Exeter Dissenters Graveyard Trust has announced today that the Graveyard in Magdalen Street has been bought by the group.
The land was previously owned by Nick Sprague, chief executive of processed fruit company, Cobell & Frobishers Juices, who bought the graveyard off Magdalen Street for £20,000 some five years ago.
Mr Sprague wanted to use the site for social housing after the Unitarian Church sold the land for use by local residents in need but in pre-planning meetings Exeter City Council was opposed.
The trust - a charitable organisation which has been formed for the sole purpose of researching, recording and restoring this important historic site – have acknowledged the generosity both of Mr Sprague in selling the site at considerably below open market value and of the anonymous donor who funded the purchase.
In the period from 1747 to 1853 at least 1300 Dissenters - Protestants who dissented from the strictures of the Anglican Church - were buried in the small plot on the outskirts of the walled city of Exeter. The site was owned by various Church groups until the 1980s when it passed into private ownership. Over the intervening years the site has fallen into neglect and disrepair.
The small rectangular graveyard is situated at the junction of Magdalen Street and Bull Meadow Road, Exeter, within the Southernhay and Friars Conservation Area and within the statutory Exeter Area of Archaeological Importance.
The Graveyard has been bought on behalf of Exeter Dissenters Graveyard Trust by Exeter Historic Buildings Trust and will be passed to EDGT as soon as it is formally incorporated.
The next steps will be an archaeological investigation, firstly to remove rubbish, then to find and check the original tombstones and monuments, enabling the site to be restored as an asset to St Leonards and the City. Volunteers will carry out a lot of the investigation work and will create an archive of the history of the site.
The Council for British Archaeology is making a grant of £1,000 for the investigation work and an application has been made for lottery funding. Donations are also coming from private individuals and from St Leonards Neighbourhood Association, Devon Gardens Trust and Exeter Historic Buildings Trust.
A representative for the trust said: “This is a community project and we would welcome volunteers to help – people with no relevant skills will be as welcome as those with previous experience.”
The new Trust has a website, www.edgt.org.uk and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.