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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The sun came out, the wind eased and even before the official opening time of 11am, the Learning Centre was full of cemetery friends and people queuing for help finding their ancestors and loved ones in the vast open space that is Ryde Cemetery, looking very spring like at last. Daffodils, bluebells, primroses and crocuses carpet the areas between the graves where the mowers cannot reach and the trees are budding and bursting into life with many shades of green leaves and blossom, finally bringing the miserable winter to an end.

Luckily David’s maps and indexes are readily available at the centre and free to access on line on our website, and RSHG volunteers were on hand to help locate them. Soon people were spreading through the cemetery clutching their maps and directions to find that elusive ancestor’s grave. The research folders in the centre providing much more information on the people, places, businesses and pastimes of the generations that have lived in and visited Ryde were soon put to good use and spread across the tables with avid readers pouring over them.

A display on Victorian funerals attracted interest with photographs of the vast funeral processions through Ryde to the Cemetery, undertakers’ details and receipts for the purchase of the grave spaces.

In the South Chapel a new exhibition titled ‘The Four Seasons’ was complimented by a miniature model for each season – the greenhouse and nursery full of plants and produce for Spring, the beach huts at Appley for Summer, harvest festival for Autumn and a Christmas room complete with carol singers outside and the butchers shop with all types of meat hanging outside depicted Winter.

The tableau was mannequins dressed for Summer and Winter with a ‘four season’ tree decorated by RSHG members with leaves, berries, butterflies, insects, spring blossom, Easter chickens, Halloween bats and Christmas holly, both real, artificial and paper decorations. This in turn inspired the Children’s tree which was decorated throughout the weekend by small and ‘big’ (adult) children.

A fantastic display of seasonal art by Maisie Kitching attracted much attention and display cabinets full of artefacts and documents filled the chapel. The ‘Spotlight on Youth’ exhibition recently back from Ryde Library was also available and many people spotted themselves in some of the old photographs.

Very soon a crowd gathered outside expectantly waiting for the cemetery walk. It was 12 o’clock already! Janette led the new walk pointing out the graves of just some of the fascinating people we have researched with Maisie at the rear keeping the group together. The walk took just under an hour and 10 people from Ryde’s past were described including several people who were significant to the cemetery – two previous cemetery superintendants, Father Telford who was instrumental in persuading the Town Commissioners to set aside a section of the cemetery for a Roman Catholic burial ground and Francis Newman who designed the central chapels, cemetery lodge and the layout of the first extension to the cemetery.

Time for a quick cup of tea before our budding amateur dramatic team members put on their costumes for the ‘Character Walk’. This has become a popular feature of our Open Days and a large crowd gathered. Written and narrated by Kate, the walk introduces characters from Ryde’s past who tell part of their life story, this time all new characters included the mad scientist who invented a noisy dentist drill; Granny Wood who had witnessed the sinking of the Royal George as a young girl; Mrs Lake of the famous brewing family; Widow Barnes, her husband, Daniel Barnes, had run the successful Royal Pier Hotel for many years; Mrs Barrow the (rather spoilt) wife of Dr Benjamin Barrow and Miss Paul, daughter of the teacher Joseph Paul, who had travelled the world and had stories to tell!

Tea at three after the walk was a welcome refreshment with cakes galore. Sixty two meringues as well as numerous sponges, cup cakes, flap jacks and swiss rolls were devoured over the two days.

The weather held out for Sunday, even warmer and more sunshine during the walks, a repeat of Saturday’s performances.

We were delighted to welcome representatives of Grave Concerns, Wendy and Nicki, who put up an interesting display of their work and were on hand all weekend to talk to people about tending and caring for their graves. On Sunday they could be seen starting to tend a grave in the Old Cemetery, work commissioned as a result of the Open Days.

We were also very pleased to welcome members of the Totland and Freshwater Group, a small fledgling West Wight group, and be able to share our Group’s experiences and activities with them. Our friends from Northwood Cemetery were welcome visitors and were among the many visitors over the weekend.

Historical fun was had by all!

Many thanks to all our volunteers – those who made and set up the displays, helped on the days and were there to dismantle the exhibitions afterwards. We couldn’t do it without you.

You can see more photos of the Open Days on our gallery page. Photography of the event by Barry Sowerby (of Friends of Northwood Cemetery), Carol Strong and Dave Bushell.