Newport, Isle of Wight
Church Litten graveyard came into being because of an outbreak of plague in 1583 which killed over 200 of the town's 1300 inhabitants. Ordinarily they would have been buried in the graveyard at Carisbrooke, the mother church of Newport, but 200 burials in 18 months was far beyond the capacity of the small village graveyard. Consequently, a new graveyard was created just outside Newport town boundary, using land that had once been an archery range, or butt. The plot became Church Litten cemetery, the church being St Thomas's and 'litten' being the Saxon name for a graveyard.
After 250 years Church Litten graveyard became nearly full and in 1850 Newport Council stopped the creation of new plots and would only allow interment to continue in existing family plots. The cemetery gates were locked, the last recorded burial taking place in 1897. In 1858 the new Mount Joy Cemetery opened and all subsequent interments took place there.
At some point in the 1940s, Newport Council drew up plans to clear the site of monuments and create a recreational space. Before any work could begin, the council was obliged to comply with the 1906 'Open Spaces Act' which required that a record should be made of location, names and dates of any monuments removed.
As a result, in 1944 Church Litten Cemetery was surveyed by Robert Penning, Newport Borough Engineer and Surveyor. He drew up a meticulous plan of the 1202 plot locations, comprising all visible burial plots which ranged in date from 1670 to 1858. He also made a transcript of all legible gravestone inscriptions of each plot shown which he recorded on a numbered plan. The plot plan was subsequently colour coded by Penning to indicate where tombstones recorded a date earlier than 1750 (orange); where the stone was illegible (blue and marked as 'x' in the listing) and where vaults stood (marked 'v' on the plan). The original plan and transcripts are available in the County Records Office.
The gravestones themselves came to an inglorious end; most of them were broken up to be used as paved walks in the new gardens and no trace of them can be seen today. However, in his list of gravestone transcriptions Robert Penning identified what he determined as persons of note (they can be seen as "typed notes" in the listings) and these dozen or so headstones were spared and can still be seen today set against the walls of the gardens.
In 2020, the 21 page list of gravestone inscriptions was transcribed and the worn and faded keyplan was redrawn. The new transcription is searchable within all browsers, Google, Safari, Firefox etc by using the Edit >Find feature or Ctrl+F on Windows PC, Chromebook, or Linux system, or Command+F on a Mac.
This work should not be taken as definitive. It is simply a searchable record of the information as transcribed by Robert Penning and it should be borne in mind that although this new work corrects some errors and discrepancies in Penning's notes and drawings, his work may still contain inaccuracies. For that reason, reference should always be made to the definitive Church Litten burial registers held in the County Records Office. The contents of the registers are also available online on a database of the Isle of Wight Family History, on their website https://www.isle-of-wight-fhs.co.uk.
How the County Press reported the removal of the gravestones :
October 15th, 1955
ADAPTATION OF OLD BURIAL GROUND
Another page in the history of Newport is being written by the hand of the landscape gardener. The 17th-century burial ground at Church Litten is to be converted for use as a garden of rest conveniently situated in the centre of the town. In place of vaults and tombstones will be greensward, shrubbery, footpaths, and a rose garden. The dignity of the garden will be in keeping with its former setting and notable memorials are to be preserved. Newport Town Council have acquired the land, with the adjoining site of Bradley Lodge, demolished in an air raid on April 7th, 1943. With the commendable object of using the two and two thirds acres of land to the best advantage, the council has commissioned an eminent landscape architect, Mr. H. Milner-White. The immediate plan is to convert about nine-tenths of the total area to greensward, interspersed by attractive meandering footpaths. Demolition work and tree felling has been going on for some time and the ground is now ready for cultivation. It is hoped to open the gardens to the public in late 1956, but so much depends on availability of funds, as already costs have exceeded estimates. Filling in vaults, in many places where only single graves were anticipated, has added to the expense, and felling trees has made inroads into the budget. The remaining one-tenth of the site, at the Church Litten end, will be untouched until a further considerable sum is available. The plan is to make of this section a rose pergola, and to include a lily pond and a shelter. Tombstones will be broken up to provide paved walks; at the moment they are stacked at this end of the site, and are likely to remain so for some while. The council are respecting the wishes of the ecclesiastical authorities and also those of many residents by preserving certain memorials. The monument to Valentine Gray, the young chimney sweep who suffered an untimely death in 1822, is to be resited in the rose garden section. A dozen or so other headstones bearing examples of quality carving and lettering, or with similarly notable features, will be preserved around the walls of the garden.