Memorandum by Bath and North East Somerset
Council (CEM 09)
"the environmental, historical and
cultural significance of cemeteries for local communities"
Open space accessible to local people: Closed
burial grounds in the Bath and North East Somerset Council area
form an important part of the green open space, often in built
up areas that are accessible by local people for quiet enjoyment
or to visit relatives graves. Closed burial grounds usually contain
mature trees and shrubs and buildings that contribute to the local
character of the area.
Wildlife interest: B&NES have recently completed
a Best Value Review of its cemeteries and crematorium service,
this has highlighted a number of issues and opportunities. The
Council's Biodiversity Action plan included proposals to carry
out an audit and further develop environmentally sympathetic management
of cemeteries. Past wildlife surveys have revealed the importance
of cemeteries to biodiversity.
Cemeteries are often relatively undisturbed
and can shelter locally rare species such as a species of bramble
found in Abbey Cemetery, Bath.
The different types of stone from which the
monuments are made support a wide range of lichens and mosses.
The trees, shrubs and grass provide habitats for small mammals,
birds and insects. Lansdown and Haycombe Cemeteries, Bath, contain
remnants of limestone grassland, the survival of which is increasingly
threatened by development and intensive agricultural practices.
Conflicts can arise here between the interests
of those who would prefer to see cemeteries maintained intensively
and those who would prefer a more wildlife friendly management
The historical importance is enormous; these
are the places where the famous, the infamous and those who died
for their country are interred. Here in Bath, a former Cemetery
Supervisor has produced a leaflet detailing the holders of VCs
interred in Bath cemeteries. A surprising number of forgotten
heroes. St James Cemetery is itself a testament to the war as
some of the graves bears shrapnel wounds from the Bath Blitz.
Closed burial grounds and other cemeteries often
contain monuments to important local people, for example William
Beckford is buried in Lansdown Cemetery and his grave is visited
by people who come to visit his Tower next door.
Abbey Cemetery is in Widcombe Parish and the
Widcombe Association takes a keen interest in Abbey Cemetery.
Abbey Cemetery was designed by a Victorian pioneer of cemetery
layout, J.C. Loudon, who considered that cemeteries when full
should become green places for perpetual public use. He proposed
that they should include wide public paths and be planted with
suitable trees and shrubs so that the public could enjoy them
for peaceful contemplation. Members of the Widcombe Association
History Group have conducted research into the lives of the people
buried there and have organised guided walks. They designed an
interpretation board for the entrance which informs about the
history, wildlife and historical and landscape importance of the
Local history and genealogy groups often take
an interest in their local cemetery. In Bath, The Beckford Tower
Trust are surveying and recording important monuments in Lansdown
Cemetery and are publishing a heritage trail of the Cemetery which
will be used to add value of the visits to William Beckford's
Tower, a popular tourist attraction in the Bath area.
The monuments made from local and imported stone
are a valuable resource for the study of geology.
The monuments in many cemeteries, closed and
open are of historical and architectural importance. Abbey Cemetery
is included in the 1996 Register of Parks and Gardens of Historic
Interest and many of the cemetery monuments in Bath and elsewhere
in the B&NES area are on the DCMS list of buildings of Special
Architectural or Historic Interest.
Reforms in the methods of managing the disposal
of the dead are reflected in the layout and design of burial grounds.
Many of the Victorian cemeteries are reflections of the prevailing
social order of the time. St James Cemetery for example has the
poor buried in the wetter, liable to flood areas, where as the
gentry were buried in the higher and drier parts of the site.
The inscriptions in the monuments also reflect the contemporary
attitudes to death.
The responsibilities of Local Authorities for
Closed Burial Grounds
Local authorities are obliged to take on the
management of closed burial grounds if requested to do so by the
Parish. There are 29 closed burial grounds and two open cemeteries
in the B&NES Council District. The management and maintenance
of the closed burial grounds is mostly the responsibility of the
local authority. The local authority are obliged to keep main
paths open, the burial grounds clear of regenerated scrub and
to inspect all walls, steps and other structures on a regular
basis to ensure that they are safe. Work to make these structures
safe is the responsibility of the Council.
The monuments and gravestones remain the responsibility
and in the ownership of the occupants and their descendants. It
was often the case that a capital sum was left by the deceased
to generate an income in perpetuity for the maintenance of the
plot. The sums were often small and through inflation are not
now sufficient for the purpose. In some cases the Parishes have
added all these small sums together and retained them for other
purposes, they are not usually passed over to the local authority
along with the closed burial ground. It is difficult to get from
the Church Authorities how big these funds are and for what purpose
they are being currently used. When monuments cease to be safe
irrespective of their architectural merits the Council has only
a duty to make them safe, which is usually laying stones flat,
or placing them around the edge of the burial ground. Over a period
of time this results in the degradation of the character, historical
and cultural interest of the site.
The Parochial Church Councils retains the responsibility
for the care of trees that were planted in closed burial grounds
which they often have difficulty in funding.
One of the issues requiring clarification is
the extent to which local authorities are entitled to interfere
with disintegrating monuments or sinking graves. A clear direction
is required as to where the responsibilities lie between Parochial
Church Councils, Local Authorities and relatives of the deceased.
Also the issue of fees (see below).
Local Authorities have no method of predicting
the number of closed burial grounds that it will be required to
assume the management of (and the associated costs) in the future.
In the B&NES area the income from the Crematorium
at Haycombe Cemetery, Bath and the income from burials in re-opened
graves in closed burial grounds and new graves in open cemeteries,
supports the management of all the cemeteries as well as contributing
to the general council income.
Funds under the administration of Parochial
Church Councils specifically donated for the upkeep of graves
in perpetuity need to be identified and transferred to the Local
Authorities along with re-opening fees collected and kept by the
There are insufficient funds for the adequate
management of closed burial grounds. These are not sufficient
to devise and implement the management plans that are an essential
tool of the management. People who visit the graves of their relatives
are often disappointed in the untidy appearance of the cemeteries.
Management plans for individual cemeteries would ensure that the
historical, cultural and wildlife interests of each site are protected
as well as them making cemeteries pleasant places for all visitors.
However as the specific purpose of a cemetery is for burial, additional
funds are required if the site is to be managed to take account
of the increased costs of these added benefits.
Closed burial grounds often contain buildings
such as chapels that are at present boarded up to prevent misuse.
If partnership funding was available they could be made available
for an alternative use.
Closed burial grounds are subject to vandalism.
A recent attack at one B&NES cemetery caused tens of thousands
of pounds worth of damage to headstones. The council can only
make safe and cannot afford remedial work; a lottery grant will
be essential to repair the extensive damage. CCTV has been installed
at cemeteries considered at high risk.
In theory, Landfill Tax is available for funding
management plans for individual cemeteries. This funding would
also be available for other works not the legal responsibility
of local authorities. This could include work to improve access,
to aid understanding. A Local Authority can only apply for landfill
tax funding if they have a landfill site within 10 miles of the
cemetery. The drawing up of Management Plans for closed burial
grounds may not have a high priority for Environmental Bodies
or for the landfill operators who finance them. External partnership
funding is essential for such projects as the reinstatement of
railings removed in the war and the essential restoration of chapel
buildings if cemeteries are to be maintained for wider public