Philips Park Cemetery is adjacent to Philips Park, on the northern side of the River Medlock which separates them. Like Philips Park, it has been listed by English Heritage as a grade II site on the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England – it was added to the register in July 2002, one year after its neighbour.
Philips Park Cemetery was Manchester’s first municipal public cemetery when it opened in 1866, though work was in fact not completed on its grounds and structures until the following year. Manchester Corporation had held an open competition in 1863 for the design of a cemetery to the north of the River Medlock; from forty entries submitted, Manchester architects Paull and Ayliffe’s designs for the buildings and William Gay of Bradford’s designs for the grounds were chosen. Manchester Corporation recruited unemployed cotton mill workers to carry out the laying out and planting work.
The site was divided into separate areas for different denominations, with the largest portion (8 hectares) at the western end, nearest to town and the main entrance, for the Church of England. Dissenters, or non-conformists, had the 5.5 hectare centre portion, and Roman Catholics a 3 hectare portion at the eastern end. Each portion had its own mortuary chapel, all built in the gothic revival style but to different designs. A fourth mortuary chapel and burial area, for Jews, was later added. Of the four mortuary chapels, only the Anglican chapel now remains.
The bodies laid to rest in Manchester’s first municipal public cemetery did not all rest easily. Early in the cemetery’s history, in the summer of 1872, torrential rains caused floods that disinterred many bodies, carrying them along the river. In response to the flooding, work began on the red terracotta-brick channel, which has since carried the river between the park and adjoining cemetery.
In addition to the listed status of the cemetery itself, four of Paull and Ayliffe’s original gothic revival-style structures are listed as grade II monuments: the gates and piers of the main entrance at the junction of Alan Turing Way and Briscoe Lane, the cemetery office and lodge to the north of the main entrance, and the Anglican mortuary chapel which is sited on high ground 190m north-east of the main entrance.
The cemetery also contains a number of graves of historic interest, have a look at the famous graves section. These include two survivors of the 1854 Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War, a soldier who received the Victoria Cross for bravery at the battle of Rorke’s Drift in 1879 (famously dramatised in the 1964 film ‘Zulu’), and a family who perished during the 1915 sinking of the liner Lusitania, an act that would contribute to the United States’ decision to enter the First World War.
The main pedestrian entrance to Philips Park Cemetery is at its western end, at the junction of Alan Turing Way and Briscoe Lane. There is also a pedestrian footbridge crossing the Medlock from the north east of Philips Park. There are vehicle entrances to the north on Riverpark Road.
The cemetery opens for visitors from 9am on weekdays and from 10am on Saturday, Sunday, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Bank Holidays, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and on any other public holiday when the cemetery is closed for interments. The cemetery closes at different times depending on the season: for more information visit the Manchester City Council website.