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This little gem is a must see, not just for admirers of cemeteries, but also because it gives you a unique insight into Nottingham’s history, over ground and underground.
I enjoy wandering around cemeteries, not because of some morbid fascination with death, but because they can often be oases of calm and peace in busy cities. They are incredibly atmospheric places and a showcase of some fine architecture, monuments and stonemasonry. The Rock Cemetery is no different, having some fine examples of elaborate Victorian and Georgian headstones and tombs.
Due to its situation, on the northern perimeter of the main city centre, it is little visited, completely deserted when I went. It is located on the site of an old sand mine, something Nottingham is famous for. The cemetery is laid out taking on the humps, hollows and terraces left by the mining. The most obvious example of this is St Ann’s Valley, the deepest point of the cemetery that you descend into on a concrete ramp around one edge. Steep sandstone cliffs circle this hollow, set into which are catacombs and a now gated-off tunnel leading back up to the main cemetery. Also located in St Ann’s Valley are the mass graves of paupers, buried in the early 1900’s. there are around 15-20 bodies in each of these mass graves, marked simply by large slabs laid into the ground, with the name and age of those beneath. Many of these mass graves are of children only days old.
I spent a good half an hour reading the names on these slabs and could have spent many hours in this area alone. But as I was on my way to a meeting at a nearby hotel at this point I had to make my way out.
Upon entering the cemetery through the main entrance on the corner of Mansfield Road and Forest Road East you can either head to the left along the main upper terrace, with orderly rows of headstones or straight ahead and down a twisting path into another interesting area. Here remain some sandstone cliffs with plaques and ashes inlaid into them (some plaques long since vanished and the holes bricked over). There are a couple of small caves at the bottom of this small pit which are gated and now appear to just contain broken fragments of headstones and grave decorations. This area has some nice grassed terraces which you can climb onto, these contain some of the most ornate and over the top graves. A concrete path takes you back up towards the main upper terrace and it is from here that notice the aforementioned St Ann’s Valley straight ahead and you can see over the walls to The Forest recreation ground.
If you take a left here, somewhere along one of the paths (I didn’t have time to look properly) is the sight of the former chapel, long since demolished. One of Nottingham’s public execution gallows also once stood in the cemetery.
Upon reading about the cemetery I became aware of a network of tunnels that expand under this area of town and am now trying to find out how I can gain access to those. Nottingham is famous for its caves and tunnels, but only a small fragment of these are open to the public for guided tours.
Admittedly not many people visit a place with the intention of visiting a cemetery, but they can so often give you a window to a city’s past and always prove to be interesting and relaxing places. Church (Rock) cemetery certainly fits that bill and its unique landscape gives it an extra dimension. Well worth a visit for anyone stopping by in Nottingham or for Nottingham resident’s who have always wanted to visit, like I did!
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