Many go to Birmingham’s Jewelry Quarter to shop for engagement rings. But in this place filled with symbols of new beginnings, there also stands a home for those who have come to the inevitable end. Warstone Lane Cemetery is an impressive sight. It was established in 1848, and took on new burials until 1982. Deep among the cemetery’s vaults and gravestones lie a set of tiered catacombs.
Built in a tiered semicircle, the catacombs feel almost like a Roman amphitheater. Given the grandiose style of the tombs, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was perhaps a resting place for regal, Birmingham folk. Sadly, the truth is a little more gristly. Behind the tunnel doors were the remains of poor folk who had fallen victim to the 19th century overcrowding and sometimes squalid conditions faced by the working class.
Among the occupants of the catacombs is John Baskerville, a well-known English typographer and printer. Baskerville died in 1775, long before Warstone Lane Cemetery was built. His body was originally interred in his a small mausoleum on the grounds of his home. After a canal was built through the area, Baskerville was moved to the crypt of a nearby church. When the church was demolished in 1897, the contents of its crypt, which included Baskerville’s remains, were moved to the catacombs at Warstone Lane.
Though the catacombs were originally open to the public, they have since been sealed shut, meaning visitors can no longer poke their heads into the tunnels.