HERITAGE IN THE CEMETERY

"Peerless" Jim Driscoll
White Family Memorial
Louisa Maud Evans

Like many Victorian cemeteries, Cathays is full of history.

Ever since the cemetery was opened in 1859, Cardiff citizens of all backgrounds have been interred here.

As might be expected civic leaders and influential families are honoured by imposing and grandiose memorials next to the cemetery entrance. Foremost among these are the graves of Cardiff's shipping families' Seager, Radcliffe, Reardon-Smith, Tatem, Morel, Cory, etc.

Then there are the memorials of those with an interesting tale to tell:

· "Peerless" Jim Driscoll - The Cardiff boxer who fought for the world featherweight title, and then decline a rematch because he had promised to attend a charity function on the same day. It's said that 100,000 people line the street for his funeral.

· John White - the father of a fairground caterer - who caused a stir when his coffin was brought to Cathays by a traction engine. Police had to be called to control the crowds and the cemetery was closed for the rest of the day. He boasts the tallest memorial in the cemetery.

· Louisa Maud Evans - a young girl who died in a freak ballooning accident during the Cardiff Exhibition of 1896. The memorial was paid for by public subscription.

· Capt Ernest Willows - a pioneer of airship flight. He built his first airship in 1905, and is known for flying one from Cardiff to London, following only the lights of a car on the ground, and being the first to cross the English Channel by airship in 1910. He was commended for developing the use of barrage balloons to protect London.

All these and more are to be found on the Cathays Cemetery Heritage Trail , which has been developed by Cardiff City Council.

But it's not just the stories of the people interred in the cemetery that is fascinating.


In walking through the cemetery, one can see the history and development of the cemetery itself.

The Victorians were great ones for impressive memorials - the bigger the memorial the more important the individuals interred there. Even in death they were out to impress, using their final resting place as a 'shop window' for their business life.

Draped Urn Memorial
Ornate Celtic Cross
a Morel family memorial

The symbology and imagery on their memorials show their preoccupation with the afterlife - the draped urn, the broken column, and the anchor of hope, which is particularly prevalent in the cemetery, given the amount of sea-farers in the city.

As with many cemeteries there are a good number of war graves, maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Most are scattered throughout the two sites, but there is an small dedicated area in the New Cemetery for war graves.

War graves range from Major Jacques Vaillant de Guelis, a member of the British Special Operations Executive and who served under de Gaulle, to Barbara Williams, of the WAAF, who was killed in an air raid aged only 17.

As might be expected, the more modern memorials are more uniform, being simple headstones without a kerb surrounding the plot. Victorian memorials were hand made, but these modern ones are cut and carved by machines. They also make for easier maintenance of the cemetery.

The cemetery is now closed. The only burials now ”no more than a handful each week” are for those who wish to be buried with their loveones.