Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda


Memorandum by Leonie Kellaher, University of North London (CEM 79)

  In response to the Sub-committee's request for material for an enquiry into Cemeteries, I wish to submit evidence which touches upon at least four of the headings listed in the Press Release of 7 November 2000.

  As a team of researchers, we have been engaged in examining cemeteries over the past five years. The principal focus of our work has been the uses and meanings of cemeteries for those who use and visit them, for those who live alongside them and for the increasingly varied minority groups who are "re-populating" some Victorian cemeteries. Whilst we have, to date, concentrated our efforts on London, our research has entailed exploration of new arrangements for burial, notably woodland burial, and this has required a wider focus than the capital. We do not claim that our London work represents all the uses and meanings ascribed to cemeteries by mourners, visitors or staff, and we acknowledge important regional differences which spring from cultural [eg religious/socio-economic] and economic [eg differential land availability and value/cost] variation, and are currently developing a proposal for funding for a regional comparison which will also take account of trends in the disposal of cremated remains. Our initial focus was upon burial only since this was a new area of research and had to be limited.

  The research upon which our offering of evidence is based was funded by ESRC—The Economic and Social Research Council [Award; ROOO236493]—and conducted between 1996 and 1999, though we have continuously up-dated our findings since the funding ceased. Whilst the approach to data collection and analysis has been qualitative and ethnographic, we accrued a large and rich data set derived from some 1,500 encounters with "users", in six cemeteries over a 14 month fieldwork period. For each site we compiled a dossier on the development of the particular cemetery landscape; the current style of management and its relationship to patterns of tenure and grave plot ownership etc, and the changes in use and style, especially around the individual grave plot, over time. The six main study sites were carefully selected to cover many of the minority groups who bury in London. These included: Jewish, Moslem, Greek Cypriot, Irish, as well as "indigenous" Londoners, though visitors and users of the cemeteries from other groups were also encountered.

  At the start of the research [1996], the issue of re-use of graves was just coming to the fore. The study was not specifically designed to explore this particular issue but, along with a number of other issues which are included in the press release listing [eg the often different, not to say contested, perspectives from which owners, managers, staff and users—including friends groups—view the grave-plot and the cemetery as a whole], re-use emerged as a live issue of considerable interest and sometimes concern to those who tended graves. We have published a number of articles and chapters and have a contract with Berg to submit a manuscript in mid 2001.

  All the publications, to date, have presented findings to illuminate the practical and/or policy implications. One of these, published in the IBCA [Institute of Burial and Cremation Authority] Journal is in fairly concise question and answer form which addresses issues such as: Who and when do people visit graves/cemeteries; why do people visit; what do people do when they visit; how do people select a cemetery; does quality of maintenance make a difference to visitors; who is buried with whom? I attach a copy of this article. [27] Also attached is a fuller version, published in Mortality in March of this year, which offers a more reflective discussion of the issue of sustainability of cemeteries in modern England and on the trends arising, or likely to arise, out of what we have identified as a changing dialectic between man and nature. The question of memorialisation in relation to cremated remains, as compared to the longer standing pattern of memorialisation which the traditional cemetery makes manifest, has been addressed—in a somewhat preliminary way in an address to the cremation society of Great Britain and a copy of this which appeared in their "trade" magazine, Pharos, is also attached.

  The main source of evidence which we should be pleased to offer the Sub-committee is the ESRC funded project—entitled Cemetery as Garden—cited above. We were required to submit an end-of-award report for evaluation in terms of objectives met, difficulties encountered, etc and for an assessment as to the validity/reliability of findings. The full end-of-award report on the research, given the grade "outstanding" is available on the ESRC web site, but I enclose a summary.

  Other work in the area, funded by this University has concerned the impact upon neighbourhoods of two cemeteries. This work was presented as a paper at the recent Death, Dying and Disposal Conference [Goldsmiths, September, 2000] entitled: Cemetery as Local Amenity. An invited seminar, also funded by UNL was held in 1998, which involved a small number of cemetery "experts" [eg denominational professionals, managers, cemetery workers, funeral directors, friends groups and memorial masons] in a round table discussion about the future sustainability of cemeteries.

  We should, therefore, be very pleased to offer evidence to the sub-committee and to elaborate on the following issues cited in the press release:

    —  the historical and cultural significance of cemeteries for local communities—especially those groups/communities which have experienced dislocation across time and place, from the past or origins;

    —  the condition of existing cemeteries—and the reactions of those who visit graves there;

    —  aspects of management of cemeteries, particularly as these come into conjunction/conflict with users/visitors and the provision of services;

    —  trends in views on the disposal of remains—in and outside cemeteries and with reference views amongst those now in younger generations.

  Our data is very rich and it is likely that we would be in a position to offer evidence on other issues which might be of importance to the enquiry.

Leonie Kellaher and Doris Francis

December 2000


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