Guided tours of the abandoned Dissenters’ Burying Ground at Ponsharden will be offered on Monday (August 18) to celebrate the launch of a book which records, for the first time, the history of the site.
Rob Nunn and Tom Weller, authors of The Dissenters’ Burying Ground, Ponsharden Monument Survey, will be available to show visitors around the site next to Sainsbury’s between 6pm and 8pm.
Dissenters were worshippers who didn’t follow the established Church of England and the burial ground at Ponsharden was opened in 1808 for the use of Falmouth and Penryn’s Christian dissenters, who at the time lacked a dedicated place to bury their dead.
The cemetery received over 580 burials before falling into disrepair in the early 20th century, after which it suffered almost a century of neglect and vandalism.
By 2012 it had become so overgrown that it was impossible to establish how many graves were there. Many memorials had been smashed beyond recognition, and two graves had been dug up.
In May 2012, Rob and Tom visited the derelict site. “We didn’t realise that next door to the Jewish cemetery was a much larger Christian burial ground,” they said.
“We found the entrance, but it was so overgrown we could barely get into the cemetery. You could see smashed vaults and rusting steel poking through the ivy. Something about the forlorn site really interested us, so we decided to go away and research it in more detail.”
The authors discovered that little information existed in the public domain other than old newspaper articles.
For over 20 years the articles regularly featured comments on the cemetery’s deplorable state, but nothing seemed to have been done about saving the site. So Rob and Tom decided to tidy the site up in their spare time.
Because it is a scheduled monument, they had to get permission from the Secretary of State before starting work.
English Heritage also monitored their progress to ensure that good archaeological practice was adhered to as they gradually uncovered the ruins of the forgotten cemetery.
“It took us two years to tidy the site, because it had to be done by hand to ensure no historic material was disturbed,” said Rob and Tom.
“It was massively overgrown and every time we cleared an area of dense scrub we stumbled across yet another fallen headstone. By the end of the project we had found headstones recording the lives of 235 people. This was a lot more than we expected, but we then tracked down the site’s burial registers which show that over 580 interments took place there. That means the small site contains approximately 350 unmarked graves.”
As the project progressed, Tom and Rob decided it would be good to put all their research into the public domain, so that other people could find their missing ancestors. It took two years to write up their findings, and the resulting book contains the names of all 580 plus burials recorded on site, plus biographies of the 235 people with surviving headstones, numerous maps and also photographs of every single monument.
Town clerk Mark Williams said: “We applaud their commitment to this project and to the countless voluntary hours they have spent working to ensure that the site is not forgotten. The book is a testament to their commitment to the community and it will provide a valuable historical record for generations to come.”
Copies of the book will be on sale on Monday and can also be purchased online at www.lulu.com, follow the link then search for Ponsharden. The authors can also be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.