Cemetery in £5m rescue to reopen

A Victorian garden cemetery which suffered from neglect and the threat of redevelopment will officially reopen this week following a £5m rescue and restoration programme.

The Arnos Vale cemetery in Bristol contains listed buildings and monuments and has become an important refuge for urban wildlife including three species of bat, foxes, a family of badgers, and possibly roe deer.

The 45-acre site was laid out in the 19th century in the style of a classical Greek landscape and became the final resting place of 300,000 people after it opened in 1839.

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But it fell into disuse and disrepair in the 20th century, becoming overgrown as funding and maintenance dwindled, and reports emerged in the 1980s of plans to clear a large area for commercial development, prompting concerned locals to launch a bid to save the site.

As a result of their efforts, the "Victorian gem" will officially reopen on Thursday with restored grounds, monuments and buildings, complete with a small museum and visitor and education facilities.

The restoration has uncovered rare ornaments including a delicate porcelain wreath, known as an "immortelle", and a butterfly and lily stem decorating one monument.

The rescue has enabled new exhibits to go on display in the former non-conformist chapel, which now houses the museum, including a restored cremation furnace and bone crusher dating from the 1920s-1930s, when the cemetery was among the first in the country to take advantage of new laws allowing Christian cremations.

Among the 300,000 buried at the cemetery are more than 600 British and Allied soldiers, sailors and airmen from the First and Second World Wars and older conflicts, including three who received the Victoria Cross.

Also laid to rest at the site were health pioneer Dr William Budd, educational and social reformer Mary Carpenter and Raja

Ram Mohan Roy, a leading Indian reformer who is often described as the "father" of modern India.

The site contains grassland and woodland habitat and is important for wildlife, with species ranging from slow worms to lichen making the cemetery their home.