The Friends of Houghton Hillside Cemetery
Houghton Hillside Cemetery
Hillside Time Line

1581 - The earliest inscription on a headstone (now all buried) at St Michael & All Angels Churchyard dates from around 1581.  Over 8572 burials took place in the churchyard between 1793 and October 1853.  It was officially closed for burials at the Court at Buckingham Palace by the Queens Most Excellent Majesty in Council on 11th August 1854.

1815 - Construction work was carried out at the Houghton Cut opening during the Napoleonic Wars.

1847 - Rector John Grey became Rector of Houghton Le Spring

1852 - In response to the health risk that overcrowded churchyards posed, the Burial Acts of 1852 & 1853 enabled local authorities to administer their own cemeteries.  Parish vestries elected Burial Boards to manage them.

1853 - There was an outbreak of Cholera in Sunderland and the surrounding districts.  There was also an announcement of the cemetery proposals in Houghton Le Spring.  This was the cause of much controversy between Rector Grey and his parishioners. They didnt like the idea of being buried at the 'quarry hole' and were outraged at this suggeston of a local tax to pay for the walling of the ground. However many of the residents ended up being buried there, including many well-known Houghtonians.

1854 - 4th September - The burial ground near Houghton Cut was consecrated by the Bishop of Exeter after an order from the Home Secretary, Lord Palmerston.  The first burials took place on 19th September 1854.

1856 - 10th July - It was believed for many years that while riding on the moors above the cemetery William Standish Standish of Cocken Hall fell over the cliff with his horse.  He is allegedly buried in a vault in the cliff face where he fell.  His ghost is said to haunt the graveyard and re-enact the fatal fall.  Sadly, Mr Standish Standish's vault has been vandalised many times over the years.  Recent research suggests that William Standish Standish died at Cocken Hall from an illness and his vault inscription also suggests this.

1862 - October - The Elliott family applied for a vault at Hillside Cemetery.

1871 - 23rd February - General William Beckwith of Silksworth & Trimdon, Colonel of the 14th Hussars, died and was interred at Houghton Hillside Cemetery.

1873 - A new entrance to the burial ground was constructed.  The original entrance passed through the neighbouring Houghton Hill Farm.  In 1873 a lych gate was built and a garden area installed.  The Lych Gate was recently restored by the Friends of Houghton Hillside Cemetery.

1877 - 3rd June - Priscilla Maria Beckwith, wife of the aforementioned General William Beckwith and also founder of the Catholic Community in Silksworth, died and was interred in the family tomb.  Although she was the founder of the Catholic Church at Silksworth she was still interred at Hillside.

1881 - The 1881 census shows that William Reed the Parish Sexton aged 60, his wife Mary aged 59, and daughter Mary Jane  a school teacher aged 24 lived at the cemetery lodge.  The 60 year old Sexton and his wife originated from Ireland.

1888 - 28th August - Thomas William Usherwood Robinson was the son of a well known Houghton brewer and was connected with the excavation of the 'Seven Sisters' Neolithic barrow at Copt Hill in 1877.  In 1853 he was Churchwarden at St Michael & All Angels Church and was against the cemetery proposals.  Nevertheless he was laid to rest at Hillside cemetery on 28th August 1888.  His stone can still be seen today.

1891 - Plans for a new municipal cemetery on Durham Road were revealed by Houghton Le Spring Local Board of Health.  Petitions for a section to be consecrated were submitted however these were declined despite the municipal cemetery at neighbouring Hetton-le-Hole having a consecrated section.

1892 - 1st March - The 'new cemetery' opened on Durham Road at a cost of £4000.  The municipal cemetery is still currently in use.  In 1892, Houghton Le Spring Local Board of Health applied to the seceretary of State for an Order to close the Hillside Cemetery.

1893 - A letter was issued from the Secretary of State informing the Churchwardens of St Michael & All Angels that the Regulations laid down by Lord Palmerston in 1854 for the Hillside Cemetery had not been observed with regard to the laying out of the ground and the size of the grave spaces.  On 23rd December 1893, Sir George Elliott MP died and was interred in a vault at the Hillside Cemetery.

1894 - The refusal from the Local Board of Health to have a section of the Durham Road Cemetery consecrated, and the fact that Hillside Cemetery was almost full, led for calls for the burial ground to be extended.  The extension took place after permission was granted from the Bishop of Durham and the Home Office.  The first burial in the extension took place on 22nd December 1894. The site deeds reveal that the burial ground had seven trustees, including Rector Grey and Avery Norman Robinson.  Mr Avery Robinson was also eventually interred at Hillside in 1926.

1895 - 14th November - The funeral of Rector John Grey took place at Hillside Cemetery.  It is said that while he lay on his death bed at the Rectory, he could hear the blasting of the rock in preparation for his vault.  A trade directory from this time records George Brown, Sexton, as living at the Church Cemetery, Sunderland Street.

1903 - The burial registers record that Margaret Place age 27, residence: Cemetery Lodge as being buried  on 9th November 1903.  Edwin Place was Sexton until the 1920's and resided in the Lodge.  At this time, nanny goats were used to keep the grass down.

1906 - Crimean War veteran George Wheatley died on 11th December 1906 and was interred at Hillside Cemetery.

1907 - A section in the Durham Road municipal cemetery was finally consecrated.

1926 - 26th August - The last of the Hillside Cemetery trustees, Avery Norman Robinson, died and was interred at Hillside Cemetery.  Mr G H Stevens, Solicitor and Church Street resident became manager. His present day granddaughter Virginia Gatherer is a Committee member of the Friends of Houghton Hillside Cemetery.

1936 - 1938 - Saw the reconstruction of the Houghton Cut opening.

1930's - 1940's - Bill Scott caretaker and gravedigger lived in the lodge with his wife.  He was a drinker but not in the public houses.  His wife made homebrew and kept it in the lodge cellar.  One day a shelf collapsed and she cut her hands and knees on the glass.  It is believed that she suffered with blood poisoning from the wounds and died.

1940 - July - During World War II highly explosive bombs were dropped on the Houghton Cut/Hillside area of Houghton Le Spring.

1942 - February - The then Sexton/caretaker resigned due to ill health and the site was passed to the Urban District Council for the duration of the war.  A council workman became a tenant at the lodge.

1950 - Following years of 'discussions' between the Urban District Council and St Michael & All Angels Churh over the official responsibility of Hillside Cemetery, the caretaker, a council employee, vacated the lodge and the 1942 agreement was terminated.

1961 - 11th February - John Morgan Forster's ashes were interred at Hillside.

1962 (approx) - Owing to the bad state that Hillside Cemetery was in, three Commonwealth War Grave Commission headstones were removed from the site.  Four new ones were erected at Durham Road Cemetery as alternative commemorations. 

1970 - Reconstruction of the Houghton Cut opening for the A690 dual carriageway.

1971 - 13th July - This is the most recent date on a headstone.  The name is that of Mary Jane Wanless.

1973 - 4th September - On the 119th anniversary since the burial ground was consecrated, the Diocese of Durham Advisory Committee gave approval for the removal of the kerbs, headstones and memorials from Hillside Cemetery.  The majority of the plateau area was cleared.  A local man Alan Hillman and a colleague were hired by the Urban District Council and it is believed that the headstones were buried in the top left hand corner.

2002 - October - The Standish Vault was vandalised revealing gruesome acts of desecration inside.

2003 - 5th April - The Standish vault was once again vandalised and desecrated by children.  The tomb was resealed but this time reinforced with metal sheets.

2003 - 4th September - The 149th anniversary of the consecration of Hillside was marked by the official announcement that proposals were afoot to restore and preserve Hillside through the creation of The Friends group.

2003 - October - A photograph display and historical talk preceded a public consultation on the future of the burial ground.

2003 - December - The inaugral annual general meeting of the Friends of Houghton Hillside Cemetery took place and a committee was formed.

2004 - January - Following discussions at the first Friends Committee meeting was purchased and made live.  This has subsequently been replaced by

2004 - 21st April - An extraordinary general meeting gook place and saw the election of two new committee members.

2004 - May & June - A guide map and notes and Then & Now 4 piece Postcard set were published.

2004 - 28th July - Official notice of the application for the discontinuance of burials at Hillside Cemetery appeared in the local press.

2004 - 7th August - An Open Day was held to commemorate the burial grounds 150th anniversary and over 150 people attended.  Open Day has now turned into an annual event.

2004 - October - The renowned writer, photographer and broadcaster Lucinder Lambton became patron of the Friends group.

2005 - 22nd March - Hillside Cemetery was officially closed for burials in non existing graves.

2006 - Saw the the launch of the Back to Life project with the restoration of the Lych Gate and Railings at the entrance of Hillside.

2007 - Saw the start of many conservation days undertaken by the group and these are still continuing today.  It also saw the launch of the groups new 'Phoenix Project'.  This project hopefully will restore the fallen memorial at the far end of the site which when eventually restored will be dedicated to those who lost their lives at Houghton Colliery.

2008 - January - Unfortunately  the new year saw the Standish Vault being broken into once again.  This time the bones were reinterred, the tomb was whitewashed to remove graffiti from previous break ins, a short service was given and the tomb was resealed with the bolts sheared off in the hope that this will prevent the tomb from being broken into ever again.

2008 - Throughtout 2008 the Friends carried out numerous conservation days in order to try and restore the site.   Open Day was held on July 19th 2008 and was well attended despite the bad weather experienced on the afternoon.

2008 - November - The Friends were asked to host the annual AGM for the National Federation of Cemetery Friends in June of 2009.

2009 - January/February - Hillside was subjected to vicious acts of vandalism and graffiti to both the newly restored Lych Gate and the cliff faces.  This led to the group being introduced to Mr Brian Watson of CSV Sunderland who has since arranged for groups of volunteers to come to Hillside to carry out conservation work.

2009 - March - The first huge conservation day was held at Hillside organised by both the group and Brian Watson.  Volunteers aged between 16 & 25 attended and assisted on this day.

2009 - September - Work on the memorial begins to restore it.

2009 - November - The Friends take part in Make a Difference Day which is a national event.  Extensive conservation is carried out.

2010 - April
- The Friends take part in Action Earth Day which is an event similar to Make A Difference Day.  Work commenced on the steps leading to the memorial.  It is hoped that the restoration of the memorial will be complete by June 2010.

2010 - May - All of the works relating to the Phoenix Project were completed.  The memorial was now fully restored.  Also the majority of the headstones removed when the plateau area was levelled were also uncovered.

2010 - June - The newly restored memorial was unveiled at The Friends Annual Open Day by their new patron Frank Nicholson.

2011 - The Friends have their updated Guide Book printed together with 2 sets of pamphlets which have been compiled over the last few years

2011 - May - The Friends carry out a sponsored walk between Seaham & South Shields and the event is opened up to the public.  Over 60 walkers take part and the funds raised were split 60/40 with Cancer Research.  The amount raised was in excess of £6000 and this was the largest amount of money raised by the Friends in one event for the benefit of Hillside.

2012 - March - The steps on the memorial are completed.

2012 - April - Hillside plays host to the annual Easter Passion Play.  The event was attended by in excess of 170 vistors.

2012 - May - Hillside is fortunate enough to have the assistance of Cisco Risks Management in order to prevent further vandalism at the site.

2013 - June - The Friends celebrate the 10th Open Day and 10 years since the group was incorporated


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