Here is a lovely old engraving of the Overleigh Cemetery showing how it appeared in its early days, around the year 1855.
By the 1830s, Chester's ancient churchyards were full up. The Bishop of Chester had spoken of the disgraceful state of these burial grounds and of a "general feeling that the interments of the dead should be removed from the abodes of the living". A private company proposed to develop the Little Roodee area as a new cemetery but the city authorities disapproved of this and, in 1847, Canon Blomfield suggested a site on the other side of the river instead. This land actually belonged to the Marquis of Westminster but, when approached, he agreed to exchange it for a modest shareholding in the new Chester General Cemetery Company and thus was commenced what is now known as the Overleigh Cemetery. It was designed by local architect Thomas Wainwaring Penson (1818-64) and laid out in 1848-50 "with admirable taste", including two chapels- one for Nonconformists and one (on higher ground) for Church of England members- two lodges, a house for the chaplain and a lake with islands. This has since been filled in and all of the buildings demolished- including, sadly, the 'Greek temple' on the far right of the picture- but the cemetery still contains a remarkable variety of Victorian monuments.
Notice the horse-drawn hearse standing at the gates in the distance, the group of mourners gathered around a grave in the centre of the picture and the swans swimming on the lake in the foreground. Much ground still lies undisturbed at this early date, such as the plot in the immediate foreground where just a few graves are to be seen, but notice the large numbers of burial mounds on the far left, none of which bear memorial stones. Would they to be added later- or were these the graves of those whose families could not afford the considerable expense of providing headstones?
In front of these is the tall memorial to Dr William Makepeace Thackery- the uncle of his more famous novelist namesake (although he spelled his name Thackeray) - the author of Vanity Fair, The Virginians, Barry Lyndon and many more. He was a doctor who worked at the Chester Royal Infirmary from its founding in the Bluecoat through to long after it was established in its own purpose-built premises. The names of both of these establishments are inscribed upon his stone. He is actually buried in the Cathedral, but his monument remains a dominant feature in the centre of the cemetery.
Notice also the rustic bridge on the far right of the picture. This still exists, albeit now completely hidden by dense undergrowth and beneath which tramps are accustomed to sleep. It once crossed an artificial stream which was cut through from the nearby River Dee to service the man-made lake. Before the establishment of the cemetery, a broader version of this waterway was used to ferry the stones from the extensive quarry which once existed here.
Despite a considerable degree of neglect, the wonderful Overleigh Cemetery remains a most pleasant and peaceful spot which you should definitely find the time to visit when you visit Chester!