Holywell Cemetery

Holywell Cemetery

Holywell Cemetery (sometimes called Holy Cross Cemetery) which opened in 1848 should not be confused with the ancient churchyard of St Cross Church which shares a boundary wall with it. (To add to the confusion, St Cross Church is often described as Holywell Church.)

By the 1840s the parish churchyards of Oxford were all full, and in 1848 three parish cemeteries were opened in Oxford (Osney, St Sepulchre, and Holywell).

Holywell Cemetery occupies land provided by Merton College off St Cross Road (formerly Church Street) to the east of St Cross Church. It was consecrated in 1848 for the use of six parishes: All Saints, St John the Baptist, St Mary the Virgin, St Martin's, St Peter-in-the-East, and St Cross Church. A large number of Oxford colleges are included in these parishes, and hence many eminent people are buried here, including 32 heads of houses.

Originally the cemetery had its own chapel, but it was demolished to make room for more burials. It can be seen here in the photograph below, taken by Henry Taunt in 1885 (Historic England CC51/00049):

Below: This map of 1900, with the boundaries of “Holy Cross Cemetery” marked in yellow, shows where the cemetery chapel was:

Map of Holywell Cemetery in 1900

Cemetery lodge

Cemetery lodge

In 1850 a lodge was built where the keeper of the cemetery (originally known as the porter) lived. In the late nineteenth century the job was held by three members of one family:

  • In 1871 Thomas Blagrove (70) was the porter, living here with his wife Martha (73).
  • In 1881 Martha Blagrove (83), now a widow, was the porteress here, and her unmarried daughter Martha Seaton (53), who was a schoolmistress, lived here with her, as well as two boarders.
  • By 1891 Miss Martha Seaton (73) was the porteress
  • From 1896 William Margetts Miller was the keeper here, and following his death in 1916 he was succeeded by his life until she retired in 1931.

The last keeper (to 1931) was Mrs Elizabeth Miller, and the lodge became part of St Cross College. (This college moved to St Giles' in 1981 and its buildings are now occupied by Balliol College.)

In December 2022 the Secretary of State for Justice, acting on an application by the incumbent and churchwardens, applied to the Privy Council for an Order requriing the discontinuance of burials here.

Some interesting grave markers

The following colleges of the University were in the area covered by Holywell Cemetery: Brasenose, Corpus Christi, Hertford (Magdalen Hall to 1874), Lincoln, Magdalen, Merton, New College, Oriel, Queen's, St Edmund Hall, University College, and Wadham College (Christ Church being extraparochial). This helps to explain why 87 people buried in graves in Holywell Cemetery, plus another eight who had cremation burials, have entries in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography::

People listed in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
who are buried in Holywell Cemetery

Acland grave

See also:
  • Holywell Cemetery official website
  • Burial grounds in Oxford
  • Annotated list of over 1200 burials in Holywell complied in the 1980s by Peter Bostock (1911–1999): three volumes with an alphabetical index available in the Oxfordshire History Centre
  • Alastair Lack, “The Valhalla of Oxford” in Oxfordshire Limited Edition, March 2010





Right: Dr Acland’s grave

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© Stephanie Jenkins

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