery but the city authorities disapproved of this and, in 1847, Canon Blomfield suggested a site on the other side of the river instead. This land actually belonged to the Marquis of Westminster but, when approached, he agreed to exchange it for a modest shareholding in the new Chester General Cemetery Company and thus was commenced what is now known as the Overleigh Cemetery.
It was designed by local architect Thomas Wainwaring Penson (1818-64) and laid out in 1848-50 “with admirable taste”, including two chapels — one for Non-conformists and one (on higher ground) for Church of England members; two lodges; a house for the chaplain and a lake with islands. This has since been filled in and all of the buildings demolished — including, sadly, the ‘Greek temple’ on the far right of the picture — but the cemetery still contains a remarkable variety of Victorian monuments.
The cemetery provides a haven for wildlife with many differing birds frequenting the site. Hares and foxes have also been spotted and many areas have been deliberately left to accommodate the wildlife in this area.
On the 1 April 2009 the Cemeteries and Crematorium Service, Lifetime Services Unit of Cheshire West and Chester Council became responsible for the management of Overleigh Cemetery. In February 2010 a programme of improvement works began.
As work progresses on clearing the overgrowth of brambles and ivy, the wonderful Victorian architecturally ornate memorials are being uncovered.
The clearance work has also provided the opportunity of utilising a previously overgrown and unused area that has now been turned into a much needed baby burial area. The only existing burial area dedicated only for babies in the Chester area is at Blacon Cemetery and this has been full for a number of years. The new ‘Baby Garden’ is scheduled to be ready in September 2010.
Much needed public seating has also been provided and a new notice board is shortly to be installed to provide a sense of identity to the area.
Despite a considerable degree of neglect in the past work is being carried out to revive and restore the area and make the cemetery more accessible for the community to take pleasure of the local heritage that exists there. Overleigh Cemetery remains a most pleasant and peaceful spot which you should definitely find the time to visit when you visit Chester.