The Stories Behind the Graves in Layton Cemetery

A rare photograph showing Layton Cemetery's three chapels

Upon entering Layton Cemetery you are at once confronted by a Victorian gothic church style building with a wide driveway sweeping towards the front door; this is the former Anglican mortuary chapel, a symbol of Layton Cemetery; it closed in the 1980s and its future is, alas, uncertain.

Its purpose was to conduct a short service dedicated to the deceased person prior to burial.

This chapel was formerly flanked by a Catholic chapel on one side and a non-conformist chapel on the other, but both were demolished many years ago to make room for more graves.

Spread out in front of the mortuary chapel is an array of gravestones of all shapes, sizes and conditions. This is the original Blackpool Cemetery and it dates from 1873.

Some of the most prominent memorials are those to war heroes who had fought in the Crimean and Boer Wars in the second half of the 19th century:

· Sergeant William Butler was a hero of the Battle of Balaclava in 1854 and rode with the Six Hundred into the Valley of Death.

· Sergeant James Lord was a hero of the Indian Mutiny 1859 and fought alongside the legendary General John Nicholson.

· Brigadier-General Thomas Edward Topping - after whose family Topping Street was named - was a commanding officer in the Boer War and First World War and he unveiled the Cenotaph in 1923.

There are also civilian heroes who have equally impressive memorials:

· Edward Rifle Mann saved two men from drowning in 1886.

· James Harrison was an RNLI lifeboatman who lost his life during a mission to rescue the crew of the Mexico cargo ship in 1886.

· Police Superintendent Gerald Richardson has a magnificent memorial. Aged just 39 and the youngest police Superintendent in the county, Gerry Richardson was killed during the chase for armed robber Fred Sewell in 1971.

There are also memorials to people who made Blackpool the world's greatest holiday resort during the latter part of the 19th Century:

· Sir John Bickerstaffe, Chairman of the Blackpool Tower Company, brought to Blackpool a replica of the Eiffel Tower in 1894 whilst his cousin, who lies alongside him, was the first Coxswain of the first Blackpool Lifeboat, the Robert William, and was General Manager of the South Jetty, now known as the Central Pier.

· John Outhwaite founded Blackpool Pleasure Beach in partnership with William Bean, who is also buried in the cemetery.

· William Broadhead owned 18 theatres in the north of England and gave Blackpool the Palace on the Promenade; he has an impressive grave in the original cemetery, just across from Charles Noden, Blackpool's first Publicity Manager.

· Bill Holland, legendary manager of The Winter Gardens.

· Next to him is the grave of the first organist of St John’s Church, John Kirtland.

· George and Joseph Burton, who founded the famous firm of Burtons Biscuits and Burtons the Bakers, are buried in the cemetery, as is the founder of the Blackpool Gazette John Grime.

There are graves of famous women from this era as well:

· Ann Twidale was an active participant in the Votes for Women campaign during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Born in 1883, she died in 1984 and lived to enjoy the benefit of a long struggle for universal suffrage.

· Ada Boswell was a famous clairvoyant and reader of palms. Engaged by no less a person than Queen Victoria herself, Ada travelled frequently to Buckingham Palace for audiences with the Queen, for which she was rewarded with the title Queen of the Gypsies.

· Amy Franceys was the wife of Lionel Franceys, the man who almost single-handedly designed, built and staffed Victoria Hospital in the 1930s. They lie together in a fine grave. Amy Franceys was an active participant in public and civic life, for which she was appointed a JP and awarded the MBE.

· Harriett Pye, sister of famous cricketer Richard Gorton Barlow, was the first Headmistress of Devonshire Road Infants' School and remained in post for 22 years.

· From the world of Showbiz we have a memorial to Victoria Monks (stage name Annie Gruller) who was a famous music hall star in the London theatre during the early 20th century.

These are just a few of the graves of famous people to be seen in the original cemetery at Layton. There is also the rich decoration and symbolism on the graves to admire, which the Victorians adored and which is an area of study in itself.

Join us for a tour and we’ll show you how much more Layton Cemetery has to offer. After your visit you're always welcome to come into the Cemetery Office and join the Friends of Layton Cemetery for a chat and a cup of tea.

Denys J. Barber. Friends of Layton Cemeteries Tour Guide.

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