A Gothic heart beats in Bradford, it is eerie, otherworldly and completely breathtaking.
Undercliffe cemetery opened in 1854 coinciding with beginnings of the gothic revival, to which many of it’s monuments display an absolute affinity. Upon the main promenade with it’s spectacular views across Bradford are some fine examples of high Victorian gothic, tall angular buildings with equilateral arches, foliate decoration and mournful verses. It is like being on the set of a vampire film. The sky is overcast and there is the obligatory rain but the weather and darkness of the day suits the cemetery’s aesthetic perfectly and gives it a sense of the unreal.
Sadly the grand Gothic chapels (along with a number of monuments, trees and walls) were demolished in the 1980s when the cemetery was acquired by developers following the liquidation of the private cemetery company. Thankfully Bradford City Council stepped in and the cemetery was subject to a compulsory purchase order thus saving this Victorian gem from complete destruction.
The layout of Undercliffe is more akin to Loudon’s vision of the cemetery than any other I have visited on this trip, plots are laid out on a grid and path and carriageways are more direct and less fluid than those of Kensal Green, whose layout is more decadent in the use of space. Undercliffe has a very ordered feel, fittingly redolent of our assumptions of Victorian society in general.
Amidst the very ‘pointy’ monuments are some surprises, the Holden family mausoleum has a classical feel, topped by a cupola it is reminiscent of a Roman basillica. Whilst other monuments mirror the styles witnessed in much earlier cemeteries featuring classically dressed weeping ladies in beautifully draped gowns.
A secondary reason for my visit to the county of my birth, was to undertake a visit of a more familial kind. My Mum and I, having discussed my project decided to visit to Dewsbury cemetery to try to locate the grave of my Mum’s grandparents and great grandparents. My Mum seemed to find it instinctively and was quite overcome with emotion as we discovered that the grave held seven family members in total. Having looked at so many memorials in a detached and analytical way, visiting a family grave I had not seen before was very moving and an experience I’m glad to have had.