Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Eighth Report



Tuesday 16 January 2001

Members Present:

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.[293] 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 clearer.

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 removed.


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 minutes.

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 tributes.

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

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