In 1887, the town of Almería ceded in perpetuity, 888 square metres of land to be used as an “English cemetery” for Anglicans who died in the province.
Of course, in the glory days of Queen Vic, this sort of thing was all well and good, but what with civil wars, economic downfalls and the final setting of the sun upon the Empire, the place fell into disuse. The local Brits were usually happy with a standard hole in the wall or a cremation, and since there was nobody to look after the cemetery it was sealed off to public access, after part of a wall almost fell on some kids. Sometimes an Anglican in the know would die in the province, and the remains would be placed here – the last burial was in 1993.
Anyway, the townhall of Almería has agreed a plan with the British Embassy to clean up and reopen the British cemetery. The first cleanup has already commenced, the walls will be rebuilt, a new entrance is being designed, the British style mausoleums are being cleaned and propped back up, the Anglican Chapel is being restored and it’s hoped the place will once again be used / or at least serve to drag some tourists in.
History of the English cemetery
On the 15th of October 1887, after some intensive negotiations by the British vice consul in Almería (one Felipe Barron), a suitable last resting place was found for the remains of the large British population of the province. Hundreds or indeed thousands of Brits were here, not for the sun but for the mines and the agriculture- many of the mines were British owned, and the exporters, engineers, bosses and administrators were all from Blighty. The corpses were accumulating and where to put these protestants? They weren’t allowed into the Catholic cemetery of San José or any of the municipal ones.
So an agreement was reached. An official petition was put to the town by the Vice consul, it was rubber stamped by the Mayor and two weeks later (the 15th) the land was put at the disposition of the Anglican community. The land was seized, although it wasn’t actually purchased for years due to legal wrangling. An initial offer of 10,000 pesetas was rejected by the owner, and eventually at the turn of the century, after the Embassy protested, the exasperated Governor of Almería ordered the lands to be expropriated.
However, Spanish paperwork being much the same then as now, it wasn’t until 1906 when the situation was formalised, and the townhall signed the escritura at the Registry to give “a free, perpetual and irrevocable right of this land to the United Kingdom of Great Britain”. The deed was challenged by the tax office and so the Embassy, probably in exasperation, offered to paid 888 pesetas for the land (1 peseta per square meter) and the deeds were finally formalised.
Anyway, during the Franco years the cemetery was more or less disused, although in 1980 a burial was attempted. Nobody could find the paperwork, until it appeared in 1984, and the modern town recommenced with the cemetery, although it wasn’t upkept. With almost no family members around to visit the graves, there was no point. The “Fund for the Anglican Cemetery of Almería”, the benevolent organisation setup along with the cemetery, was just about moribund, anyway.
There are about a thousand graves there. One notable is Dr José Litrán. He was a (catholic) doctor in the city who was also a prominent atheist. He so annoyed the local church that upon his death Bishop Santos Zárate said that since he was an atheist (yes) and a Mason (doubtful) he couldn’t be buried in a Catholic grave. So the Anglicans offered him a spot.
During the Civil War, the cemetery was used for the general losers of the wars. Red, Jews, atheists, suicides and the like were all put there out of the way in common graves. There was also a mass grave there for the unwanted babies – those who were stillborn, or who died before baptism. Unable to be buried in a Catholic grave, unwanted by God as the caring Christian Church said, they were dumped in a massive communal pit in the corner, the “5th corner” as it was known and their parents told to get on with life.
The last burial in 1986 was of Harold Arbeiter, who lived in nearby La Parra. He was actually a Jew from London. We Anglicans aren’t too fussy about what religion you are.
Until, hopefully, now. When this ancient cemetery, unique in the province, can be reopened to the public, and hopefully become a tranquil and thoughtful spot within this busy city.