Ref no41455
TitleRecords of the Bristol General Cemetery Company [Arnos Vale Cemetery]
DescriptionThe collection comprises administrative records of the company, records of burials and cremations, plan books, and other related papers.

Please note that access to the burial and cremation registers and indexes will be via digital images in our public searchroom in order to protect the original volumes. We cannot undertake searches on behalf of researchers however - those requests must be directed to the Arnos Vale Cemetery Trust.

Please note that some individual documents have been restricted for a nominal 50 years, as although they relate to deceased persons, they also mention or were completed by family members who may still be alive, and include information that would not have been expected to be made publically available.
Administrative historyArnos Vale Cemetery was set up in 1837 through a private Act of Parliament establishing the Bristol General Cemetery Company. It was to be a garden cemetery, inspired by the Père-Lachaise in Paris and London's Kensal Green. At that time, Bristol's old parish graveyards were overcrowded and a health hazard. The Bristol General Cemetery Company was set up to provide a less cramped alternative. The company bought land in the outlying village of Brislington and the neo-classical architect Charles Underwood designed it to resemble a Greek necropolis.

When the Burial Act of 1853 finally closed the old city churchyards, Arnos Vale was the only significant large place of burial in Bristol until Greenbank Cemetery was opened in 1871.

By the early 20th century, the prospect of a full cemetery with nowhere to expand was one of the factors that encouraged the Company to introduce the first crematorium in the West of England. This opened in 1929, using the crypt of the non-conformist chapel to house part of it, and further buildings were added around it in the 1950s.

The cemetery includes war graves for more than 600 British and Allied soldiers, sailors and airmen from both world wars and older conflicts. These include three recipients of Britain’s highest award for valour, the Victoria Cross, and veterans who survived the battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo.

By the 1980s, Arnos Vale had become the last resting place for more than 300,000 people. However later that decade, like other Victorian cemeteries, the cemetery reached a critical situation with fewer burials and a preference for cremation. In Bristol, there was also serious competition from the more up-to-date and efficient municipal facilities. Income fell and there was less money to pay for staff and maintenance. Changes in social outlook led to vandalism and indifference. Many of the memorials toppled and the grounds became overgrown. Weeds and brambles closed many of the pathways.

In 1987, alarmed by a press report that the private owner of the cemetery had announced aspirations to clear and commercially develop a large section of it, a group of concerned locals came together to form the Association for the Preservation of Arnos Vale Cemetery (APAC), later changed to Friends of Arnos Vale Cemetery (FAVC). They campaigned to secure a safe future for Arnos Vale, supported by Bristol City Council, Bristol citizens and many people worldwide.

1998 saw Arnos Vale Cemetery reaching crisis point as it lost its cremation licence, and the owners announced they were closing the cemetery and locking the gates. In the event, bowing to public pressure, the office was closed down, but the gates were left unlocked. Volunteers took responsibility for opening and closing the gates on a daily basis.

After years of lobbying to save the cemetery and transfer it to protected ownership and management, a group called the Arnos Vale Cemetery Trust (AVCT) was established in 2000 as part of a regeneration steering group.

In April 2001, convinced by the high level of public pressure, Bristol City Council made a compulsory purchase order (CPO), after negotiations with the owner to buy the cemetery had failed. A prolonged legal battle eventually upheld the order and the ownership of Arnos Vale Cemetery passed into the hands of Bristol City Council on 7 August 2003.

The cemetery was then leased back to Arnos Vale Cemetery Trust, formally registered as a charity in 2007, to maintain and manage. The records of the former Bristol General Cemetery Company were transferred to Bristol Archives and this collection contains those records.

[The majority of this administrative history has been taken from the heritage section of]
Access statusMixed
Access conditionsData Protection Act 1998
Related materialSee collection 45207 for records of the successor organisation the Arnos Vale Cemetery Trust, and collection 45068 for records of the Friends of Arnos Vale Cemetery.
Custodial historyReceived from Bristol General Cemetery Company as a deposit in July 2000 but later became official council records in September 2007 in accordance with the issuing of a Statutory Instrument of 03/09/2007, transferring ownership to Bristol City Council
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