York Cemetery was opened in 1837 by York Public Cemetery Company, providing an alternative to overcrowded city centre parish graveyards. Although the site expanded over the years to 24 acres, gradually burial space dwindled. In 1966 the company went into voluntary liquidation until in 1979, already neglected, the cemetery quickly descended into decline and dereliction.
When the roof of the neoclassical cemetery chapel collapsed in 1984 local citizens were prompted to retrieve the situation, forming Friends of York Cemetery, which registered as a charity (no. 701091) in 1989. Later York Cemetery Trust was formed and took ownership of the site in 1987. In the managed, beautiful natural environment that the cemetery has become, regular burials have resumed.
Many memorials, such as that of Sir Joseph Terry (of Terry’s chocolates fame) and buildings, such as its James Pigott Pritchett designed gatehouse, have now been recognised as historically important with Grade II listed status. Its JP Pritchett designed chapel, where services and special events are held, has Grade II* listed status and has been magnificently restored since the cemetery’s revival.
The Friends supports the Trust with fund-raising and awareness. It organises an annual programme of events which includes guided walks with tales of interesting people buried and monuments, or focusing on its flora and fauna. Members and volunteers offer all kinds of other practical support to help conserve York Cemetery.
Friends genealogy volunteers have created a computerised database containing the comprehensive details of each of York Cemetery’s approximately 124,000 burials and 18,000 monuments. Additional information about the people in the cemetery is entered continually by Friends volunteers.
Every Friday (except public holidays) from 0930 to 1530 Friends volunteer genealogists answer telephone enquiries and open the doors of their cemetery gatehouse office to family historians and other researchers. Here they search their uniquely expansive source of historical information for visitors and guide them to graves and memorials. Enquiries can also be made via telephone message, email or in writing at any time.