Aylsham determined to remember 500-plus buried in Paupers' Graveyard

A view of part of the Paupers' Graveyard in Aylsham. Picture: WENDY SADLER

A view of part of the Paupers' Graveyard in Aylsham. Picture: WENDY SADLER - Credit: Archant

An overgrown, long-forgotten piece of land where more than 500 people are buried is set to be turned into a place of heritage and tranquility.

The imposing facade of the former Union Workshouse in Aylsham, later St Michael's Hospital. Picture:

The imposing facade of the former Union Workshouse in Aylsham, later St Michael's Hospital. Picture: ARCHANT

Aylsham wants to save and transform its Paupers' Graveyard, where those who died in the town's workhouse were laid to rest in unmarked graves.

The graveyard was in use between 1857 and 1903 and Aylsham resident Diana Duhig has painstakingly recorded details of all 548 people buried there, using workhouse information kept in the Norfolk Record Office.

They range in age from one-day-old twins, Florence and Martha Garford, buried in January 1883, to someone in their mid 90s.

The land, which backs on to Sapwell Close, belongs to Hopkins Homes, which is developing the site of the former Union Workhouse, which later became St Michael's Hospital.


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As the land is consecrated, Hopkins has not built on it and is in the process of transferring it, together with other open space on the site, to Aylsham Town Council, according to council clerk Sue Lake.

A recent public meeting in the town decided it would like the brambles and other vegetation cleared and the area fenced, some planting, and a bench put there for people to sit and reflect quietly.

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Community groups keen to be involved with the project include scouts, Aylsham in Bloom, Aylsham Heritage Centre and Norfolk Wildlife Trust.

There would also be an information board explaining the site's previous use and directing people trying to trace relatives to the heritage centre, in the grounds of Aylsham Parish Church, where the detailed burial records are kept.

Mrs Duhig, a volunteer at the heritage centre, said they occasionally had inquiries from people researching their family tree.

"It's hard to know if life in the workhouse was miserable," she said. "For some people it was possibly, but for others it was some kind of salvation, especially those who entered towards the end of their lives because there was no-one else to take care of them. It was an opportunity to get into the workhouse hospital and be looked after."

? An exhibition at the heritage centre, opening on February 15, will tell the history of the workhouse, which opened in 1849.

After the abolition of Poor Law Unions in 1929, the building was taken over by Norfolk County Council and became a hospital which closed in May 2012.

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