Work is underway to improve the Jewish and Congregationalist cemeteries at Ponsharden, Falmouth.
The Friends of Ponsharden Cemeteries say that for some time the wall onto the A39 and surrounding boundary has been subsiding and disappearing leaving an unsightly and dangerous wall.
Also known as the Congregationalist or Independent Cemetery, this site was opened in 1808 for the exclusive use of the "Dissenting Religious Congregations of Falmouth and Penryn".
Between the 1800s and the 1900s the cemetery experienced intensive use. It is difficult to establish the exact numbers of burials, but surviving records indicate that well over 580 bodies lie beneath the surface of this small graveyard.
These interments include the mortal remains of Packet Ship officers, surgeons, ministers, lawyers, wealthy merchants and of course many normal folk from across Cornwall. Interestingly, there are also many non-Cornish burials here, reflecting the cemetery’s close proximity to a busy international port. In 1839 Walter Morris (of Wales) died at the Greenbank Hotel after a voyage from Madeira, where he had been trying to restore his ailing health.
Another headstone records the life of Thomas Cooke, a young man from Liverpool who died in Falmouth after a “long illness”. The site also contains the vault of Alexander Robinson, a Wine Merchant from London who died during a visit to Falmouth in 1849.
While the cemetery’s usage is well documented, details of its decline and neglect remain unclear. By the 1890s the number of burials was starting to slow, and there are only seven inscriptions dating from the early 20th century. The last known interment is that of Mary Elizabeth Newcombe, who was buried in an old family plot in April 1935. Not long after this the cemetery appears to have been abandoned.
The remainder of the 20th century saw the cemetery deteriorating. Invasive self-sown trees, extensive root damage and unchecked scrub-growth wreaked havoc on the graves and monuments.
Mindless vandalism became commonplace, with numerous headstones being snapped, graves dug up and several family vaults smashed open. The mortuary chapel at the northern end had collapsed, the boundary walls had fallen away in places and the original ornate entrance (complete with cut granite steps) was extremely dangerous and unstable.
The Friends, with Falmouth Town Council and English Heritage, have been working together for some months to solve the problem.
A new fence is being put up around the cemeteries to make them secure, with the arch, near to the Sainsbury’s bus stop already having been fenced for some time. The new fencing will secure the area for the foreseeable future and enhance the site.
Chair of the Friends, councillor Brod Ross said “This will make the cemeteries safe from vandalism and help to halt the degradation to the area. I am pleased we have all been able to work together and find a solution to a difficult site. This work is part of the wider plans to improve the cemeteries for the future enjoyment of the site.”