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Category Archives: 21st Century
The BBC has an interesting article today about re-using old graves, one proposed solution to the chronic shortage of burial space in the UK, and in London in particular. The City of London Cemetery has been doing this: grave owners have been contacted about graves which have not been used for 75 years or more, which were known to have space for two more burials. At least 30 of the newly-available plots have now been chosen as someone's final resting place.
Personally I rather like this idea. It's preferable to all the alternatives: cramming new graves into space that was once chapel or pathway, cutting down trees, or creating ever more cemeteries. London authorities have had the power since 2007 to "lift and deepen": remove old remains from a grave, dig it deeper, and then replace them together with new burials. But no one's yet used those powers: I think Gary Burks, Superintendant of the City of London Cemetery, is right when he says that "everyone is waiting for someone else to do it. Nobody wants to be the one in front of the camera when it happens."
But actually, I don't think there'll be a fuss. 75 years is a long time; the chance that someone is still visiting the grave is small. Memorials are being preserved (apparently); nothing is being lost, only added to.
And what no one else seems to be saying is that this may, in fact, be the preserver of our cemeteries. The early twentieth century, when the first Victorian cemeteries were filled and couldn't accept any more burials, is full of stories of financial crisis. The simple bottom line is that if cemeteries stop accepting people for burial, their major revenue stream is gone. If we can keep that money going for another 30 or 50 or 100 years, we stand a chance of averting the crisis in our own time.
But what I really loved about this story was Mr Burks' anecdote about when the re-use story first broke:
On one occasion, an Irish lady did get in touch to say 'are you going to reuse my grave, then?' After it was explained she said "Well, that's fine, I don't mind what you do once I'm dead.'
Mostly ones that are new since last time I visited, and the inevitable Karl Marx. Douglas Adams' grave has pencils stuck into the grass beside it too, which I thought rather nice.
It's six years since I went to Woodgrange Park, and I don't mind admitting I trudged along Romford Road with a certain amount of trepidation. Was it even still there, or had Badgehurst finally succeeded in selling it off? There was a moment of panic when I saw a Tesco Express that was surely new... but then, no, there was the sign pointing into the cemetery. All was well.
Well, no it isn't. The chapel has gone, demolished in 2006. It's been replaced with a pile of debris, containing the smashed-up remains of several gravestones: you'd've thought after the Emmerdale fiasco, they'd have been more careful. But it's not all bad. Maybe it's the time of year, maybe it's the loss of the chapel, but the drive into the cemetery did seem a little less overgrown to me.
Further back, it seems that everything's been given a very strong dose of weed-killer. This is immediately noticeable in the older section to the right of where the chapel was, and in the larger section to the left and back which is now the Muslim burial section. I've said many times, if anything is to save Woodgrange Park, it will be the Muslim community. There are many, many more graves now than in 2005, and I really hope that this signals the beginning of a new era for this long and badly neglected cemetery.
Visiting: Woodgrange Park station and turn left. Watch out for the little sign pointing into the cemetery; it looks more like a car park from outside. Few livings about, even in the recently used parts. Someone possibly official was clearing some of the older graves when I was there. No one objects to photography.
Manor Park's nicely managed by the same company who opened it in 1875. You can see the whole of London's memorial history in this one place: from Victorian angels and solid granite edifices, through grey stone and then black granite slabs, and finally the myriad standard rose bushes that memorialise those who have been cremated here. It's nice, but not all that exciting, and I've seen it before and wouldn't have come again but for one thing: Steve Marsh's astonishing granite BMW.
Steve's daughter told the Daily Mail:
He was a car enthusiast all his life, he loved cars from a child. ... He always drove BMWs, we've all got them. We couldn't just give him a normal headstone. We wanted it to look as realistic as possible. We had a lot of trouble getting it done. We had to order it from China and have it shipped over. It weighs about a ton and was made out of one piece of granite. I think my Dad would absolutely love it.
I absolutely love it too. Rest in peace, Steve: you'll never be forgotten.
Visiting: Manor Park rail station, or walkable (just about) from East Ham tube. Very few livings, one guy washing his car. Has toilets!
Hendon Cemetery was opened by the Abney Park Cemetery Company, but is now run by Barnet Council, who are to be congratulated on their excellent maintenance of the site. Hendon lacks many very spectacular monuments, but it's still a beautiful cemetery, well-planted with trees and shrubs which give it the feel of a country churchyard. North London's varied cultures are well-represented, with a large Greek section which spills over amongst the Chinese graves lining the western end of the main path. Here I saw for the first time the Chinese custom of leaving oranges on graves, and - very much not for the first time - the English custom of celebrating the football allegiances of the dead. They are, it seems, mostly Arsenal supporters.