[know it by heart]The hidden overgrown cemetery in the heart of Cardiff few people know is there

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  If you’re a self-professed lover of all things eerie and live in Cardiff, you won’t have to venture too far to get your fix of the macabre.

  Visitors to Llandaff Cathedral may have spied a stone bridge leading from the grounds into a seemingly abandoned graveyard.

  Those who dare to enter will find themselves greeted by a huge yew tree in the middle of a crossroads, its gnarled roots exposed atop a circular stone bed. What you'll find is a hidden overgrown graveyard few know about that is packed full of history.

  Read more: The macabre reason for the numbers on these paving slabs in Cardiff city centre

  Three more beaten paths lead from the crossroads to other huge yew trees. As you walk along them, the tops of several old tombstones peek over the overgrown brambles – the undergrowth being so thick that they are now largely inaccessible.


  One of the Yew trees

  (Image: Steffan Rhys/WalesOnline)

  The names of the dead are barely visible – not only because of the dense foliage but also the poor condition of the stone carvings – however those which you can read, date as far back as the mid 19th Century.

  Apart from the trampling of shrubs leading to some gravestones and the occasional grave offering, there is little evidence the burial ground is currently used or visited for its intended purpose.

  Now, it seems to be the haunt of mainly walkers, archivists, historians – and even seekers of the paranormal.

  A small sign next to the bridge informs visitors that it was designed by Welsh architect John Prichard and “built in 1860 to provide access across the Mill Stream to a new ‘Transpontine’ burial ground, on land purchased from Lord Bute by the Burial Board for Llandaff”.


  Some of the gravestones in the cemetery

  (Image: Steffan Rhys/WalesOnline)

  Nevil James, a former archivist for Llandaff Cathedral, has been investigating the burial ground for a number of years, along with a group of other parishioners.

  He explained that the ground was acquired for use as a graveyard due to a lack of space in the churchyard as demand for burials grew over time.

  An annual report by the Friends of Llandaff Cathedral in 1988 – which Mr James contributed to – explains that throughout the 18th century the number of recorded internments at Llandaff remains constant, an average of 16 a year.

  But when Cardiff's population began exploding from the early years of the 19th Century, more people settled in the parish of Llandaff. This resulted in burials here doubling by 1845, then again by 1856, and yet again by the mid-60s.

  “This church was the centre of a big parish which had a number of churches, and a lot of them still exist,” said the 92-year-old.

  “And these were built to meet the big growing population in the industrial revolution – but none of them had a graveyard.

  “So they all came here. Our registers here are a combination of people living in Llandaff who died here and people who died in these outlying parishes which were part of Llandaff.”


  The site has been used for hundreds of years

  (Image: Steffan Rhys/WalesOnline)

  When you access the Transpontine burial ground via Prichard’s bridge, you arrive at its centre point.

  The paths lead to four different sections of the graveyard, with smaller paths branching off from each section. This labyrinth arrangement was deliberately designed for the accessibility of a funeral party to the grave.

  “The reason the bridge is there is because it’s opposite a door out of the cathedral,” explained Mr James.

  “When people have a burial service, they would likely come out down here to this point, then would go out to whatever space they had in the Transpontine burial ground.

  “A funeral carriage can come down here and turn to either of the main arteries. There are other lesser arteries which come off the main ones.”

  Though the area looks like it is slipping into oblivion, it boasts some important figures with lasting reputations, such as the Insole family.


  The site has a long and vast history

  (Image: Steffan Rhys/WalesOnline)

  By the 1880s, the burial ground had also become too full, so the burial board established a municipal cemetery next to it – accessible via one of the paths from the centre of the Transpontine.

  But, with people able to acquire a grave space for future use when they died, burials were still being made in the Transpontine after that – some more recently than you may think.

  “There were spaces still being used here since the Second World War, only because they were owned by somebody and there was still space in them,” said Mr James.

  “You don’t just put one person in a grave and go away. Very often a family grave will have several burials over a period of several generations.

  “There have been burials here within the past ten years. You can still open a grave here, but you won’t get a new one.”


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  Sometime after the Second World War, the cathedral was relieved of responsibility for the burial ground and it was ceded to the city council, which is still in charge of it today.

  As for the intriguing yew trees, Mr James is adamant they’re down to Prichard’s transformation of old agricultural land.

  “Prichard not only built the bridge, he laid out the landscaping. So the majority of the old trees here were planted as part of Prichard’s plan – including the yew trees.


  Some of the overgrown gravestones

  (Image: Steffan Rhys/WalesOnline)

  “The thought of yew trees and laying out of a graveyard like this is very much a Victorian thing.”

  But others believe the yew trees point to more ancient, pre-Christian usage of the area.

  Gabriel Strange-Wood, the founder of ParaDocs – a ghost hunting team which investigates the paranormal in South Wales and the UK – said the use of yew trees was a very common pre-Christian practice in graveyards.

  ”It was it was believed that yew trees would stop the dead from rising again,” the 47-year-old said.

  ”It's difficult to determine the age of the yew trees on the stones because the roots have been constrained. So they could be anything from four to 500 years old.

  ”We’ve done estimates on the circumference of the biggest tree in there – that’s nearly 1,000 or just over a 1,000 years old.”

  Gabriel also believes the stone bridge is significant for understanding the history of the site.

  ”It seems there is an old foundation to the bridge. There’s a modern-ish stone top, but looking down there’s a layer of really old stones underneath.”

  According to Gabriel, the orientation of the four main paths from the centre of the burial ground should also not be overlooked.

  “The paths in the old part of the graveyard point at 23.5 degrees on the summer solstice, which means that the sun rises directly up the main path and all the way down it,” he said.


  A gravestone standing above the overgrowth

  (Image: Steffan Rhys/WalesOnline)

  ”This is more common with Iron-age Celtic sun worship – things like that. I’ve got a suspicion that there was something there before – a site of worship – which lines up with other Celtic Iron-age sun worship sites.

  “Churches were often built on pagan worship sites, as a way to try and erase the non-Christian beliefs – to reuse the site to give people a reason to come to the same place but for a different religion.”

  Whatever the true history of the burial ground, the archivist and ghost hunter agree on one thing – that it's worth exploring this hidden gem in the heart of the city.

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