Key Hill Cemetery Instameet – IgersbirminghamUK

Key Hill Cemetery, Jewellery Quarter, April 2023

The cemeteries of the Jewellery Quarter offer a fascinating glimpse into Birmingham’s past.  There are two sites, Key Hill and Warstone Lane, with both cemeteries containing the burials of notable Birmingham people.  The Friends of Key Hill cemetery and Warstone Lane cemetery work to maintain and protect these important historical landmarks. An @igersbirminghamuk Instameet was held in conjunction with @JQ_BID (Jewellery Quarter Business Improvement District). We aimed to start at Key Hill and then move to Warstone cemetery. As it transpired, we spent so much time in Key Hill that we agreed we must return for a Warstone Lane Cemetery tour later in the year. This blog is about our visit to Key Hill Cemetery.

Key Hill Cemetery, Jewellery Quarter, April 2023
A collage of photographs taken on my iPhone

Key Hill is part of the Jewellery Quarter and I have visited the area before. The sister cementery Warstone is more popular due to it being nearer to the heart of the Jewellery Quarter. Key Hill is often overlooked yet it has so much to offer in history and stories of people buried in the cemetery. As organiser of the meeting, I had arranged for people to meet at the Key Hill entrance near to the ring road, forgetting there is another entrance at Key Hill Road.  Then a few people got mixed up with the 2 cemeteries.  Luckily, we all found each other and the Instameet got started.  Josie from the JQ_BID was our host and proved to be a knowledgeable guide.  Her enthusiastic storytelling brought the past histories of the area to the present.  We were very fortunate as Josie agreed to open the Catacombs for viewing.  First she gave some fascinating insights into the background of the cemetery. There was the obligatory group photograph and then we congregated outside the entrance to the catacombs.  The large cast iron doors were unlocked.  

Key Hill Cemetery, Jewellery Quarter, April 2023
The IgersbirminghamUk participants for the JQ meeting.

This was the first opening of the year and, as Josie explained, catacombs may work well in Mediterranean climates but in Birmingham the inside chamber was cool and damp.  We used our iPhones for illumination and looked around the walls which included inscriptions of the people who were buried there. Picture taking was not straightforward due to the lack of light. The many iPhones helped bring some light to the dark interior. Some of the IgersbirminghamUK photographers did well with the low light levels and I encourage you to review their photographs on Instagram and other social feeds. The links are below.

Key Hill Cemetery, Jewellery Quarter, April 2023
The opening of the catacombs.
Key Hill Cemetery, Jewellery Quarter, April 2023
Deep into the catacombs with light at the end of the tunnel.
Key Hill Cemetery, Jewellery Quarter, April 2023
The entrance door at the catacombs
Key Hill Cemetery, Jewellery Quarter, April 2023
The view from the catacomb entrance.
Key Hill Cemetery, Jewellery Quarter, April 2023
The grave of Constance Naden

Following the tour of the catacombs, Josie took us to several notable graves. The first was Constance Naden (1858 – 1889) who was a writer, poet and philosopher. Whilst Constance’s work was well regarded in her lifetime, there has been a resurgence of interest in her writings especially her ability to bring science and literature together. Learning about her life and legacy proved to be enlightening and she achieved so much in a short life succumbing to ovarian cancer at the age of 31.

Other notable graves that we stopped to discuss further stories included John Benjamin Tolkien (1784 – 1840) the grandfather of J.R. Tolkien and Thomas Walker. The grave of Thomas Walker has a brick design and the coat of arms of the City council. He had the idea of using highly durable blue engineering bricks for paving roads which led to better pavements and roads throughout Birmingham. We moved onto the family graves of the Chamberlain family which included Joseph Chamberlain (1836 – 1914). As former Mayor of Birmingham and founder of the University, the city owes a great debt to Joseph Chamberlain but as Dr Matt Cole writes on the University of Birmingham web site “Chamberlain’s legacy is so broad and idiosyncratic that it likely to leave no-one in full agreement with him.”. As a group we discussed his legacy and then one of the IgersbirminghamUK organisers @James_never_jim noticed the adjacent grave of James Austin Gargory who lived in Bull Street. He was an optician but also brought in different engineering items and was also an enthusiastic photographer.

Key Hill Cemetery, Jewellery Quarter, April 2023
The grave stone of Thomas Walker with the brick design and coat of arms.

Other graves included the Martineau family which linked to our previous Instameet at Martineau Gardens. We also visited the grave of Alfred Bird, the inventor of Custard. An interesting grave was that of Shadi Mohammed who died during the Blitz, In an episode known as the “Sand Bag” deaths, Shadi, his wife and several others died when a wall of sand bags collapsed on them. There were many many more stories to be told.

Key Hill Cemetery, Jewellery Quarter, April 2023
A view from on top of the cemetery.

The storytelling of Josie was excellent and we lost all track of time until she remembered that she needed to help at the JQ beer festival. The morning was eventful and many photographs were taken. We thanked Josie for hosting the meeting and we all made our separate ways. A few of us ended up in the Rose Taven in the centre of the JQ for a drink and a chat about the photographs we took and those that got away.

Key Hill Cemetery, Jewellery Quarter, April 2023
A view of the Jewellery Quarter buildings. The Rose Villa was one of the venues for the JQ beer festival and a final stop of the Instameet.

If you want to catch up on photographs taken by the IgersbirminghamUK community then please use these hashtags to search Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for more pictures.


Whilst we were visiting, we could see many bluebells getting ready to bloom in the next few weeks.  I aim to return and take some pictures of the flowers when they are in full flower. Hope to see you there!

Key Hill Cemetery, Jewellery Quarter, April 2023
No bluebells as yet but blue grape hyacinths make up the colour.

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