Tonge Cemetery


Tonge cemetery was the first municipal cemetery in Bolton when it opened on New Years Eve 1856 and was known simply as Bolton cemetery


In 2002, it became a grade II listed site after English Heritage decided it was of sufficient historical interest. There are various sections of the cemetery, including a Roman Catholic section which includes an area in which nuns are buried and a Quaker section which is of interest as all the stones are alike. The enormous cemetery contains the graves of many interesting characters. Perhaps the most famous of which is well-known Bolton steeplejack Fred Dibnah who later became a TV personality in the 80s and 90s. Dibnah died in 2004 and you can view photos of his memorial here:

Also buried in Tonge Cemtary, is the most curious of characters Thomas MacCarte who went by the stage name Massarti. MccCarte was a lion tamer, who had previous lost an arm to his craft. He was mauled by his own lion in Bolton Town Hall Square on 3rd January 1872 and killed. The Lion mauled MacCarte to death. His tombstone was erected by his wife Mrs R Manders and is located in the Roman Catholic section of the cemetery. The Manders were the circus family who employed MacCarte following his engagement to Mrs Manders, and he was part of Manders Menagerie. In the below excerpt from the Bolton Evening News (cited in the New York Times) you can read about the his death (not for the faint of heart!):

A series of farewell performances were being given prior to the menagerie proceeding to Bury, and an extra performance was announce and took place at 10½ o’clock. Attached to the show was a man named Thomas MacCarte, whose professional appellation was “Massarti, the Lion-Tamer,” and he at this extra performance entered the lions’ den for the last time. MacCarte was a young man, not more than thirty-four years old, but he had been associated with traveling exhibitions of this kind from a very early period. He had stern experience that ought to have taught him caution; he had previously lost an arm when performing with Messrs. Bell & Myers’ Circus at Liverpool. He had previously been trained by Messrs. Batty as a lion tamer, and having joined them for a short time, he was engaged by the late Mr. Manders to succeed Maccommo. He was a very bold and adventurous man and he had been frequently cautioned respecting his rashness. The unfortunate man commenced his performances on Wednesday evening, when he was hardly in a proper condition to do so; and, having exhibited the gorilla and the serpents, he entered the lions’ den. At this time it is calculated five hundred or six hundred persons were present, and the five lions in the den were put through their performances with the usual success and applause. On all general occasions heated bars of iron and iron scrapers are in readiness, but on this fatal evening the matter had been neglected. The five lions were all powerful animals, and the unfortunate man, on entering the cage, noticed that a black-maned African lion – which had only so recently as Monday last bitten his hand – appeared very restive. He consequently fixed his eyes on it, and this in some degree diverted his attention from an Asiatic lion known by the name of “Tyrant,” against whom he had been cautioned only that morning to keep carefully to his instructions. It is necessary here to note that when performing lions are tamed there is a line drawn, or what is known as “the office,” in technical phraseology, by which the beasts are taught to regard that line as a limit beyond which the performer must not pass, knowing, if he does so, the consequences to be expected are most dangerous. The presumption is that this line was overstepped, and Mrs. Manders’ opinion, whose experience in these matters, and who suggests this as a primary cause, is entitled to consideration. The “office” having been passed, MacCarte, who was attired as a Roman gladiator, was returning his falchion to his sheath, and slipping, fell on the floor of the den. Tyrant fastened on him, seizing him by the haunches, and then the African lion fastened onto his armless shoulder. MacCarte immediately called upon the keepers for help, and meanwhile to fire. He then drew the short Roman blade which formed part of his costume, and commenced fighting desperately with the lion Tyrant, thrusting the sword into irs face, mouth and eyes. The crowd, as is usual in such cases, crowded panic-stricken around, and effectually prevented the approach of the men who were used to the habits of the animals. The shouts of the audience, the desperate and manful struggle of the rated man, and the smell of the blood which was streaming from the buttocks of MacCarte incited the other animals, and their savage instinct was awakened.

A third lion – an Abyssinian one – seized him by the ribs, and then a five-year-old lion, and an especial favourite of the lion tamer, caught him by the head, literally scalping him, the flesh hanging down his neck. The treacherous favourite had no sooner accomplished this work than he returned quietly to his corner. The deadly struggle progressed, and Mr Birchall, who had from the first been most active, placed iron scrapers in the fires to heat them. Pistols and guns were discharged, but they, unfortunately, were only loaded with blank cartridge, and the blazing of the gunpowder failed to drive the animals from their quarry. The police when in generous haste, and with a full appreciation of the danger of the man to the neighbouring shows where firearms could be obtained, and returned after a minute’s delay; but that delay seemed an age, and the toy weapons that are used at rifle galleries were discharged in rapid succession. Meanwhile, the irons were heated, an iron shutter to separate the animals in the cage when an opportunity offered was in readiness, and Mr. Birchall and an assistant succeeded in beating off three of the animals, the fifth, having in the time scented and tasted the blood which streamed out of the carriage, added his fangs to those which had already played such havoc with the human form prostrate before them. The sliding door was pushed in, three of the animals, being driven away with hot irons, were separated, and then the lion that had seized MacCarte by the shoulder was driven in a corner. The shutter was partially opened to drive him among the others, when a fourth infuriated beast seized him just above the boot, and dragged him in again among them. Then the frightful work went on for a few sickening and horrifying moments, every person present fearing to see him torn to pieces, and Mrs. Manders, who is slowly recovering from a paralytic affection, bu a great effort crawled our as it were, but by her clear head and experience gave prompt directions. Hot irons were now available, and the brutes being driven off by these most terrifying weapons, the poor and almost pulseless piece of humanity was drawn out of the place it was fated he never more should enter. He sustained sufficient sensibility to speak to his warm-hearted colleagues a few faint words, praying them not to take him away to receive medical aid, as he knew that he was a dead man. His anxious friends, with the kindness which is always so beautifully manifested toward each other by men engaged in this kind of occupation, carried him tenderly, although they might have guessed that their efforts would too soon prove to be fruitless, to the infirmary, where, after a few moments, he breathed his last, after muttering a few incoherent sentences. Mr. Moor, the house-surgeon, with his assistants, were on the spot, and every available appliance that could be suggested was ready for use, but the poor “gladiator” had been “wounded unto death,” and had passed beyond the reach of pharmacy. As the shattered frame was borne past Mrs. Manders, he faintly waived his hand and gave her an expressive look, which conveyed the words that he was past all hope of aid.

It is said that the Lion that killed MacCarte, most probably Tyrant, was killed and stuffed by a local taxidermist who worked in the area. The Lion was exhibited in Whiteheads shop window.

Memorials of others in Tonge Cemetery include:

John Dorian (1828-1895), a doctor and devoted philanthropist who devoted a great deal of his time helping the poor who could not afford medical assistance. A statue was erected of him following his death to honour his charitable contribution to the people of Bolton.

The sculptor of the abovementioned John Dorian statue is also buried in Tonge Cemetery. John Cassidy, (1860-1939) also sculpted the statue of Sir Benjamin Dobson, the mayor of Bolton, that stands in Victoria Square.

Musician John Fawcett, and Bolton mayors John Orton and Stephen Blair are also buried in the cemetery.


Environmental Information


  • Coltsfoot
  • Heather
  • Jack by the hedge
  • Ash
  • Lime
  • Italian Alder


There are a number of individual tree species that line the network of access roads throughout the cemetery. Consisting of Sessile and Red Oaks, Corsican Pines, Small-leaved Limes, Hawthorns, Ash, Sycamore and Maples, Alder, Beech, Holly, various species of Cherry and Poplar trees the trees vary in age and form but add greatly to the tree amenity and serenity of the site.

The Cemetery is bounded by the mixed species woodland shelterbelts on the surrounding slopes up to Leverhulme Park to the east and south, with predominantly Sycamore, Maple and Ash trees lining the banking of the River Tonge to the west. The cemetery also forms part of the Leverhulme Local Nature Reserve.

Access and woodland thinning works between the cemetery and Leverhulme Park have been undertaken by the Councils Tree & Woodland section in partnership with the Forestry Commission (England) through Woodland Improvement Grants funding.

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