Norwich man who preached to the people of Ipswich

Thomas Drummond

Thomas Drummond - Credit: Archant

He was a Norwich-born man of the church who preached to the people of Ipswich and he created a last resting place like no other. Derek James remembers a remarkable man

General view of Rosary Cemetery framed by a large oak tree

General view of Rosary Cemetery framed by a large oak tree - Credit: ECN - Archant

It was 200 years ago when work started on a development which was the first of its kind in the country... the beautiful Rosary Cemetery on the hills of Thorpe Hamlet in Norwich.

This is a wonderful place to visit. To stroll in and remember those who went before us.

People from all walks of life. From the great personalities of the Victorian era, the founding fathers of big business. Members of the Colman, Jarrold, and Jewson families to the likes of poor little William Parr who fell into the River Wensum and lost his life. He was just five.

The Rosary was the first private cemetery of its kind in England established on the 'broad principles of Christian equality.'

And we have this wonderful place thanks to a forward-thinking visionary by the name of Thomas Drummond, a man well known in both Norwich and Ipswich, who bought the land to create a place where anybody, regardless of their religion, could have a place of burial.

It was the talented author, the late Geoffrey Goreham, who summed it up so well many years ago: 'In Rosary Cemetery stone monuments straggle up the slope amongst forest trees and waning sunlight casts long shadows of urns, obelisks and crosses on the maze of winding footpaths.'

Most Read

The Rosary was laid out in 1819 on a five-acre site of a former market garden from which it takes its name.

The founder Thomas Drummond was born in Norwich on March 1 1764, the son of Lawrence and Margaret Drummond of Lower Goat Lane. His father was a peruke (wig) maker).

Thomas entered the church becoming minister at the Unitarian church at Filby in Norfolk before moving to Ipswich where he was the minister at Friar's Street meeting house.

He married Anne Pilkington in Ipswich and they had four children. Three daughters and a son who became a doctor in the town.

The minister left Suffolk in 1813 and eventually returned to live in Norwich during his retirement.

The author of Buried at the Rosary, Nick Williams, which raises money for the Friends of the Rosary, takes up the story:

'Why Drummond decided to open a cemetery is unclear, but as a Unitarian he was well aware of the difficulties faced by dissenters when burying family members.

'Indeed when he was in Ipswich he had experienced at first hand of the refusal of a curate to allow a funeral service in the parish church for a young child called Harriet Durrant who had not been baptised by an Anglican clergyman but by Drummond himself.'

He used a legacy of around £3,200 left to his wife to buy the site and lay out the cemetery in 1819. How sad it was that the first burial in 1821 was the re-interment of his wife Anne who had died two years earlier giving birth to their daughter Margaret who had been buried at the Octagon in Colegate.

Nick tells in his book how census returns for both 1841 and 1851 records Thomas living in King Street, Norwich, with his daughter Margaret and her husband Francis Colsey, where they ran a school.

He died in February 1852 aged 88 and was buried in the cemetery he created alongside his wife, Anne, and their daughter Margaret, who had died a few months before her father.

His grave is marked by a low flat topped monument under the large yew tree in the lower part of the cemetery at plot D461.

Copies of Buried at the Rosary by Nick Williams, costing £5 to include p&p, are still available by emailing Nick at