Ryde Social Heritage Group research the social history of the citizens of Ryde, Isle of Wight. Documenting their lives, businesses and burial transcriptions.
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September 2007 – Heritage Open Days Report

A Guided Tour of the Cemetery

Over the weekend of September 8th and 9th the RSHG held two open days at Ryde Cemetery as part of the National Heritage Open Days event. This annual event has been set up to allow people to explore places of interest for free and learn all about their own local history. This was the first time RSHG participated in the Heritage Open Days programme.

From early morning on Saturday 8th September the cemetery was buzzing with activity. A dedicated team of volunteers turned up to put up all of the information boards and prepare for the opening at 11am. In fact visitors were already waiting to be taken on the guided walks before the displays had been finished. Luckily, David Earle one of the wonderful volunteer Guides, was there to whisk them away on the first walk of the day. David, along with Janette Gregson, was busy conducting guided walks all day Saturday, taking only a short break for a sandwich for lunch before the next group of people were waiting to be taken round. Each tour took around 45 minutes and visitors were shown various graves around the Old Parish Cemetery and Old Cemetery and told some interesting things about some of the people buried in those graves.

While visitors were waiting to go on the tours there was plenty to keep them occupied. There were many displays which had been erected in front of the Cemetery Lodge. Many of them were about the lives of the various well known characters buried within the cemetery. Also there was a large display of the flora and fauna that can be found within the Cemetery grounds throughout the year. In the Lodge garden two gazebos had been put up where there were some display boards and some tables. The tables were used to display the many folders of information that members of the RSHG have been working on. These included folders with maps of the cemetery, indexes of the burials that have been mapped and transcribed so far, and many other folders containing information about the history of Ryde. This was also the first time that the Group’s booklet, ‘A Brief Guide to Ryde Cemetery’, was put on sale. The cost of the booklet is £2.50 and will be on sale again at the AGM for those who did not manage to get a copy.

At the end of Saturday afternoon there were still people coming into the Cemetery and although we were only supposed to be there until 4pm, it was some time after that that all the visitors left. It was estimated that between 40 and 50 people had visited during the day.

After the fantastic response from the public on Saturday you might have thought Sunday was going to be a little slower but you would be wrong. The lovely weather had held out for a second day and the exhibition was once again attracting a lot of interest. It was so busy that there were two more Guides taking people around on the tour. As well as David and Janette, Lynne Phillips and Carol Strong also led tours. Interest was so strong from the public that there were a few people who came back for the second day running because they didn’t have time to look at everything they wanted to on the Saturday.

The Group was able to help many people over the weekend too; a couple of people came in looking for specific graves and these were located for them, one man wanted to know if he was right in thinking that one of his relatives had once been a Mayor of Ryde and after looking through the list of Mayors we were able to confirm that he was right. There were also many people coming in to the exhibition who were keen to share information about their own relatives who are buried there with the Group. It really was a two way sharing of information and as well as helping others we also learnt a great deal over the weekend.

At the end of the second day the exhibition had been visited by over one hundred people, the ages ranged from the very young to the elderly. One lady in particular who went on one of the guided tours on Sunday afternoon was 87 and she thoroughly enjoyed it! The walk also catered for those who are disabled and all the graves included in the tour were accessible to those using a wheelchair or motorised buggy. This was tested out for us by one our members who volunteered over the two days.

The RSHG would like to thank all of the public who visited the cemetery and made this event such a success.

Thanks also to all the twenty or so members who volunteered over the weekend and especially Janette and Tony Gregson, without whom this event would not have been possible.

Rachael Mead
13 September 2007