Yew Tree Cemetery was the second of the two Roman Catholic cemeteries that were opened in Liverpool in Victorian times. It took its first burials in 1893, more than thirty years after the one at Ford, near Litherland. The cemetery is named after nearby Yew Tree Lane, which itself derives from Yew Tree Hose, so named as a large yew tree was in the garden.
Yew Tree Cemetery is administered by the Archdiocese of Liverpool and every July an outdoor mass by the Archbishop of Liverpool is held in the cemetery, when hundreds attend to pray for those who are buried there. The cemetery contains the graves of numerous priests and nuns, buried either near the chapel or alongside the main roadway.
There are 35 First World War graves at Yew Tree Cemetery, thirteen of them marked by two small memorials. There are also the graves of 65 servicemen from the Second World War in various parts of the cemetery.
Mary McCartney, mother of Beatle Paul, is buried in Yew Tree cemetery. She died in 1956 from complications that arose as a result of breast cancer surgery when Paul was just fourteen years old. Another grave with an entertainer connection is the unmarked burial place of Archie O’Neill, a music hall entertainer known as the ‘one legged dancer’ who died in 1959.
A heartbreaking grave is that of Nigel Pickup, who at eight years old was the youngest victim of the Ibrox Stadium tragedy on 2nd January 1971, when 66 football fans were crushed to death on a stairway at the end of a Rangers v Celtic match in Glasgow. He had been taken to the match by his grandfather who was visiting relatives there and in 2010 his grave was rededicated in a special ceremony attended by many Rangers fans who had come to Liverpool specially for the service.
Yew Tree Cemetery contains the grave of a heroic survivor of the Lusitania disaster, James Dyer. He had only been a trimmer on the liner for three weeks when it was torpedoed by a German u-boat on 7th May 2015. After being flung into the sea by the explosion he managed to get hold of a piece of wreckage and also help two American children cling onto it for three hours before being rescued and taken to Queenstown. He was given a financial reward by the boy’s father and then got a heroes welcome in Liverpool. He later married and had five children, dying in 1959 aged 69. His gravestone, which also marks the burial place of other family members, makes no mention of the tragedy. In relation to James it simply says ‘In loving memory of James Dyer and family.’
Next to the chapel at Yew Tree Cemetery is a headstone marking all those buried in the cemetery whose graves are unmarked. The chapel, dating from 1893, closed two years ago and has sadly become a magnet for anti social behaviour including alcohol and drug misuse, leading to complaints from local residents. This is despite security being in place and with the Archdiocese saying they cannot keep it safe and secure Liverpool City Council has granted planning permission to demolish it.
The wider community has expressed concern at this decision, fearing graves may be disturbed. Claiming that it is an essential part of the West Derby Catholic community, and an important part of local heritage, an online petition has been set up which has so far attracted over 1,200 signatures.