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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Kate MacDonell & Lady Clifford
Kate MacDonell & Lady Clifford

On the weekend of May 26 & 27 we held two Open Days in Ryde Cemetery to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

We decided to hold our event the weekend before the official celebrations so as not to compete with the many events being held Island-wide on the bank holiday weekend of June 3 – 6. We were fortunate to have lovely sunny weather for our event and the cemetery and chapels looked lovely bedecked with bunting for the occasion.

We had all worked very hard to prepare for our Open Days which were a great success. All three chapels in the cemetery were open to the public. Refreshments were served all day at the Learning and Heritage Centre in the North Chapel and all of our research folders were available for visitors to browse. Volunteers were also on hand to assist people with their family history research and to help locate graves of their ancestors.

In the South Chapel there was an exhibition on ‘Royalty and Ryde’ and another on the History of Ryde Pier, celebrating the fact that it is 200 years since the Ryde Pier Act was passed allowing the first pier to be built. There was a Royal Tableau depicting a young Queen Elizabeth in her coronation robes and jewels and an elderly Queen Victoria. There was also a wonderful art exhibition of images of both Queens by children from Dover Park School.

In the West Street Chapel there were exhibitions on the Ryde Heritage Audio Trail, more of Royals and some wonderful art and poetry about Ryde Pier on a Misty Morning also by children from Dover Park School.

The two day event was free to everyone and about 200 people visited us over the course of the weekend, many of them stayed for the whole day and some even came back for a second visit!

The highlight of both days was a ‘Character Walk’. Visitors were taken for a short stroll in the cemetery by our guide and commentator, Kate MacDonell. As they walked they were introduced to some of the many fascinating characters from Ryde’s past.

They met the beautiful young Comtesse Maria Metaxa Anzolato and her (somewhat older) husband, naval officer George Hancock; the eccentric Harry ‘Yankee’ Withington; Lady Clifford, wife of Admiral Sir Augustus William James Clifford, 1st Baronet, CB, MP, a British Royal Navy officer, court official, and Gentleman usher of the Black Rod; the two wives of Robert Harvey, first the flustered and hopeless Hannah Harvey who could not do a thing right, she was married to Robert for seven years and after she died he married Eliza who the group also met. Both women are buried in the same grave and as the headstone records about Eliza “She was what a wife should be”.
The group met Michael Maybrick the famous singer and composer (under the name of Stephen Adams, and nine times Mayor of Ryde). Finally the group met Ellen Gawn the widow of John Gawn and told the sad story of how, as a young man, he had sacrificed his life and saved two children from drowning.

After the Character Walk all the visitors were invited to join the group for a Royal Tea Party and delicious home made cakes were served.

You can see all our photographs from the event by visiting our photo gallery – just click the link below.