The cemetery was established in 1833 by the Mayor of Newcastle, responding to pressure from the great and the good of the town “to form and establish, for the use of town, a General Cemetery a measure for which the crowded state of the church yards has long rendered”. Half of the 11 acre site would be for Church of England worshippers from the surrounding parish, while the other half would be unconsecrated ground for non-conformists.
The arched entrance, built in 1835 in local sandstone and in Greek Revival style, contained chapels as well as accommodation and an office for the resident cemetery superintendent.
The catacombs are under the mirrored pair of chapels on either side of the Cemetery’s arched entrance, the one on the west Church of England and the other on the east side non-conformist, but death appears to ignore such differences and so below the ground the catacombs connect to one another.
Although there are coffin recesses, 22 in total identified by incised Roman numerals, these are empty as it seems that they were for the temporary storage of coffins prior to burial rather than for permanent storage. One theory runs that a temporary storage period of around ten days allowed decomposition to start and so deterred body snatchers.
During the war it is believed that the catacombs were used as a public air raid shelter and even as temporary accommodation for those bombed out of their homes, which may have seen the coffin recesses being reused as bunks.
Further information about the cemetery is available on Friends of Jesmond Old Cemetery.