VISIT TO THE DISSENTERS GRAVEYARD
The dissenters were foremost in the movement for religious toleration. Barred from higher education, they directed their energies away from academia and towards trade and industry, which was to the great advantage of the nation's economy. They left two significant memorials in Exeter: the now sadly neglected Dissenters' Burial Ground on the corner of Magdalen Street and Bull Meadow Road, and the splendid George's Meeting House which is listed as being an unaltered 18th century chapel. It was built as a Unitarian chapel in 1760, and named after King George III, who came to the throne in that year.
The visit started at George’s with an interesting talk about its history. There were a surprising number of fascinating artefacts around the building. These included a plaque for James Pierce, a dissenter who was buried in St Leonards Churchyard but without his plaque because he had denigrated the St Leonard’s clergyman as a bigot!
July had been chosen for a visit to the Dissenters’ Graveyard to ensure no one got wet or cold. It may not have been cold but it was certainly wet—we could hardly hear Paul Chant for the noise of the rain on our umbrellas ! But our staunch members stood through the rainstorm, straining to hear all the interesting details of the graveyard’s history.
Notwithstanding the weather, Paul Chant gave us a private conducted tour of the graveyard showing the long hidden footpaths and gravesites which have been unearthed. He explained who is buried there and why, together with some notes on the history of the families concerned and their contribution to Exeter life.
The Meeting House had continued to maintain the burial ground for many years but its closure in 1983 led to neglect of the site. Thankfully, the cemetery is now being restored by the Exeter Graveyard Dissenters Trust who want it to be a place of reflection and tranquillity open to the public, and a reminder of Exeter's rich cultural heritage.