Opened in 1821, the Rosary was the first non-denominational burial ground in England, and provided a place where people could be laid to rest with the religious rites of their choice, or with none if they so preferred.
Although everyone was entitled to be interred in the churchyard of their parish church, a requirement was that the burial must be conducted by an Anglican clergyman in the manner prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer. Many of those of a non-conformist* persuasion objected to this, and the new Rosary Cemetery provided a viable alternative.
Additional burial space in Norwich was badly needed anyway. The population was increasing rapidly, with a death rate much higher than today, and the burial grounds of many of the city's churches were full to overflowing. This is still evident today at several where the surface of the graveyard has at some time been raised well above the adjacent street level to accommodate yet more remains, some of which were interred only just below the surface. This led to concerns of a public health nature, as at that time most of the city's residents still obtained their water from their local parish pump, many of which were located immediately adjacent to churches. It was feared that rainwater filtering down through the churchyards was being contaminated by the decomposing remains and thus polluting the water supply. The city's first public analyst described the water from the pump at the church of St John Maddermarket as being ‘almost pure essence of churchyard’.
The Rosary was founded and opened by a retired non-conformist minister, Thomas Drummond (1764-1852), and the first burial was the re-interment of his wife, Ann, who had died two years earlier and was first buried at the Octagon Chapel in Colegate. The new cemetery was at first run as a private company with shareholders and subsequently as a trust. In the early years its uptake was slow, but by 1900 some eighteen thousand people had been buried there. Originally just five acres in size and on the site of a former market garden from which it took its name, the Rosary was later extended by a further eight acres, and since 1954 has been managed by Norwich City Council.
* Non-conformists: Protestants whose beliefs and religious practices did not conform to those of the established Church of England, e.g. Baptists, Congregationalists, Methodists, Plymouth Brethren, Presbyterians, Quakers, Unitarians, etc.
The Rosary is a haven for wildlife and a place of tranquility only minutes from the bustle of the city centre.
The only mausoleum in the cemetery is that of celebrated eye surgeon Emanuel Cooper, who died in 1878.