THE Friends of York Cemetery will welcome visitors through the cemetery gates on Sunday from 10am to 4pm as part of the York Residents Festival.

“If you have never visited us before, you will be amazed to discover a green oasis of almost 25 acres, bursting with natural life, charm and atmosphere," says Friends chairman Clive Dawson.

"At regular intervals throughout the day, our knowledgeable and enthusiastic voluntary tour guides will show groups of visitors some of the cemetery’s highlights. Some of the tours are nature themed, others historical. The cemetery dates from 1837, so guides conducting historical tours will feature a selection of the many interesting memorials, and enthral people with tales of people buried. While enjoying tours and taking in the natural beauty of the grounds, visitors may even be lucky enough to catch sight of a deer or a fox."

Just down the main path, hidden from the main road, is the Friends' "pride and joy", the cemetery chapel. "This stunning Grade 2 star listed building is open all day and the starting point for all walks and tours," says Clive. "Guides will also take groups down into the chapel catacombs, which are rarely open to the public. This interesting and atmospheric space has an attractive vaulted ceiling and a small number of occupied vaults.

“There will be a lot going on in the chapel, including an exciting new exhibition demonstrating some of the more quirky and amusing aspects of the cemetery, the wealth of information available to family and social historians and a selection of beautiful photographs.”

Janet Lea, one of the volunteer genealogists behind the new exhibition, says: "It's a chance to show what the cemetery has to offer from a different perspective, drawing heavily on the cemetery’s burial records. There’s a list of our more unusual causes of death, such as Accidentally killed through falling down stairs in a state of intoxication and From the effect of drinking cold water, and unusual names like Rose Victoria Diamond Jubilee Mills.

"The exhibition also gives an insight into the extraordinary lives and deaths of some of the people buried here: murder and suicide, wealth and poverty, it’s all here.”

A second exhibition tells the story of York Cemetery and its changing fortunes from the beginning to the present day. There will be a chance to talk to volunteers about any aspect of the day and find out about the activities of Friends of York Cemetery, how to become a Friend, the many volunteering roles available and the dates and details of the various walks and events that take place throughout every year.

For anyone interested in family history or social history more generally, Janet points out: "The genealogy office, in the gatehouse at the cemetery’s entrance, will be open all day. Volunteer genealogists will be available to search the burial records, which date from the cemetery’s opening in 1837 to the present day.

"These records have been computerised, along with a great deal of other information not usually available at other cemeteries. We’re a friendly and helpful team so we often go beyond the call of duty to help visitors with their enquiries. For anyone needing a free guide to a grave, outdoor volunteer and genealogist Dennis Shaw will be in the chapel all day.

"As a special concession for the Residents Festival, a planned increase in charges for genealogical information is being put on hold until February 1. Searches of the records remain No Find No Fee."

Drinks and homemade cakes will be served all day in the chapel, ideal for taking a relaxing break from the other activities and enjoying the spectacle of the building.

Anyone with an interest in any aspect of this special day is welcome to just turn up; there is no need to book. Everything is free of charge except for printed genealogical information. Donations are always gratefully received.