Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by Windlesham Parish Council (CEM 05)

  The administrative area of Windlesham Parish Council (WPC) covers the three villages of Bagshot, Lightwater and Windlesham in the Borough of Surrey Heath in NW Surrey. The civil parish is one of the largest in the country and currently has an electorate of 12,853 and a total population of almost 17,000. This Parish represents around 20 per cent of Surrey Heath in terms of population and physical land area.

  Windlesham Parish Council has three cemeteries, one in each village; a somewhat unusual situation since most minor authorities rarely possess more than one.


  Bagshot—The burial ground at Bagshot was established by 1807, this being the date of death on an inscription on the oldest legible gravestone. There is a high wall enclosing three sides of the cemetery that may have been constructed at the same time as a large chapel of ease that was centrally placed and built in 1821. Prior to this date the deceased had to be taken for burial to the neighbouring village of Windlesham in which the graveyard and parish church of St John the Baptist were situated. Presumably villagers did not enjoy the right of burial under common law in their own village until Bagshot became separated from the ecclesiastical parish of Windlesham in 1874. An independent parish church, dedicated to St Anne in 1884, was constructed in another part of Bagshot without sufficient curtilage for an additional or an alternative burial site. It must therefore be presumed that the unused part Bagshot Cemetery was at that time deemed adequate to satisfy future requirements for burial of the dead.

  When parish councils were established under the Local Government Act 1894 to administer civil affairs, Windlesham Parish Council was created and immediately acquired the burial ground which at that point technically became a cemetery. In the early 1900's the chapel of ease was replaced by a small chapel of rest that was used solely for Committal services.

  Windlesham—When WPC was established, it also became the burial authority for Windlesham and acquired most of the graveyard at St John the Baptist Church. The ecclesiastical authority retained a small part of the graveyard surrounding the Church that had no vacant space for further graves and which was duly closed to further burials by Order of (Privy) Council.

  The Cemetery was doubled in size to approximately 1.0 hectare (2.5 acres) during the 1960's to provide further land for graves. A Memorial Wall for cremated remains was constructed in the new section. Six years ago, the need for additional burial ground prompted WPC to negotiate with the Diocese of Guildford to buy part of an adjoining field held as glebe. A quarter of this field was purchased in 1996 thus increasing the total area of Windlesham Cemetery to 1.4 hectares ( 3.5 acres). The latest land acquisition was duly incorporated into the Cemetery by extending an existing asphalt driveway used by hearses, marking out grave positions, installing water standpipes and extensive landscaping. The first burials took place in this section in October 1998.

  Lightwater—The Parish Church of All Saints was built in 1903 at a time when the village of Lightwater was starting to grow. However, no provision for the burial of the dead was made until 1924 when WPC opened Lightwater Cemetery and equipped it with a small mortuary and a waiting room. One section of the Cemetery was reserved for Roman Catholic use, another part was consecrated for Church of England burials but by far the largest area remained unconsecrated. Lightwater Cemetery also has a purpose-built Memorial Wall, similar to the one at Windlesham, in front of which ashes urns and ashes caskets are buried in three rows.


  Bagshot Cemetery extends to about 0.5 hectare (1.5 acres) and there is no scope for enlargement. In 1966 it was closed for coffin interments except in but a few cases where provision had already been made for a second coffin in existing graves. Cremated remains can still be placed in existing graves or at one place designated for the purpose in front of the perimeter wall. This part of the wall is known as the Memorial Wall to which three rows of metal plaques are affixed to commemorate the departed and indicate their final resting place. The fabric of the chapel is kept in a good state of repair even though the building no longer has any functional role.

  Part of perimeter wall collapsed four years ago as a result of expansion by the roots of a mature beech tree growing in a neighbouring property. The damaged part of the wall was rebuilt, further buttresses were added to prevent further leaning elsewhere, and most of the wall was repointed. No further work to strengthen the wall should become necessary for many decades. Bagshot Cemetery is generally regarded as being one of only a few places left in the village having a secluded setting. Its picturesque chapel surrounded by well-spaced mature trees enhance its atmosphere of tranquillity and calm.

  The former mortuary at Lightwater Cemetery has now been converted into an office. The waiting room has been extended and refurbished and serves as a convenient Council Chamber. Lightwater Cemetery covers about 1.6 hectares (3.9 acres) of which about half has developed into closed-canopy birch and pine woodland, some of which will have to be cleared later this century when needed for grave space. Coffin interments regularly take place at both Lightwater and Windlesham Cemeteries, the latter being used approximately four times as often as the former. These days there are no longer areas reserved for use by specific denominations.


  Most cremated remains that are laid to rest in Windlesham, Lightwater or Bagshot Cemeteries come from Easthampstead, Aldershot or Woking Crematoria. Ascertaining the overall proportion of cremations to burials is not a calculation that WPC could reasonably undertake as this authority has no involvement in the arrangements for cremations. However, local opinion inclines to the view that the proportion of coffin interments may be somewhat greater in this parish than, say, the average for more urban areas within Surrey.

  Overall number of burials at Lightwater and Windlesham has been fairly consistent during the last ten years. However, the demand for purchase of grave spaces reserved for future use has noticeably increased during the same period. Local residents have mentioned that they are attracted to our cemeteries because of their accessibility and neat appearance. People residing further afield frequently arrange burials here because of some former connection or simply because other cemeteries in the locality are not so well maintained. WPC certainly prides itself on its high standard of maintenance, though Lightwater Cemetery is difficult to manage as it was originally heathland and still has only a thin layer of impoverished soil above a substrate of sand.


  WPC employs its own ground maintenance staff to manage and maintain its cemeteries, recreational areas and other facilities. A Work Supervisor schedules the daily work of each operator. An extensive range of well-maintained groundcare equipment is provided for the upkeep of these area. Staff are trained in the use of equipment and carry certificates for specialised work, such as use of selective herbicides. Staff are required to be alert to their duty of care to the public at large, and to report any health and safety problems immediately whenever they arise. A methodical inspection of memorials, including testing for stability, is undertaken every six months by the Work Supervisor. Any found to have movement by applying no more than a reasonably amount of effort are laid flat on the grave with any inscription uppermost. No memorial is removed from the grave on which it was placed except with the prior authority of the person owning the grave.

  An accident occurred a few years ago involving two children who were playing in Windlesham Cemetery, contrary to WPC Cemetery Regulations, while in the presence of both parents of one of them. A memorial headstone had become unstable as a result of frost damage to a cemented joint and was pushed over by one child, falling upon the foot the other one who sustained bone fractures. The injured child eventually made a full recovery and was duly compensated under the WPC insurance policy for the injury sustained. A subsequent internal inquiry revealed a combination of several factors contributing to the accident, not the least of which was method of fixing memorials commonly used a few decades ago.

  General administration and maintenance of cemeteries are funded from a budget derived partly from income and partly from the precept. The sale of grave plots and fees for burials provides around 20 per cent of the total expenditure. A substantial surcharge is levied upon those who had not resided within one of the three villages of the civil parish at the time of death or immediately prior to entering a rest home or nursing home.


  All graves are purchased either in advance or when making arrangements for burial. Many graves inevitably become neglected for a variety of reasons. In practice, the ownership of individual graves becomes increasingly hard to trace with the passage of time because next of kin move to other areas or die. Therefore it is impossible to maintain an accurate record of who is responsible for purchased graves.

  Nowadays, and in common with most other cemeteries and graveyards, full kerb sets are not permitted. WPC does, however, allow a considerable latitude in the design, type of material, size and inscription of memorials.

  Settlement, in the form of natural consolidation of soil put back into graves, normally takes place within a few months but may not occur until many years afterwards. If the grave has been left unplanted, more soil can be added, as required, by the ground staff to raise the level to that of the surrounding ground surface. If subsidence occurs after flowers or shrubs have been planted, permission must firstly be obtained from relatives before extra soil is added. If no flowers or shrubs have been planted and there is grass growing on a grave plot, the ground staff will cut the grass during routine mowing of adjacent areas of lawn. Care is taken while using grass cutting equipment in the vicinity of grave plots, so as not to damage plants or memorials, including green grass staining of light-coloured stonework by careless use of filament strimmers. Commemorative bench seats and trees planted around the cemeteries are treated with the same respect as all other personal memorials.


  WPC takes great pride in maintaining its three war memorials which it also insures against impact damage.

  The war memorial at Windlesham is situated inside Windlesham Cemetery. It is thoroughly cleaned every other year to remove discolouration resulting from deposits from overhanging trees. The inscriptions are renovated roughly every ten to twenty years.

  The Commonwealth War Graves Commission provides a small annual sum towards the upkeep of six memorials to individuals killed in the two World Wars and buried in the parish.


  Exclusive Right of Burial for 100 years, the maximum permitted under the Local Authorities Cemeteries Order 1977, may be purchased by anyone upon payment of the current fee.

  WPC cemeteries are now all non-denominational and to date there have been no problems regarding the juxtaposition of graves with particular religious associations.

  Because of unstable ground conditions, a maximum of two coffin interments are permitted in a single grave. Effectively this limits excavations to 2.15 metres (7 feet).

  WPC has sufficient burial space within its three cemeteries to meet estimated local requirements for several decades ahead. In the case of Lightwater Cemetery, there is probably sufficient space for over 100 years, based upon current usage and vacant land within the village that could be developed for residential housing. When the latest extension to Windlesham Cemetery becomes full in around 2030, it is hoped that another quarter, or all three remaining quarters, of the remaining glebe field can be added to the cemetery thus providing burial land for an estimated 30 to 100 years.

  It has always been the policy of WPC to permit burials of those who have had no connection with Bagshot, Lightwater or Windlesham but to restrict the number of "non-residential" interments by periodic adjustment of the surcharge when fees are reviewed, normally every four years.

  WPC has a firm policy not to re-use any existing graves, nor to infill spaces between adjacent graves.

November 2000

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