Memorandum by The Association of Gardens
Trusts (CEM 94)
1. THE ASSOCIATION
The Trust is a registered educational charity
formed to promote the recognition, interest, education and appreciation
and involvement of the public in matters connected with the arts
and sciences of garden land and cultural landscapes.
There are now gardens trusts in 32 English counties,
a London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust, eight groups in Wales
under the auspices of the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust and strong
interest in several of the remaining English counties and in Northern
Ireland. The collective membership is over 7,000 and growing.
The garden trusts share a common interest in
working with government agencies, local authorities, national
and local amenity societies, educational trusts and local communities
in the care and conservation of the historic and natural heritage.
We are concerned with the conservation of historic gardens and
landscapes, with town and country parks and in the creation of
new gardens in towns and cities. We are interested in all green
spaces as all land has a history which contributes to its character
and natural heritage.
Our work is helping with the conservation and
creation of gardens and parks with local authority, commercial
and private owners and with local communities contributes to tourism,
to economic regeneration, to social inclusion and to access.
We firmly believe that once other essential
needs have been met, health, housing, education and employment,
it is the quality of landscape that contributes most to the quality
The historical significance of cemeteries is
in their essential contribution to the development of British
towns and cities. The majority of cemeteries in Britain's inner
cities started in the 19th Century and were the consequence of
the major expansion in urban centres. In the late 18th Century
and early 19th Century, when cities expanded rapidly there was
a corresponding deterioration in environmental conditions. At
the beginning of the 19th Century, the majority of the burial
places were attached to churches and chapels. The creation of
cemeteries detached from the parish churches had started earlier,
the model cemetery on Carlton Hill in Edinburgh dates from the
18th Century and was an attempt to provide a dignified setting
for burials as an alternative to the seriously overcrowded church
yards. The first large urban cemetery was Pe"re-Lachaise,
Paris opened in 1804. This well laid out and densely planted design
had a significant influence on the thinking of 19th Century designers
The horrific conditions in sanitation, water
supply and burial in the major British cities are well documented
and resulted in demands for improvement. The outbreaks of cholera
claimed the lives of thousands in the 1830s and reoccurred in
the succeeding decades. These events overwhelmed the normal burial
system, leading to the disposal of corpses in plague pits dug
in the existing crowded urban church yards.
The alarm over conditions was voiced by many
individuals including George Frederick Carden in London whose
inspiration led to the formation of the General Cemeteries Company.
It received permission by Act of Parliament to establish a cemetery
at Kensal Green in 1832. Other cities also were at the forefront
of cemetery development. In Liverpool, two companies created new
cemeteries before 1830. The Liverpool Necropolis was opened in
1825 and the St James Cemetery was created in a disused quarry
in 1829. In 1832 the Glasgow Necropolis was opened on a hill not
far from the cathedral. This improvement was not universal and
the outrage felt by many at the inadequate burial facilities is
exemplified by George Alfred Walker's Gatherings from Graveyards
of 1839 and Edwin Chadwick's Report on Intra-Mural Interments
of 1843. Parliament also felt the concern about urban environmental
conditions and set up select committees to investigate. The 1833
Select Committee on Public Walks was the earliest attempt to identify
the open space available for public use in towns. This mentions
the new cemeteries in Liverpool and Glasgow along with the botanic
gardens in Birmingham and Sheffield.
One of the most persuasive advocates for well-designed
cemeteries was the distinguished editor of the Gardener's Magazine,
J C Louden. In May 1830 he wrote to the Morning Advertiser proposing
that there should be several new cemeteries established equidistant
from each other in the Metropolis. During the 1830s he published
a series of articles in the Gardeners Magazine, describing
existing cemeteries and proposing new design solutions. These
topics were used as the basis for his book On the Laying Out,
Planting and Management of Cemeteries published in 1843.
The book is pervaded by the idea that cemeteries should be "tasteful,
classical, poetic and eloquent" and he also stated that "by
their botanical riches cultivate the intellect."
The movement for creation of hygienic, dignified
burial places gained momentum during the late 1830s and resulted
in a number of new cemeteries. Examples are St James Highgate,
London in 1839, Westminster Cemetery, Brompton, London in 1840.
The first cemetery commissioned by a municipal authority was at
Southampton. J C Loudon was appointed to design and supervise
the work and unfortunately he caught a chill and died in 1843
during the construction.
Culturally, cemetery designs are of great significance,
many outstanding Victorian designers were commissioned to plan
and supervise the new cemeteries. Not only were garden designers
involved but architects, sculptors and artists contributed throughout
J C Loudon was a prolific writer and theorist
and was responsible for several cemeteries which demonstrated
his design philosophy. Designs for Cambridge Cemetery were quoted
in his book as an example of suitable treatment for flat sites
while the design for Bath Cemetery was shown as a design for hilly
Sir Joseph Paxton is justly famed for his work
on the Crystal Palace but he was a many talented man involved
in designing gardens, urban parks, engineering works and buildings
as well as finding time for a heavy involvement in politics. With
the help of assistants he designed and supervised the drainage
of swampy ground in Birkenhead for the creation of one of the
earliest public urban parks at Birkenhead. As a consequence of
his fame in handling this difficult project, he was commissioned
by Coventry City Council in 1845 to design a new cemetery on the
site of a disused quarry just outside the city walls. The design
embodies all the values of this Victorian era, a parkland cemetery
with woodland walks, chapels, monuments and arboricultural planting.
Before its decline, this would have been a perfect example of
the values stated by Loudon in his writings.
Edward Milner was an assistant to Joseph Paxton
and his protege. He worked on many of Paxton's designs and achieved
fame as a designer after the death of Paxton in 1865. Examples
of his work are found throughout the country including the Pavilion
Gardens at Buxton, Derbyshire, the Arboretum at Lincoln and the
Stoke Cemetery, at London.
The use of sculptors to produce free standing
tombs and monuments declined dramatically after the Victorian
era but the commissioning of noted designers to layout cemeteries
and the buildings has continued to this day. As well as the landscape
and horticultural assets, the cemeteries contain a wealth of buildings
and monuments by a great number of architects and designers. Many
of the buildings are of outstanding quality worthy of preservation.
3. THE CONDITION
In general cemeteries have suffered a decline
during the latter half of the 20th Century. The original cemeteries
have nearly all passed into the hands of the local communities
and have competed for funding with other more urgent needs. The
original cemetery designers anticipated the need for supervision
and usually provided accommodation for a resident superintendent.
The accommodation is now normally used for offices or other purposes
less connected with the cemetery. The reduced supervision and
the changes in society have led to a situation where most of the
cemeteries are subject to attack by vandals and the theft of carvings
The compaction of the ground over burials usually
results in subsidence and movement of the tombs and monuments,
often leading to collapse. In the majority of cases due to the
cost of reinstatement, these constructions are removed and not
repaired. Slowly our Victorian heritage of monuments is disappearing
and with it our evidence of an important aspect of 19th Century
The increasing cost of labour for ground maintenance
has also played a part in the erosion of cemeteries. The use of
mechanical grass cutters has produced a need to remove stonework
and simplify the areas. Many original cemeteries followed the
advice of Loudon and created an arboretum on the sites. This tree
heritage on many sites is past its maturity and is in decline.
Without incentive or encouragement the maintenance of this asset
will not be continued for the benefit of the next generation.
In most of our cities there are major changes
taking place with the regeneration of inner core areas and old
cemeteries are not immune from the effect of these pressures.
The existence of open spaces in built-up areas is often threatened
by the needs of transport systems. Not only roads but tramways
see the cemetery space as an opportunity. In Birmingham the Key
Hill Cemetery has been used for part of the route of a light railway.
In fairness to the City Council it should be said that a careful
study was made to record all monuments and minimise disruption
before the scheme was approved.
One other problem facing the older cemeteries
is over use. As the space is finite and burials are continuous,
many cemeteries have lost their original dignity and aesthetic
appeal as a result of over intensive use. This is particularly
a problem with the sinuous woodland cemeteries where a balance
between burial grounds and walks was originally intended.
4. NEW CEMETERIES
The creation of new burial grounds is not just
a problem but also an opportunity to emulate the great Victorian
visionaries and provide new facilities of lasting appeal. Private
enterprise started the new cemeteries movement in the 19th Century
and in the 20th Century it showed one possible solution by the
creation of woodland burial grounds outside towns. The establishment
of the National Forest has also provided an opportunity for trees
to be planted in memory of fallen soldiers. This idea could be
extended and one part of the forest used to provide a burial ground
serving the centre of England. This could be a self-financing
scheme and properly designed, it will leave a natural woodland
asset to the next century.
Discussions with the Heritage Lottery Fund staff
have always shown a readiness to consider support to the historic
cemetery sites. However, few reports appear to result in an application
for funding because of the requirement for local authorities to
find their 25 per cent contribution to the restoration project
and the greater priority given to projects for the living.
Many local authorities recognise the historic
and artistic value of their cemeteries and have commissioned studies.
The writer of this submission has been involved in preparing detailed
reports on four historic cemeteries and believes that similar
documents have been prepared by many local authorities. These
would be useful to the Environment Sub-committee to provide a
detailed record of the state of cemeteries at the end of the 20th
Century. A copy of a booklet commissioned by Coventry City Council
as part of their public participation exercise on the London Road
Cemetery is enclosed for information.