Work to turn a former Wisbech chapel into an important community asset is well under-way and should be complete by the middle of the autumn.
David Crouch, project leader for the renovation of the Wisbech General Cemetery chapel, is happy with the way the Heritage Lottery Funded scheme is progressing to convert the redundant Victorian chapel into a meeting room and exhibition space.
He led a group of interested residents and members of Wisbech Society who donned hard hats for a tour of the site to give an update on progress on the work which includes a new roof, doors, windows as well as new power and water connections to the building.
David explained the chapel, which was built 1848 about 12 years after the cemetery was opened as an alternative resting place for the people of Wisbech, will become an important public asset providing a meeting place, a space for exhibitions and also educational visits.
The cemetery was set up by a group of business people to offer somewhere other than church run burial sites for non-believers, non-conformists such as Methodists and Baptists and members of other religions including Jews to buried.
The chapel provided a venue for services prior to burial and in all 6,571 Wisbech people were laid to rest at the General Cemetery located off North End.
The last interments were in the late 1960s, with the cemetery now closed for burials. However, well-known Wisbech benefactor Basil Lambert, a supporter of the Wisbech Society, was given special dispensation to be buried there when he died in 1994. His parents were already in the cemetery and he asked to be buried with them.
The company which originally set up the cemetery eventually went bankrupt and it was handed over to Fenland District Council before being taken over by the Wisbech Society whose volunteers have looked after it for the last 40 odd years.
Part of the £370,000 project involves compiling information on those buried in the cemetery and volunteers have been digging through the archives at Wisbech museum to unearth details of those interred.
Among them is James Hill father of Wisbech’s most famous daughter Octavia Hill. The cemetery is also the last resting place of Samuel Smith a well-known Victorian photographer, as well as a number of First World War soldiers.
The cemetery was so popular in its heyday that some plots contain more than one person - and David said they are not always family members that are lying together.
Details of the cemetery’s occupants will be available to the public once the project is complete.
• There is a chance for people to find out more about the cemetery and the project next Sunday (April 8) when the Wisbech Society holds its Spring Walk, meeting at 2pm at the back gate on Peckover playing field.