Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by Andy Clayden and Dr Jan Woudstra (CEM 91)

  Long-term planning for new cemeteries and burial space: & the management and provision of cemetery services.

    "A cemetery is not an all-weather pitch, neither is it simply a nature reserve: it is a complex, historical and social cultural legacy of great emotional meaning"[34]

  After decades of neglect the 1990s have seen a renewed interest in the various issues relating to cemeteries. Several reports have been published on different aspects and cemeteries are now a regular news item in daily papers. Newspaper articles picking up on the introduction of The Dead Citizens Charter by Professor Malcolm Johnson, chairman of the National Funerals College of Bristol University's Institution of Health and Ageing in 1998, claimed the average British funeral was a "miserable and disappointing affair".[35] This reached the headlines after months of television programmes and articles, which expressed a severe dissatisfaction with current trends of commercialisation in burial practice. One large American firm was highlighted as particularly guilty in the latest developments, which did not cater for individual requirements. Other social trends are the recognition of specific burial requirements for different ethnic and cultural groups.

  Recent publications also highlight the various environmental issues arising from cemeteries. Lucinda Lambton criticised the visual appearance of cemeteries, comparing them to "the saddest Sixties development".[36] There is a demand to overcome the lack of identity and anonymity of these places. The aesthetically poor environment is worsened by a lack of maintenance and vandalism, and in those instances where a minimal budget is still available, ill-considered maintenance due to insufficient training. Added to this is the concern of environmental groups with regard to pollution caused by burial and cremation. This has encouraged green burial as an alternative to these more traditional ways. On the other hand Victorian cemeteries are being recognised as monuments and historic landscapes, as shown in the English Heritage Register of Historic Parks and Gardens, declaration of SSSI's, and as a result restrict re-use.

  Some of the major public issues are those relating to overcrowding of cemeteries, and thereby the re-use of graveyards.[37] This is immediately followed by demands for new cemeteries. The requirement for new cemetery space has become a general concern. Nevertheless there has been a severe lack of interest of landscape architects in this country, who have traditionally avoided cemetery design as an issue. This can be illustrated by the limited number of publications on the topic, with no books on cemetery design appearing in England since William Robinson's God's Acre Beautiful published in 1888. This is in stark contrast to design of cemeteries in other countries, where they have been heralded as design icons, with examples such as Max La­uger's Osterholz Cemetery in Bremen (1900), GN Brandt's Mariebjerg cemetery near Copenhagen (1927-39), Gunnar Asplund and Siegurd Lewerentz's Woodland Cemetery in Enskede near Stockholm (1915-40), and more recently Enric Miralles' Iguadala Cemetery near Barcelona (1986). There are many more examples, but these have not encouraged Britain to take a lead.


  In Britain the design of cemeteries is often not given the consideration which it requires. Design solutions are frequently dictated by functional requirements and not enough attention is being given to their aesthetic, emotional and environmental contribution. In this context design is seen as elitist and something to be avoided. Design is being stifled because of a fear of doing anything which may upset a perceived understanding of the requirements of the bereaved. As a consequence this task has been handed over to the administrators. These people do not have the training that is required to understand a varied and complex range of different landscape issues. In other countries this is addressed through specialist design and horticultural training. For example in Germany training is required for both administrators and horticulturalists. Here cemeteries are not only considered as places for the practice of burial and bereavement, but in a wider social context, which must be integrated and make a contribution to the wider landscape and the environment as a whole. Design is a consideration at this large scale, but may also create the intimate spaces required to provide the appropriate setting for bereavement. With the increasing lack of space, we cannot afford to be singular about the use of cemeteries; they will have to serve appropriate recreational needs and be frequented, so that they become socially acceptable places. They will also have to contribute to the local green structure as part of urban sustainability in which they cater for both people and ecology.

  A thorough understanding of landscape and plant growth and local characteristics is a prerequisite. In order to provide for the full range of evolving requirements a flexible framework that enables change and can be readily adopted is required. Such spaces will be multi-dimensional and robust. Management issues are considered at these early stages, not as the inevitable evil after the landscape has been completed. Appropriately qualified professionals are required for each stage; designers to bring this from concept to execution, administrators to manage sites and horticulturalists to maintain them. These operations should be integrated and not seen as mutually exclusive. In this way it may be possible for modern cemeteries to enjoy the same type of civic pride that were a legacy of the Victorian era.


  The lack of experience of designers in this field during the latter period necessitates the need for further research in order to achieve a fuller understanding as to what has been produced during the previous century by reassessing design issues. It would be important to contribute to the process of general environmental improvement whilst also acknowledging and responding to the social context. Landscape architecture ought to harness these different efforts and provide designed solutions. The following future research ought to be considered:

    —  The assessment of cemeteries as a provision for bereavement and memorial.

    —  The catering for ethnic and social groups within a multi-cultural society.

    —  The role of cemeteries as a public resource for recreation.

    —  The potential contribution of cemeteries to sustainability.

    —  The physical relationship with the environment.

    —  The identification of design criteria by which new cemeteries may best meet public need.

    —  The identification and learning from the best practice of contemporary European examples.

Andy Clayden and Dr Jan Woudstra

Department of Landscape

University of Sheffield

December 2000

34   Ken Worpole, The Cemetery in the City, (Comedia, 1997), 16. Back

35   Ruth Gledhill, "Funerals should not be dismal experience", The Times, 23 November 1998. Back

36   Lucinda Lambton, "To paradise by way of Kensal Green", The Independent, 3 March 1993. Back

37   eg see letters in The Times, 2, 8, 15, 19, 23 October 1998. Back

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