A collaborative project telling the fascinating story of Winchester's historical West Hill Cemetery

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About the project

The West Hill Cemetery Project is a collaborative, interdisciplinary project focussing on the beautiful historic cemetery on West Hill in Winchester. The project unites academics and students from the Departments of History, of Theology, Religion & Philosophy, and of Archaeology, Anthropology and Geography with local authorities and community organisations.

Winchester Cemetery Company was established by Act of Parliament in 1840, the same year that the Winchester Diocesan Training College, now the University of Winchester, was founded. Once owned by the Bishop of Winchester and the London and Southwestern Railway Company, the cemetery comprises 13 acres of land. The perimeter wall with its elegant pillars and railings and wrought iron gates are Grade-II listed. The Gate Lodge and chapels were designed in Tudor-Gothic style; their construction was completed by September 1849. One chapel was for members of the Church of England and the other for non-CofE worshippers. Both chapels were demolished in the 1920s.

Between its establishment in 1840 and the start of WWI, during which the population of Winchester tripled, the cemetery was the city's main burial place. Although other smaller cemeteries existed, most people chose to be interrred at West Hill. The surviving records are detailed and provide an insight into the social status of those buried there. When these data are paired with other social data for the city, notably censuses, street directories and local newspapers, a wealth of information about the ca 22,500 people laid to rest there can be gathered. For example, the known age range of the interred is a mere 30 minutes for the youngest, while the oldest was over a century old. There are also some remarkable burials, such as the American pugilist (bare-knuckle boxer) Charles Freeman, who died of tuberculosis in Winchester hospital in 1845. The lavish memorials erected by wealthy families are in stark contrast to the thousands buried at West Hill with no memorial. 

During the world wars, the regimental depots of the Royal Hampshire Regiment, the Rifle Brigade and the King's Royal Rifle Corps were based at Winchester, and scattered throughout the cemetery are 115 First World War graves and 4 from the Second World War. In 1958, Winchester City Council took over the management of the cemetery, which had become neglected. The site is now closed for burials and managed as a space where chalk downland meadow is allowed to return each summer and flourish as a valuable habitat for insects and butterflies. The path winding through it provides a scenic access route to the adjacent University.

Forthcoming Public Engagement events

November 2019: West Hill Cemetery exhibition and free public talk

Throughout November, the fascinating exhibition on West Hill Cemetery, first seen at the University as part of the 2018 WWI commemoration (see Recent Public Engagement, below), will once again be on display, this time in the Winchester Discovery Centre.

In a Meet the Exhibitors event alongside the exhibition, the researchers will be giving a public talk on 11 November, to highlight the 115 fallen WWI soldiers buried in the cemetery. Winchester Discovery Centre, Jewry Street, Winchester, 19.00. 

Public Engagement with Research at Winchester: image of University exhibition at Winchester Discovery Centre

Research team

Principal Investigator: Dr Christina Welch, Senior Fellow of Knowledge Exchange, Department of Theology, Religion and Philosophy

Acknowledgements

Sir Garry Johnson KCB, OBE, MC, project initiator

John Rogers, retired Winchester City Council Cemeteries Officer

Coral Roger, Winchester City Council Recreation and Projects Officer

Rick Smith, Winchester City Council Biodiversity Officer 

Les Kibble, Commonwealth War Graves Commission Regional Manager, South East 

Lt. Col. Colin Bullied, Royal Hampshire Regiment Trust Secretary

Janet Hurrell and Sally Miller, Hampshire Gardens Trust

John Stanning, City of Winchester Trust

Emily Millis, bursary student MA Death, Religion and Culture (background image)

Holly McLellan, West Hill bursary student MRes Archaeology

Hampshire Record Office

Nathalie Barrett

Recent Public Engagement events

2018

September 2018: Guided walks as part of the Winchester Heritage Open Days

Find out more

November 2018: World War 1 commemoration events

On Saturday 10 November 2018 the University commemorated the 115 men who are buried in West Hill Cemetery with a Commonwealth War Graves Commission grave. A ceremony took place at the Cross of Sacrifice attended by representatives from various embassies and from military regiments or successor regiments. Afterwards all the names of the 115 fallen WWI soldiers were displayed at the University, which also hosted a programme of talks and an exhibition on the cemetery. This exhibition can now be enjoyed online - see link below. The day also saw the launch of the book Debt of Honour. Winchester City's First World War Dead, edited by Winchester Archaeology graduate Jen Best and Emeritus Professor Tom Beaumont James MBE.

In the run-up to the event, a tweet went out every day containing information on one of each of these men. "Through a Twitter campaign, we are trying to gain some momentum for the project and the men who are buried over the road", said Dr Christina Welch, who is leading the project. "Many are not local - there are men from all over Britain, and as far away as Australia and New Zealand. We want to remember them, every single one of them." 

World War I commemoration at West Hill Cemetery, Winchester: wreaths laid at the cross of remembrance

Other initiatives being developed

  • Follow-up exhibitions in community venues
  • A self-guided cemetery walk leaflet, developed in collaboration with Winchester City Council 
  • A Friends of WHC group

Follow WHC on Twitter or get in touch

Postgraduate research

Toni Ogilvy: 'Bringing the Dead of West Hill Cemetry in Winchester to Life'