The most important part of ‘enclosing’ the burial ground was building a brick wall around it. This was done in the summer of 1848. The wall defines the space which is the burial ground, and gives the cemetery its character.

Once the burial ground had been acquired, the first major task after levelling and draining the site was to ‘enclose the ground’. ‒ It is important to remember that there were no houses in the immediate area at that date: the site was flanked by a gravel pit to the northwest and open fields on the other sides. Mill Road was still a footpath to Cherry Hinton, with only isolated buildings.

Wall, buttress, pier
Wall, buttress, pier


Pier (6-foot)
Pier (6-foot)

Seven useful terms
bond pattern in which stretchers and headers are arranged
buttress a structure built against a wall to strengthen it
coping stones the top course of a wall (brick or stone), sloped or curved so as to drain water off the top surface
course a row, or horizontal layer, of bricks or stones in a wall
header the end, or short side of a brick (4½ inches wide)
pier a square pillar between which lengths of wall are built
stretcher the long side of a brick (9 inches wide)

Wall design
If you look closely at the cemetery wall, you will find that it is not just a flat wall, but is quite intricate and varied in its design.

It is punctuated by square brick piers 6 feet high. Between these are lengths
of wall approximately 5 feet high and 14 inches thick. These are supported by two or more 4-foot-high brick buttresses roughly 10 feet apart. The actual height of the wall itself varies according to the lie of the ground, in places (on the Gwydir Street side) being less than 3 feet. The land was levelled before the wall was built, but even so there are places where the height of the wall is dropped at the point where a brick pier occurs. At the northwest corner, the land drops away by 30 feet (where a gravel pit used to be), and the brickwork is continued in the same style down to Norfolk Terrace.

The walls are terminated at the two entrances with larger piers.
At the Mill Road entrance, the west and south walls are terminated directly in front of the Lodge by 8-foot-high eight-sided brick piers with elaborate, domed coping stones in limestone. Judging from the early map of the 13 parishes, there were cemetery gates between these piers (you can still see where the hinges were affixed) as well as at the top of the avenue of limes. At the Norfolk Street entrance, the northwest and northeast walls are terminated by 8-foot-high brick piers, one of which is now covered by Russian vine, the other topped with a square coping stone like those on the regular piers.

The walls are mostly of yellow brick, topped with curved brick coping stones. Working from the ground upwards (as the bricklayers did), there are four courses of bricks at the base, above which are eight courses that are inset between the piers and buttresses, so having the appearance of panels. Above these are three further courses followed by a course of headers in a dog-tooth arrangement, then a single course of stretchers on which the coping stones sit.



The first discussion of how to ‘enclose the ground’ occurred on 23 November 1847, when an architect, Mr J. Smith, supplied:
drawings of a Wall, Iron Fence, & gates, accompanied with estimates of the respective expenses. The total length of the enclosure is 990 yards. It appears that an enclosing
1. Iron Pallisades on a dwarf Wall, 7½ feet high … would cost £3091,
2. A 14 inch brick Wall, 7 feet high £2200,
3. A 14 inch brick Wall, 6 feet high £2015,
4. A 14 inch brick Wall, 5 feet high & without great p[illeg] £1650,
5. A 9 inch brick wall, 5 feet high £1435;
the charge for large & small iron Gates being included in every case.
From the description above, we can see that the committee chose option 4.

By the following July it was reported that ‘The proposed burial ground is nearly enclosed by a boundary wall ‘. In mid-October installation of ‘gates & railings’ was authorized, and a few days later the announcement came that ‘The Ground has been enclosed with a substantial brick wall & iron gates; the approaches from the Mill Road and from Barnwell will, in the course of a few days, have been put into a complete state ‘.

All was ready, including the building of the lodge and the laying out of the avenue and paths, in time for the consecration ceremony on 7 November 1848.

Source: Cambridgeshire County Archive: R72/054, Records of Francis & Co solicitors: Cambridge Parochial Burial Grounds (Mill Road), Box 1, minute books 1844-1900

By Ian Bent