Before the Cremation Act of 1902, which permitted cremation on the British Isles, burial was the only way that local authorities could dispose of their dead. Due to the population boom which took place in the nineteenth century, local authorities were struggling to keep up with demand.
In St Austell, the problem was first encountered towards the end of the eighteenth century. Throughout the 1700s the cost of burials gradually rose in the local church, presumably in an attempt to limit numbers. At the beginning of the century the cost of a burial inside the church had been 3s 4d (less than 20p in today’s money) but by 1772 the price had risen to four guineas in order to reduce the “great injury” such burials caused to the fabric of the church. Outside the church the effect was even more dramatic. Bodies were piled up top of one another causing the ground level in the churchyard to constantly rise. Something had to be done.
In 1793, the government approved a new burial ground in High Cross Street. Land described as “High Cross Field and Enclosure” was purchased from William Flamank for £38-17s. Flamank also received three fields known locally as Polkeys (presumably Polkyth) from the Parish Council in exchange for the High Cross Field. At this stage only the area already enclosed by a stone wall was to be used for burials while the rest of the land was to be used as a “public fair place”.
The new burial ground reduced the pressure on the church, however, interments continued there until 1811 when the fee was increased to £50 and as intended burials ceased. Many locals were outraged to see the bones of their relatives dug up and moved to High Cross Street. Samuel Drew, the famous Cornish Methodist theologian, remembered a woman visiting his cobbler’s shop in tears, saying “Oh Sir I had a child buried in the churchyard, they have carried it away and I have been told that if we do not lie in the same ground, we shall not rise together on the last day”.
As the pressure had been relieved the area around the church could be tidied up. In 1839 the slope in front of the church was cut back, burial remains were removed, a retaining wall was built and Church Street took on its present appearance. However, the new cemetery had already been filled to capacity, and thus, earlier in 1821, the “Fair Place” was taken over for an extension.
With the population of St Austell still growing, even this space was proving inadequate. By the 1870s a completely new cemetery was needed. A four acre site was purchased at Watering Hill (Alexandra Road) at a cost of £2,500. No longer associated with any particular church or denomination, it was managed by a joint burial committee of the Urban District and Parish Councils.
Two further changes were made to create the open space we see today. In the 1960s all the tombstones were moved back to the surrounding walls. In 2008 the whole area was given a facelift to create Town Park with newly designed wrought-iron gates and a central sundial.