Mill Road Cemetery is a classic example of mid-Victorian cemetery and landscape design.

The design and landscaping of cemeteries and municipal parks underwent significant developments during the Victorian era. As large urban areas were built up, architects and landscapers debated how best to create environments that were pleasant to live in.

John Claudius Loudon
John Claudius Loudon

One of the most influential designers was John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843), who laid out Cambridge’s Histon Road Cemetery in 1842-3. He believed everyone should have access to green ‘breathing spaces’ within towns, and his vision was that well-planned and well-managed cemeteries, once full, could become the public gardens of the future.

In his 1843 book, ‘On the Laying Out, Planting and Managing of Cemeteries’, he set out practical design ideas for urban cemeteries and churchyards. He suggested that, from a central church or chapel, small paths should radiate out to a serpentine perimeter path that takes visitors around the outer graves. Loudon died in 1843, and although it is not known whether he had any direct input into the design of Mill Road Cemetery, his popular and well-received ideas clearly influenced its eventual designer, Andrew Murray.

Murray was the first Curator of the new Botanic Gardens on Trumpington Road (opened to the public in 1846), for which he also designed the layout. In 1847, he was asked by the CPBGC to create a layout for Mill Road Cemetery. You can see his design above. Many people see similarities between Murray’s designs for Mill Road Cemetery and the new Botanic Gardens.

Murray's watercolour design for the cemetery
Murray’s watercolour design for the cemetery
Andrew Murray's plan of the cemetery planting
Andrew Murray’s plan of the cemetery planting

Murray was the first Curator of the new Botanic Gardens on Trumpington Road (opened to the public in 1846), for which he also designed the layout. In 1847, he was asked by the CPBGC to create a layout for Mill Road Cemetery. You can see his design above. Many people see similarities between Murray’s designs for Mill Road Cemetery and the new Botanic Gardens.

As Loudon suggested, the cemetery has a curved outer path, with bold axial pathways dividing the internal space. There are two buildings: the focal point a central chapel with a path around; and a small custodian’s lodge near the Mackenzie Road entrance, which was also designed to be used for burial services until funds were raised to build the main chapel. At the northern end, the path meanders through the top rectangle of land to provide another entrance to the cemetery from what was then the Barnwell district.

 The site was divided into parish areas or plots, the size of each relating to the size of the parish congregation.  Scan of parishes map