Wivenhoe Cemetery

I have just come back from one of my frequent walks to Wivenhoe Cemetery. I am always fascinated by the possible stories that lie behind this final resting place of so many people.
 I felt quite sad to see that again so many of the graves are disappearing under brambles, nettles and various other plants. The reason I felt sad was that on the occasion when the vegetation was cut back, I discovered graves that I had never seen before and could read the inscriptions of many of the headstones which for me and I'm sure others, represents the story of someone who once lived here.
In fact one of those people was a woman called Mary Ann Sanford who was responsible for the building of the almshouses in Rebow Road. That in turn possibly saved many elder poor women from a potentially miserable old age. It was good to know that a woman in 1873 had the foresight to see this and do something about it.
Being able to see her final resting place and that of other family members who did major work that benefited Wivenhoe residents, such as building the old congregational church and a school, made these people even more real in my eyes.
To see that grave I had to clear the brambles, nettles and everything else that had completely covered it.

There is another small little headstone for a little girl of three years of age.
Early in the 1900's she was playing on the quay with a friend. A little boy a few years older. He turned around to look for her but couldn't find her. So he called her 7 year old brother to come and help him look. The brother found her in the spot where she had drowned. A dreadful experience for a seven year old child and a heartbreaking situation for the whole family. While her headstone is clear of vegetation there are many other headstones getting lost beneath the nettles and brambles.

Without wishing to resurrect the discussion of the wildlife situation that was on here earlier in the year, I do feel that it is so important not to lose sight of the fact that there are so many people in this place with their own story and it seems sad to lose a part of that story and the opportunity to give them a thought if the headstone is no longer visible.
I might also say I am no wildlife expert but like so many situations there are two sides to every discussion and I wonder how both sides can be made to feel happy with how the situation is resolved.
Frances Belsham


  • From a wildlife angle the growth does need cutting back, just not all at the same time. The agreed management plan recognises this. So if implemented properly (as sadly it wasn't last year) all interests should be catered for.
  • Well done Frances for raising this issue. I found those back stories fascinating. We need someone to make a video of those histories and store in the appropriate archives. 
    Each one of those headstones has a story to tell. Wouldn't most Wivenhoe people be interested in the history?

  • Would be great if someone or a small group of people were willing to research some of these people, and write up their research as Frances Belsham has done into the first residents of the Mary Ann Sanford almshouses in Rebow Road. We are always keen to hear from people willing to put a little bit of effort in to bring some of Wivenhoe's rich past to life. Please do get in touch with me: 
    Peter Hill, Chairman, Wivenhoe History Group - peter@toadhall2.co.uk

    PS To find Frances's research - click here
  • I've done research on interesting graves I've found before and would be happy to have a look for any names in the "old cemetery".

    Only question is - where is it?

    (Wivenhoe resident but only since March and haven't had much opportunity to explore yet).
  • KatC said:
    I've done research on interesting graves I've found before and would be happy to have a look for any names in the "old cemetery".

    Only question is - where is it?

    (Wivenhoe resident but only since March and haven't had much opportunity to explore yet).

    As you go down Belle Vue Road towards Rectory Road/Hill the New Cemetery is on your left (between Belle Vue Road and Stanley Road) and the Old Cemetery is opposite, on your right, there is a plan of the cemetery on your left as you go through the gates.
  • KatC - hope you will now explore the Old Cemetery and will be interested enough to want to know more about Wivenhoe people of the 1800s. Please do get in touch if you do.
  • The Wivenhoe Old Cemetery management plan can be viewed here - if any individuals have an interest in the maintenance of a plot please contact the Town Council Office and we will do our best to help. 

    Hope this helps.

    Wivenhoe Town Council Office
  • edited August 17
    Thanks WTCOffice (Hazel?) for giving the link to the Old Cemetery management plan. It is from 2007. Will this be updated following the council adopting the Wildlife Charter?

    From January WTC minutes:
    a) Wildlife Charter:  A draft of the Wildlife Charter was circulated.  Proposed by Cllr. Newton that the Charter as drafted by Cllr. Finn be adopted with one  amendment to read ‘cemeteries’ instead of ‘old cemetery’. This was seconded by Cllr. Vaughan. A vote was then taken with all members, apart from one abstention, being in  agreement. The Wildlife Charter was therefore adopted.  Thanks were expressed to Cllr. Finn for his work in drawing up the Charter. 

    The reference to ragwort in the 2007 management plan caught my attention.

    In the event that the site becomes colonised by aggressive non-native species, or subject to a statutory control order (e.g. under the Weeds Act (1959) or the Ragwort Control Act (2003)), then expert advice will be sought on correct identification and appropriate control measures. 

    I hope no ragwort is removed from the old cemetery. There is a lot of hysteria about it and certainly in the old cemetery environment it poses no threat at all. In fact it is very beneficial to have around.

    The charity Bug Life reports that:
    "At least 30 insect species (and 14 fungi species) are entirely reliant on Ragwort, and about a third of the insects are scarce or rare. Ragwort is also an important nectar source for hundreds of species of butterflies, bees, moths, flies and other invertebrates, helping to support populations in the UK countryside."

    Ragwort is also renowned for supporting the Cinnabar moth which is entirely dependent on it:
  • Thank you for the directions Jellyhead!

    Peter- It may have to wait until the next time Ancestry has a free weekend as that's what I tend to use as a starting point, but I'll let you know if I find anything/anyone interesting :) 
  • edited August 17
    KatC said:
    Thank you for the directions Jellyhead!

    Peter- It may have to wait until the next time Ancestry has a free weekend as that's what I tend to use as a starting point, but I'll let you know if I find anything/anyone interesting :) 

    No problem, looking forward to Ancestry having a free year!  For anyone interested in finding out more about those interred in Wivenhoe Cemetery it's worth noting that a small number (39) of burials are listed on the Find a Grave website, I don't think that they distinguish between "Old" and "New".


    Somewhat surprised to learn that one of those interred was a recipient of the US Medal of Honor for services during the Spanish-American War (1898) and played a part in the establishment of Guantanamo Bay.

    William Oakley was born in Aberdeen at 6am, 31st Aug 1857 to James Abbott Oakley and Hannah Webb.  The family are shown living on New Road, Wivenhoe on the 1861 Census and Queens Road in 1871 and No. 22 Queens Road in 1881.  By this time William had moved, to 455 Third Avenue, New York City, New York, USA.  William enlisted with the US Navy in 1880 for a three year period of service, from his enlistment record we know that he was 5ft 2.5" tall of ruddy complexion with brown hair and blue eyes, with a scar on his forehead, "American coat of arms left forearm" was added when he re-enlisted in 1884.  William re-enlisted again in 1887 and 1890, serving, in turn on the USS Saratoga USS Yorktown  and USS Marblehead.  William was on-board USS Marblehead at the outbreak of the Spanish American War and the ship's Wikipedia entry has the following:

    "At the outbreak of the Spanish–American War, Marblehead was at Key West, Florida. Immediately sailing for Cuban waters, she arrived off Havana 23 April 1898, and then proceeded to Cienfuegos where she shelled enemy vessels and fortifications on 29 April, in support of the invasion of Guantánamo Bay. After joining the blockading squadron, she cut the cables off Cienfuegos on 11 May, when many of her sailors and Marines received Medals of Honor.

    She then patrolled off Santiago de Cuba until early June. In company with the auxiliary cruiser Yankee, Marblehead captured the lower part of Guantánamo Bay as a base for the fleet 7 June, and supported the landing of a battalion of Marines there three days later. Continuing operations in the bay, she helped the pre-dreadnought battleship Texas destroy the Spanish fort on Cayo del Toro on 15 June."

    William's medal citation reads as follows:

    "On board the USS Marblehead during the operation of cutting the cable leading from Cienfuegos, Cuba, 11 May 1898. Facing the heavy fire of the enemy, Oakley displayed extraordinary bravery and coolness throughout this period."

    William became a naturalized US citizen in 1900 and continued to serve in the US Navy;  he is listed as a Gunners Mate 1st Class, serving on USS Michigan on the 1910 Census.  Some time between 1910 and 1918 William returned to Wivenhoe, where he died on 22 Nov 1918.  He left no will but Sarah Welham (his sister) was granted administration of his estate on 4th Jan 1919 at Ipswich.

    William has his own Wikipedia entry:


    Find A Grave entry:


    William's US Naturalization Card, (DOB appears to be in error).

    Wivenhoe Cemetery
    Colchester Borough
    Essex, England
    Plot: Section B-2-65 [unmarked]

  • Sheila and I will be running the museum over the weekend (Saturday and Sunday, 10 until 1). All welcome of course, and for those interested we'll have some local records that aren't yet readily accessed online.
  • William Oakley.

    As is explained earlier, William Oakley is a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honour.  As such, he is entitled to a 'Grave Marker', a headstone to commemorate that fact.

    WTC has been working with the US Authorities on this, and the 'Grave Marker' is currently being prepared by the US authorities. It will be installed in the Old Cemetery when it is ready, hopefully later this year.

    WTC will make an announcement when there is more information to hand.

    Thanks to 'Jellyhead' for raising this.


  • A reminder that the Museum is open today, now until 1pm, and again tomorrow.  There are burial records with a plan of the cemeteries so you can look up ancestors and then find their graves  
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