Sue Standing, chairman of Friends of Heene Cemetery, and her husband Peter. Picture: Steve Robards SR2009233

Friends of Heene Cemetery launch website after five years of conservation work at the Worthing burial ground

Volunteers who have been caring for Heene Cemetery for the past five years have launched a website so people can see all the information they have uncovered through painstaking research.

By Elaine Hammond
Thursday, 24th September 2020, 10:05 am
Updated Thursday, 24th September 2020, 10:28 am

Friends of Heene Cemetery was formed in November 2014 and until now, people have been able to follow its activities at the closed cemetery only on Facebook.

Sue Standing, chairman, said: “Following a generous donation from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, we launched our brand new website on Saturday, September 12. The website includes an extended database of burial information, conservation work and how we are encouraging the natural habitat for the many creatures that thrive within the cemetery.”

The Friends’ work is very much a balance of heritage and conservation, alongside the spiritual nature of the cemetery.

There are about 2,000 people buried there, including families who worked at the nearby windmill when the area was farmland and wealthy businessmen from the Victorian era.

Among these is Edward McLaughlin, great-great-grandfather of the film director Guy Ritchie. A retired major general, he was living in Byron Hall, in Byron Road, Worthing, when he died on October 26, 1912.

The grave of Cyrus Elliott, the fourth burial in the cemetery, on March 14, 1874, gleams like new. He was a surgeon, the man who built the ivy arch of Ivy Arch Road fame.

Another notable local name is William Wenban Smith, who died on January 17, 1901. In 1871, he was listed as a builder employing 17 men and four boys, and five years later, he set up the builders merchant Wenban Smith, still in operation in Worthing today.

Sadly, his wife Elizabeth died on May 26, 1883, aged 37, and their newborn baby Mabel died two months later, on July 20, 1883. Beside them are buried two other daughters, Florence, who died in 1887 aged 15, and Louise, who died in 1893 aged 19.

Information such as this has been discovered through the volunteers’ research and so far, they have details of around 200 people buried at the cemetery.

Sue said: “That is what the website is about and it is the culmination of five years’ work, to show people what we have found.

“Friends of Heene Cemetery are celebrating our fifth year of collecting historical information on burials and important conservation work at Heene Cemetery.

“We want to show the hard work that volunteers have put in to rejuvenate this historic cemetery. When we came in, there was eight years of bramble growth covering the whole site.

“Our next step is to formulate our plan for the next five years.”

The group was started by Dianne Guest when she was a borough councillor for Heene, with the help of Tom Wye, and she brought together a team of volunteers.

Sue had often passed by with her Nordic walking group and was quick to sign up, as she was keen to see the brambles cleared.

There is now a team of 15 helpers who work in the cemetery, including Sue’s husband Peter, and a further five researchers.

Sue explained the farm fields became a graveyard after a large part of the manor of Heene was sold off for development. A business syndicate gave the money for a new church at St Botolph’s in 1873 and an area nearby, further down Manor Road, was set aside for a burial ground.

She said: “It was quite a wealthy area. From the map, the early burials were all a bit haphazard. There seems to be no logic to the first 50 burials.

“The cemetery was closed in 1977 by order of the Queen because it was full up. At that point, it became the responsibility of the council, though there are war graves that the War Graves Commission look after.”

In the late 1980s, there were plans to turn the area into a park but in the end, these were stopped because it was decided it was too expensive. At the time, the Sussex Family History Group documented every single inscription and memorial, which has given the Friends a good start on their research.

Visit www.heenecemetery.org.uk for more information.

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