Off of a busy main road that heads into the city of Cambridge there is a leafy little lane called All Souls.
The city of Cambridge has several burials sites, including the main Cambridge City Cemetery and the American Cemetery and Memorial (which is the UK’s only WWII American Military Cemetery), but the Ascension space is quite different to these larger sites.
Established in 1857, Ascension was intended to accommodate a growing Cambridge in the Victorian era. It saw its first burial in 1869 and has since received around 2500 individuals into its modest one and a half acre site.
Apart from the fact that there are many famous people buried in Ascension, as well as several Nobel prize winners, the burial ground has been allowed to grow wild. While it is dutifully maintained, it is looked after in a sympathetic way that ensures that visitors experience the best kind of resting places: one that has been taken over by nature and is filled with life and beauty. No manicured lawns or garish mausoleums. Instead, you walk around the small burial ground and you are surrounded by trees, grasses, wild flowers and a multitude of birds and small mammals that call Ascension home. It is quite a beautiful experience to walk among the crumbling gravestones while watching tiny finches forage for food.
Finches are an incredibly appropriate bird to find in Ascension as two of Charles Darwin’s sons are buried there, as are many famous members of Cambridge University such as Wittgenstein and well-known criminologist Radzinowicz (after whom the University’s criminology library is named). Other interesting people such as further members of the Darwin family, and the sister of Leonard Woolf are buried in Ascension. There are many many more famed folk resting here, but they are often people who are renowned in their academic fields but perhaps not known in wider circles.
So if you are ever in Cambridge and want to get away from the hubbub of the city and all its tourist traps, head a little way outside of the main city itself and you will find this wonderful oasis, with nature and death living quite happily together. Forget the bigger celebrity cemeteries like Highgate in London…Ascension is its slightly quieter yet more intimate cousin.