Ford Park Cemetery: Celebrating 70 Years of the NHS – 09/06/2018

Ford Park Cemetery is in the centre of Plymouth, adjacent to Central Park. Founded in 1848, Ford Park Cemetery today is 34.5 acres (140000 m2) and has a wealth of Victorian and military heritage. With wildflower gardens that give shelter to an abundance of urban wildlife, it is easy to forget you are less than a kilometre from the city centre when walking through the maze of tombstones.

Wildflowers and tombstones lead the way to the Victorian chapel on a sunny day

As you would expect in a navy town like Plymouth, Ford Park Cemetery also has an abundant military heritage. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) honours the 1.7 million men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the First and Second World Wars, and ensures they will never be forgotten. More than 960 Commonwealth servicemen and women are buried in Ford Park Cemetery, with over 750 of those during the Great War. The Cross of Sacrifice at the entrance to the park (Lodge Gate) commemorates them, and as you walk through the cemetery, dozens of CWGC headstones can be found.

The Cross of Sacrifice – a CWGC memorial to those who died in service and are buried in the cemetery

Ford Park Cemetery was partly opened in response to the Cholera Pandemics of the nineteenth century, and in the first year of use over 400 victims were buried in the grounds. Today over 250000 former residents of Plymouth and the surrounding areas are buried there. This wealth of medical history was precisely the reason for my visit this weekend; the visitor centre is currently holding an exhibition – Celebrating 70 Years of the NHS in Plymouth.

Visitor centre

This exhibit examines what the NHS and healthcare mean to the city. Research and information are in two areas. Firstly, the history of the NHS from 1958-Present at a national level. Secondly, it details at a local level. The exhibit provides a dissection of local hospital care within the city – from the early naval hospital through to the development of Derriford, and the subsequent closing of other local services as they became relocated.

Celebrating 70 Years of the NHS in Plymouth

I won’t go into it in more detail, as I feel you should visit yourself. I enjoyed it though, and crucially I learned a lot ranging from Plymouth pre-Derriford hospital, something I wasn’t born to see, to some of the pioneering surgeries that have been performed in the local area, something I was completely unaware of. These exhibitions are put up for free, by volunteers. Donations are welcome, and all go towards the running and maintenance of the park. You have until July 8th to find out more!

The Victorian Chapel

After the exhibit, and looking to stretch my legs I enjoyed the cemetery as it has been enjoyed by Plymouthians for years – a place to walk and enjoy a summer afternoon. Walking through the tombstones it is impossible to not wonder about the local history that is buried here. With plenty of park benches you can stop and enjoy the calm and wildlife at leisure as well; I even read my book for an hour – resulting in a proper janner tan! For readers who are not from Plymouth, I got sunburnt. To a crisp.

A stunning afternoon for a local walk

Local spaces like this are special and need local support. Ford Park Cemetery Trust is a registered charity and relies on donations to keep this wonderful place open. Please go and visit, but tread carefully and remember where you are. After all, many of the interred laid their lives for us.

A. W. Felton died in the Great War. Just one of the hundreds of war graves.

With the exhibits changing frequently, and a range of events from guided walks to a Summer Fayre, it won’t be long until I come back to mill around the grounds once more. Until then, I leave you with one final shot of the wildflowers that encourage the local fauna, and as always the various sources I referred to while either planning this trip or writing this blog post.

Watch this space!

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The wildflower growth gives the graveyard a look much older than it is

Credit is due to the following resources used for reference while either planning my walk or researching my finds: