VISIT TO NEWHAM
Tuesday 16 January 2001
Mr Andrew F. Bennett, MP
Mr Hilary Benn, MP
Mr Crispin Blunt, MP
Mr John Cummings, MP
Mrs Louise Ellman, MP
Mr Huw Yardley (Clerk)
Miss Jacqueline Recardo (Committee Assistant)
Mr David Lambert (Specialist Adviser)
Dr Julie Rugg (Specialist Adviser)
West Ham Cemetery
The Sub-committee first visited West Ham Cemetery,
where they were shown around the cemetery by Russell Bryan, Service
Unit Manager, LB of Newham and Peter Wilson, the Cemetery Officer.
West Ham Cemetery, established in 1857, is managed by the London
Borough of Newham. It is a quiet cemetery with only a few burials
each week, although this number increases slightly during the
autumn. There are 50-60 unused spaces remaining in the Cemetery
and over 450 reclaimed grave spaces available which will provide
several years more use. The approximate cost for a new grave is
£699, and for reopening a grave £412. A Muslim section
was introduced in the Cemetery in 1991on the site of a former
greenhouse, and accounts for all the 50-60 unused spaces. During
the 1991-2000 period there were 37 interments in this section.
Safety and Memorial testing
Cemetery staff, with occasional support from private
contractors, carry out safety checks on gravestones and memorials.
Where they are found to be unsafe, the cemetery have to write
to the families to see if they wish to repair them. Only if no
reply is forthcoming are they able to undertake the necessary
work themselves, although immediate action will be taken to make
the memorial safe if it is found to be imminently dangerous. Generally,
the more modern memorials are the most unstable, although the
older ones also cause problems. The Sub-committee saw a number
of memorials which had had to be laid flat in order for them to
be made safe.
St Mary's 'closed' churchyard
The Sub-committee next visited St Mary's 'closed'
churchyard in Little Ilford, and were met by Reverend Brian Lewis.
St Mary the Virgin Church was built in the Twelfth
Century and burials would probably have begun at that time. The
Churchyard has been closed for approximately 40 years. During
this time the Council has been responsible for the churchyard,
although the church of England retains some control over the management
of the site (see below). Until relatively recently, some parts
of the churchyard had been in a rather neglected state, but a
concerted effort on the part of the local authority and church
volunteers have gone some way towards restoring it to a more acceptable
state. Nevertheless there remained a problem with dilapidated
and unsafe tombstones. Two tombs and two gravestones have been
cordoned off with red tape for public safety.
Gravestones which are designated as dangerous can
be laid flat by specialist stone masons. Many people would prefer
to see the gravestones restored, but there is very little money
for restoration. The Sub-committee's attention was drawn to the
fact that, despite the local authority being responsible for the
upkeep of the churchyard, any work which needs doing to make safe
dangerous tombstones has to be approved by the Diocesan Chancellor.
The Chancellor is advised by the Diocesan Advisory Committee,
who tend not to take the resource implications of their wish for
complete restoration into account.
The Sub-committee were told that it would be helpful to local
authorities responsible for graveyard maintenance if the legal
position with regard to maintenance in 'closed' churchyards were
Woodgrange Park Cemetery
The Sub-committee then visited Woodgrange Park Cemetery,
where they were met by the Manager of the Cemetery, Clive Mansfield,
and a representative of the cemetery's Friends group, which has
been operating since 1990.
In total there are 16,000 graves in the cemetery.
Currently, it is mainly Muslim burials which take place within
Woodgrange Park Cemetery, in a recently-designated area specifically
for this purpose. Elsewhere in the cemetery, burials are now taking
place between existing grave beds and the original headstones
In 1993 the Woodgrange Park Cemetery Act was passed,
allowing redevelopment of part of the cemetery. This generated
£400,000 additional funds for cemetery refurbishment and
£500,000 for future maintenance. Previously buried remains
from this section of the cemetery have been moved to a Garden
of Remembrance which is still to be developed. Badgehurst Ltd
(the cemetery management) are working on refurbishment plans for
the rest of the cemetery. The only income Woodgrange receives
is burial fees and a small amount for grave maintenance.
The renovation of the cemetery's Chapel of Rest would
cost in the region of £140,000 and there are not sufficient
funds available. Discussions are under way to determine whether
renovation should take place or the chapel should be pulled down.
City of London Cemetery
Finally, the Sub-committee visited the City of London
Cemetery, where they were taken on a tour by Dr Ian Hussein, Manager.
The City of London Cemetery employs 80 full-time
staff (grounds, administration, crematorium).
January is their busiest month, when as many as 50
funerals take place on one day. The Sub-committee were informed
that 32 funerals would be taking place on the day of their visit.
Over 5,000 funerals take place each year for which 80% of them
are cremation services. There are two gothic-style chapels, where
burial services take place. Each service is allocated 30 to 40
Three million pounds is spent looking after the cemetery
per year: the Sub-committee was told that it had been estimated
that more than this was spent each year by the public on floral
If every space in the cemetery were used, there would
be approximately 20 years space remaining. However, this would
entail using areas which were never intended for use for burials.
Currently the Cemetery is very beautiful and spacious: 'cramming'
graves into all available space would have a severely deleterious
effect on the nature of the cemetery landscape.
Permanent security staff are on the premises, not
less then three are on duty at one time, usually four. There are
also night patrols. As a result there is little vandalism; the
visiting public themselves seem to be the best deterrent although
there are cameras in operation.
Approximately 5-8% of the monuments in the City of
London Cemetery are dangerous. From the 1950s onwards headstones
have been carefully regulated, but the Victorian part of the cemetery
contains full length memorials and the height and weight of these
grave markers pose a significant safety risk, particularly as
coffins disintegrate and subsidence occurs. As landowners, the
City of London Cemetery is responsible for safety: following fatalities
in other cemeteries, graves have to be inspected every 5 years,
following HSE guidelines. Dangerous memorials are laid on the
ground, which is unsatisfactory as it spoils the aesthetics of
the cemetery. In the 1960s and 1970s this was done on a widespread
basis to make maintenance (i.e. grass cutting) easier. Many old
headstones were cleared away entirely for the same reason: the
Sub-committee was shown walls and banks made from the broken-up
remains of these gravestones.
The cemetery contains various special areas for particular
burial requests, including a special area for children; a catacomb
for above ground burial; and a section where cremated remains
are interred and memorials placed above. Leases on spaces for
cremated remains are offered for 10 years with the option to extend.
If the lease is not extended then the plaque on the memorial can
be removed. The graves are then sold on without removing or disturbing
the cremated remains. Rose beds or shrubs etc, are also dedicated
as memorials for cremated remains. A further section of the cemetery
is set aside for 'woodland' burial. No memorials are permitted
in this area: nor are trees planted on the graves, as this could
cause a problem in the future when some of these trees would have
to be thinned out. Clearly no family would be happy if it were
their relative's tree which was the one to be thinned out.
Income from the sale of rights of burial is placed
into a fund for maintenance costs in the future. The Sub-committee
was told that this was not common practice, many cemetery managers
having to use all current income to cover existing maintenance
costs. This, however, meant that a serious problem was being stored
up for the future.
293 The Committee understands that the Deputy Chancellor
of the Diocese has subsequently refused the faculty for the making
safe work the Borough wished to do. This means the tombs cannot
now be made safe unless the Borough agrees to pay for the restoration
work the Diocese wants. Back