Oystermouth Cemetery - The Early Years by Carol Powell M.A.


Carol Powell

Between 1875 and 1918, when it became part of Swansea, Oystermouth had its own Council, known until 1894 as The Local Board and then as the Oystermouth Urban District Council. In 1875 Parliament had passed another Public Health Act, which stipulated that local areas should form their own Boards and elect their Members 'to co-ordinate and control various aspects of Public Health'. The Offices were to be in 'Mr. Orrin's rooms' at the by-then closed British School premises on the site of today's library. They were to raise a 'rate' and appoint a Medical Officer, an Inspector of Nuisances, Scavengers and take charge of the water supply, street lighting, roads, planning permissions and burials.

The New Cemetery, c1905

The graveyards at All Saints' Church and Paraclete were closed and in 1882, an Oystermouth Burial Board was formed to administer the running of a new cemetery, which would be tucked away in a secluded spot in the valley between Newton and West Cross at Callencroft. It opened in 1883 with the first burial being that of Alfred Carson Gelderd of Waterloo House on 18 March.

Henry Harris was appointed as its first Cemetery Keeper. He had been Farm Bailiff for Henry Crawshay at Llan-y-Llan in Langland, for forty years and was a staunch member of the Congregational Chapel on Newton Road. He married twice and was the father to four daughters and five sons.

His starting salary at the cemetery was one guinea a week with 2/- taken off for his accommodation, rates and taxes. In 1884, the Council decided to discontinue the deduction 'on condition that a room be provided for the meetings of the Board.' In January 1900, his salary was increased to £70 per annum including his rent etc. Under his guidance, the cemetery 'won a reputation as one of the most effectively arranged and beautifully situated burial grounds in the Principality' and he had recently been granted an honorarium by the Council in recognition of his long and faithful service.

After twenty-nine years in charge, he died on 28 July 1911 aged 85. His funeral service was conducted by the Rev. W.J. Zeal of the Castleton Chapel with other prayers said by the Ministers of Paraclete and the Gospel Hall in the cemetery chapel and at the graveside.. The Oystermouth Parish Magazine recorded that 'The Burial Board has lost a faithful servant and the Public a kindly and sympathetic official.'

Shortly afterwards, on 14 August, the Burial Board convened a meeting to discuss the pay, conditions and choice of a successor to the late Mr. Harris. It was finally decided to advertise the post in the Mumbles Press and elsewhere at a salary of 25/- per week including free accommodation etc.

By 7 September, another meeting was called, as by then they had received sixty applications, some from as far afield as the North of England, London and Devonshire. The Committee comprising Messrs David Lloyd, J.R. Down, Henry Beynon, W. Morris, J.H. Morris and John J. Jones, with Chairman, J. Cumming Evans and Clerk, D.W. Thomas, gathered to discuss the matter. Following much debate, it was decided to 'give preference to suitable local men', which narrowed the field down to seven. These were W.G. Harris (Church Park) D.J. Parry (Woodville Road) William Elliott (Church Park) William Hammett (the present grave digger) James Hennessey (Coastguard) James Llewellyn (Newton) and William Williams (Blackpill).

Mr. W G Harris (front centre) and his cemetery staff

The editors would like any information as to the identities of the other five people

which can then be included in the article

A ballot was then held, in which five voted for Mr. Harris, one for Mr. Hammett and one for Mr. Williams. A formal resolution appointing Mr. Harris as the new Cemetery Keeper at a salary of 25/- per week was proposed by W. Morris and seconded by J.H. Morris and was then passed unanimously. Mr. Harris had been Parish Clerk for nearly fifteen years and had previously assisted his father who had been Sexton at All Saints' Church, which meant he said that 'he could almost claim a life-long experience in the conducting of funerals.'

On 17 April 1919, The Mumbles Press carried the announcement above

The Kelly's Trade Directory of 1926 shows William George Harris continuing to work as Cemetery Keeper and living at Coltshill.


Mumbles Press, 3 August 1911, 17 August 1911, 7 September 1911, 14 September 1911

Oystermouth Parish Magazine, August 1911

Kelly's Trade Directory, 1926

Carol Powell, Inklemakers, life in nineteenth-century Oystermouth, 1995

We are grateful to Mrs. Joyce Brown for the photograph of W G Harris

Great War Victoria Cross Recipiant

William Charles Fuller V.C.

received the Victoria Cross during The Great War 1914-18

is buried in the cemetery

Below: Photo of Oystermouth Cemetery map