Windleshaw Cemetery (now known as St. Helens Cemetery), opened in 1858, is a cemetery of special historic interest designed by Thomas Denville Barry.
Twenty acres of land known as Arnolds Farm owned by Sir Robert Gerard of Garswood was purchased for £300.00 per acre with immediate possession.
Edwin Knight of Manchester was appointed to carry out earthworks, fencing and laying out and planting for the sum of £2618.0.0d. John Middlehurst of St. Helens was to construct the buildings for the sum of £4200.12s 3d.
Edward Kemp, a nationally renowned designer, was requested to prepare a plan for planting the cemetery and to superintend this work
The site was laid out with two main curving drives, forming a heart shape, with informal paths linking and leading off from the formal heart shaped arrangement.
The Church of England mortuary chapel was sited at the head of an axial approach drive. This single storey stone chapel is in the Decorated Gothic style with a short bell tower above the main south east door. The design of 1856 is by Thomas Denville Barry and is the only remaining of three mortuary chapels which he designed for the cemetery.
The site of the Roman Catholic mortuary chapel is indicated by low stone walls enclosing a raised lawn area near to Section 23. The site of the Non-conformist chapel is identified by a raised lawned area close to Section 4.
The principal entrance is from Hard Lane. There are two lodges with steeply pitched blue slate roofs which are of similar design in coursed stone rubble. In this same area is a single storey building with an incised stone bearing the inscription ‘Jubilee 1887’. Large cast iron ornamental gates flanked by stone piers were included in the original design’
There have been several extensions to the cemetery since 1858. In 1912 the cemetery was slightly extended and in the late 1930’s a further extension was added. Between 1959 – 62 the Crematorium and Chapel of Remembrance (architect Harry Bannister) were constructed. Included within the grounds of the crematorium is a Chapel of Remembrance and Memorial Garden.
Designed by local architect Henry Bannister and clad in Portland Stone the chapel contains an impressive collection of Dalle de Verre windows designed by Pierre Fourmaintreaux of Powell & Sons (later Whitefriars Glass).
The window on the north wall depicts a tree in midwinter in contrast with the south side which shows a tree in full bloom – you pass from darkness to light, from death to life. The large west window of many yellow lights represents the good Apostles
The most recent extension to the cemetery was completed in 2010. This new extension, on former farmland bordering the cemetery, was a multimillion pound project which allowed for a further 25 -30 years capacity for the cemetery. The cemetery normally accommodates 800 burials and 2000 plus cremations per annum
The project involved:
Importing 50,000 cubic metres of fill material to raise the ground level
New seating areas, bespoke furniture and signage
Creation of wildflower meadows and lawn areas
Areas designated for vaults and family graves, a children’s section, cremation plots.
Extensive planting of native and ornamental planting
New carriageways, footpaths and boundary treatments
Feature access roundabout Columbarium.
The historic nature of the original cemetery and the landscape design of the new section was always a consideration in the design and planning stage
The graves of many notable local people are located in the original area of the cemetery. Members of the Beecham, Gamble, Bishop, glass manufacturers Pilkington and Varley Foundry families are buried here. There is profusion of 19th and early 20th century monuments lining the main entrance driveway and within the two halves of the heart.
There are many private vaults in the heart shaped burial area. The first person to be buried in the cemetery was Marian Shanks in 1857. She was buried in a private vault before the cemetery was officially opened in 1858. The first official burial (Section 4/38) in 1858 was 11 month old Emily Florence Marsh, the daughter of John Marsh, a draper from Church Street.
5 policemen killed in the line of duty, victims of 19th & 20th century mining accidents, chemical work explosions, railroad and road accidents, tragic events, notable sports people, the famous and the not so famous are interned in the cemetery. The biography of the people of St.Helens and beyond is within the cemetery.
On the Hard Lane main driveway stands a Cross of Sacrifice erected to honour the dead of the WW1.
Three Victoria Cross holder are buried or commemorated in the cemetery: John (Jack) Molyneux V.C. Sergeant, 2nd Battalion, Royal Fusiliers; John Thomas Davies V.C. Corporal, 11th (S) Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment; and Frederick William Hall V.C. Company Sergeant Major, 8th Bn. (90th Rifles
There are many distinguished medal holders and heroes from both World Wars and other conflicts including, Indonesia, Northern Ireland and Afghanistan buried in the cemetery. A veteran from The Indian Mutiny of 1857 and a survivor from The Battle of Waterloo lie buried in the cemetery.
More than 300 soldiers, sailors and airmen have Commonwealth War Graves erected in their honour in the cemetery. Many more are commemorated on their family headstones. Soldier, sailors and airmen from foreign lands are also buried in the cemetery.
Of the original 27 sections of the cemetery more than one third of these are pauper or common graves. Thousands of people are buried in these grassland sections which cover large areas of the cemetery. These graves are the burial place for people who did not have the money to pay for a private grave.
In the spring of 1858 the first pauper burial took place in St. Helens Cemetery. This first pauper burial cost 4 shillings and 6 pence, compared to the first burial in a private vault in November 1857 at a total cost of £10.0.6d. An average cost of a private grave at this time was approximately £1.10.0d .
The last common graves were dug in the 1970’s.
All pauper/common sections of the cemetery now have a headstone. The generosity of local stone masons and donations from the public have enabled The Friends of St. Helens Cemetery to erect a headstone on every section
St. Thomas’ Well is indicated on the 1850 Ordnance Survey map and also on the map of 1893/4 as lying outside the cemetery boundary. Since further extensions of the cemetery, St. Thomas’s well now lies within the boundary. It is within a privet hedge, has a low sandstone wall above a sunken shaft which is protected by a metal grating at ground level. It is circular in diameter, twelve feet deep and lined with stone. An inscription with ‘St. Thomas’s Well W. h. e. ‘1798’ can be seen, the initials being that of William and Elizabeth Hill who owned the land adjacent when the well sides were raised. It is said that the water from the well is effective in the curing of sore eyes!