The Halifax General Cemetery was planned as a commercial enterprise, answering a much needed demand for burial space outside the now overcrowded churchyards of the town.
The process began on 5th May 1836, with an advertisement in the Halifax Express for a meeting convened to form a committee. Shares were sold at £5 each. Among the many shareholders were the Crossley brothers with a sizeable holding. Three acres of land were purchased outside the western limits of the town, in an area of fields, tenterfields and pleasure gardens. Work began on the design and construction of a neo-classical chapel, a lodge where the cemetery manager would live, workshops for the stone-masons, and an underground structure of crypts in the upper section. The cemetery was opened in 1841.
The grounds were designed, according to the ideas of the time, not only as a burial ground but as a pleasant environment for contemplative walks. It was planted up with trees and shrubs, the view point over Halifax to the hills being enhanced by a terrace and ornamental steps which divided the cemetery into two sections. An upper section comprising an underlying structure of walled crypts and the lower section where graves were conventionally dug into the ground. But there is not a simple division of wealth here. In the upper section there is a broad mix of trades and professions, while families of considerable social standing also used the lower area alongside many who could not afford a headstone or who were buried in public graves. For all its simplicity, the cemetery became the last resting place of some 20,000 individuals, forming a complete cross-section of Halifax society of the time.
The Grade II listed cemetery stands within the People’s Park Conservation Area, which includes the Peoples Park, Park Road, Crossley House (formerly Bellevue), Park Church, West Hill Model Village, Arden Road Almshouses and various mid-Victorian streets and mills.
It was the first non-denominational burial ground in the area and its prospectus stated that people of any religion or of none could be buried here, so long as it was done with dignity. The cemetery committee retained flexibility to charge reduced rates to the poor and to ensure that all got a proper burial.
By the 1960s the Halifax General Cemetery had become the property and responsibility of the council. The cemetery was full (the last burial having taken place in 1963) and with no further burials possible there was no income from which to manage the place. Stoney Royd, established in the 1860s, had taken over as the main place of burial in Halifax, while cremation had also become a popular option.
As happened to other Victorian cemeteries across the country, the cemetery already neglected, was abandoned, and gradually went back to the wild. In the 1980s it did receive some attention from Manpower Services, but was again abandoned to fly-tipping and abuse. Since 2000 the Friends group has been caring for it, with support from Calderdale Bereavement Services when their limited funds permitted.