The Friends of Key Hill Cemetery was established in 2004 by a small group of people who were concerned at the deterioration of the cemetery and alarmed at the potential loss of an important part of Birmingham’s heritage. In 2009 Warstone Lane Cemetery was included, combining both the Jewellery Quarter Cemeteries. The Friends do maintenance work in the cemeteries, raise money for memorial repairs, do research and help people find their family graves. They run tours, hold open days and have stalls at events like history fairs.
We asked some long-term members of the Friends how and why they got involved:
Colin has been involved in the Jewellery Quarter for a long time, because of his links to the fantastic Pen Museum. It was during the early days of the Pen Museum that Colin first visited Key Hill Cemetery. He was taking photographs in the Jewellery Quarter when he wandered into the cemetery and immediately ‘just loved it’. Colin has done lots of research into people buried in the cemetery over the years. This started with pen makers like Joseph Gillott and a request he got from a family in the USA. Once he got started he just carried on from there and shows no signs of stopping yet (he’s looked at sections A to L so far!) In addition to research, Colin has done a great deal of practical work in the cemeteries over the years – beginning with help from some other Pen Museum volunteers on Saturdays – he said that when they started it was really almost ‘derelict’. Colin can still be found in the cemeteries almost every week, clearing graves and helping families locate their ancestors.
Margaret owns a property in Key Hill Drive, so got involved with the Friends group after seeing an article about the cemetery in the paper. She initially asked the Friends group why the end near Key Hill Drive looked so overgrown, and they explained that they didn’t have enough volunteers to clear the whole cemetery so were focusing on the areas with more famous names and there was ‘no-one important’ in those sections. Margaret soon got stuck in herself, tidying graves and planting so her tenants would have flowers to look at! She keeps coming back after so many years because she ‘always meets delightful people’ and ‘everyone stops to help’ when she is doing work!
Jacqui has been involved in the Friends for a long time too, having first joined after attending a talk about the Jewellery Quarter and enquiring about the organisation. She has a strong interest in genealogy and has discovered a number of relatives buried in the cemeteries. She loved to help other members of the Friends with their family history research as well as public enquiries at history fairs, events and open days.
One of Jacqui’s relatives, who is buried in Key Hill Cemetery (Section U, Grave 207) is her Great Uncle Frederick Wakeling. In support of the Suffragette’s along with fellow men dressed up in their wives and sisters clothes and marched into Birmingham with placards – Votes for Women. This was a story Jacqui grew up with but sadly has not been able to find mentioned in the newspapers. Luckily, the family do have this wonderful photograph of Frederick when he was ready for the march.
Richard knows Professor Peter Leather from University of Birmingham who was giving a talk to the Friends at their AGM about a book of Ghost stories he had published. Richard went along to support Peter and got chatting with a few people and they mentioned they were looking for volunteers to help with clean up days. After attending one, he discovered he had relatives buried in both cemeteries (a Great Great Grandfather and his wife at Warstone Lane, and a Great Aunt in Key Hill Cemetery). He then started going regularly and when the Friends were short of a tour guide be stepped in to help out until someone more permanent came forward – he’s still waiting for that to happen!
Helen met Jacqui and Margaret at the Birmingham Lives History Fair where they had a stall. Jacqui asked her if she could help for a few minutes on the stall while they had a break. She then later helped out on a stall at the JQ Festival and is now a fixture on event days. She enjoys the history of the cemeteries and loves the way people react when they realise the Friends can help them trace their ancestors graves.
She was already quite familiar with the cemeteries due to family connections:
“I can remember as a child visiting my grandmother in a back to back house in Icknield Street , and passing Key Hill Cemetery and can remember seeing the chapel at the top of the pathway at the entrance , even then it held a fascination for me! I also had an aunt that lived off Pitsford Street at the side of the Cemetery – it had a window that overlooked the cemetery, and she used to sit there with her knitting watching the funerals!
My mothers parents are buried in Warstone Lane Cemetery , and my grandmothers funeral was the first I ever attended (I was about 20). The grave is by the chapel entrance near Warstone Lane railings, some years ago my cousin and I were looking around the cemetery when we went to look for the grave (it has no headstone) we were looking at the plots and followed the numbers , walked over a mound that was next to it, only to find a body on top of it! Someone was fast asleep on the grave surrounded by beer bottles, we beat a hasty retreat and left the visit for another time!”
To find out more about the Friends, or to become a member, please visit their website.