Memorandum by Calderdale MBC Funeral Services
1.0 THE ENVIRONMENTAL,
1.1 A study of cemetery design reveals much
about the history of taste, social history and style in gardening
in Britain from Victorian times to the present day. Cemeteries
are also valuable open space resources in busy built up areas
and a resource for the study of local and family history.
Until the 19th century, cemeteries in Britain
were rare, and although burial or entombment of bodies was universal,
this was generally done in churches, churchyards or private mausolea.
By the early 1800's, not only were parish churchyards often unable
to accommodate the increasing number of dead bodies, but many
non-conformists wished to be buried outside the Anglican Church.
The rapidly growing population of Victorian
Britain meant that few social issues were more fundamental than
the disposal of the dead, and the problem was particularly acute
in the industrial towns of the north, where urban hygiene was
of particular concern.
As well as being a major social benefit, these
cemeteries were also seen as major civic amenities on a par with
parks, libraries, art galleries and museums, and with the same
recreational and educational implications. They were the joint
products of landscape design, architecture and sculpture and provided
a valuable insight into the attitudes and beliefs of our Victorian
ancestors. Often planted with specimen trees and shrubs, they
were not only practical solutions to provide resting places benefiting
the status of the departed, but were also designed to cultivate
the intellect with their botanical riches and variety of monuments,
whose morally uplifting inscriptions would also be educational
and civilising. In terms of writing the social history of a town,
the cemetery should be seen on a par with all the other Victorian
developments, such as mills, town halls and public parks.
As well as providing windows on the past, the
location of many cemeteries in the heart of urban areas means
that they now provide places of tranquil recreation and urban
green space, with the added potential to create wildlife refuges
and urban nature reserves within easy reach of the local population.
Their biodiversity can be enhanced by sensitive, low maintenance
planting schemes and the potential exists to further develop this
potential where resources for maintenance are available.
1.2 A reserve of open space, free from "active"
recreation, providing quietness and calm.
1.3 Helps to break up an otherwise continuous
urban areaa habitat for flora and fauna. Older cemetery
areas with large dense memorials encourage shade-tolerant plant
1.4 Provide a record of the differing and
developing styles and construction in:
memorials, artistic form and materials;
associated buildings, ie chapels,
lodges and offices.
1.5 Provide evidence, through the size and
type of memorials, and position within the cemetery of:
Changes in emphasis on social standing
levelling of wealth and income;
changes in mortality statistics.
1.6 The contrast between old Victorian cemeteries
and later layouts gives tangible evidence of:
The greater resources made available
for cemetery provision in former times and, presumably, the greater
importance placed on layout, presentation and security.
The effort made by relations and
visitors in maintaining graves and the sacrifice of leisure time
they were prepared to make for that purpose.
The lower cost of labour in former
times, available for cemetery activity (no doubt a significant
factor in this "levelling" of wealth).
1.7 Our older cemeteries were created by
a combination of attitudes, materials, art form, resources, social
emphasis and interest which, in the main, can never be repeated.
In our major towns and cities are the monuments to the lives and
works of the great industrialists whose efforts made Britain the
"workshop of the world", and the great politicians and
public figures who formed a society of fairness and balance which
is the envy of the world. Already these are vandalised and neglected
with no importance placed upon them and consequently no regard
and respect for the effort and achievements made.
1.8 To reduce this neglect, to commemorate
and respect the final resting place of those whose lives have
had such impact on the community must be a worthy cause and must
improve the attitude of the community at large. Such a cause must
justify the input of resources and ongoing security.
1.9 In addition to the cultural values of
commemoration and memorials, style, landscaping and layout, it
is necessary to consider the effect of long standing cultural
traditions in relation to bereavement.
1.10 There is no doubt that the following
aspects contribute to acceptance of bereavement and readjustment
a place for the disposal of the body
which has sanctity, is secure and treated with care and respect;
a place for quiet meditation and
a place where there is an outlet
for the action of caring. For instance, the provision of an expensive
monument is frequently more satisfying to the bereaved when the
cost involves some degree of sacrifice;
a cemetery that has longevity, ie
without the threat of future disturbance;
a cemetery that is an accepted part
of the community, which the bereaved can accept in advance (and
relate to religious beliefs) and look towards without criticism
of the standards to expect.
1.11 In addition to these points, concern
for the environment leads a growing proportion of the public to
favour cemeteries which promote woodland or other natural features.
Thus the life that has passed promotes, establishes and secures
new wildlife, mitigating to some degree the loss in bereavement.
1.12 In all cultures, the place of burial
is hallowed; this is rightly so. To respect and care for the final
resting place of the dead, a place of great importance to the
surviving relatives, is a sign of care for the feeling of others
and should not be absent in any culture. The modern phenomenon
of vandalism and destruction within cemeteries is alien to any
established culture, it is harmful to the community, and requires
control despite the necessary cost of doing so.
2.1 Calderdale MBC operates an estimated
90 acres (36 hectares) of traditional cemeteries. Most have a
high density of memorials and some 40 acres is on steeply sloping
2.2 The general condition does not cause
complaints from the public, and standards are considered good
in relation to the resources made available for maintenance. Areas
worthy of comment are:
(i) Grass Cutting
The obstruction caused by memorials, the disturbance
and settlement of ground, the placing of objects on graves by
relatives and the seasonal variation in grass growth make it impossible
with current resources to keep grass constantly cut to a level
which the public find acceptable.
The rapid grass growth of early summer is, however,
a transient phenomenon. When growth slows down, the close-cutting
will be restored. We believe that it is wiser to concentrate resources
on the more important issues of preserving buildings, walls, paths
and drives, and to keeping memorials sound and safe, than to waste
resources on counteracting temporary long grass.
Nevertheless, the public at large (in ignorance
of the long-term issues) demand close grass cutting regardless
of the consequences of that misplaced priority.
(ii) Ground Levelling
Settlement of the ground after interment is
both short and long-term. Both give additional workload in back
filling and returfing, but in particular the settlement due to
collapse of coffins after many years of burial poses particular
problems. By the time collapse occurs the area may be heavily
memorialised and, in fact, settlement may adversely effect this
memorial itself, particularly if it is becoming unsound.
(iii) Paths and Drives
In common with most burial authorities, paths
and drives pose problems. As cemeteries get larger, paths and
drives are increasingly necessary. However, many were not made
to accept modern traffic and heavy cemetery equipment, and it
is difficult to justify the high cost of upgrading and maintenance
with the degree of use made of the facility.
(iv) Maintenance of Chapels, Lodges
The majority of chapels and lodges in cemeteries
have been built to a high standard, both in construction and aesthetics.
Maintenance has been minimal because of the relatively high cost,
and many now face demolition. Calderdale MBC has lost two such
buildings in recent years.
Similar comments apply to cemetery lodges. Almost
all cemeteries have been provided with one or two lodgesand
some with more. These buildings provided a useful form of security.
Almost universally, local authorities have imposed rents in recent
years, which have discouraged tenancy by cemetery personnel. The
majority are now either disposed of, or tenanted by persons unconnected
with the cemeteries. This is a serious loss of security and usefulness,
and defeats the object of the lodges' existence.
By far the greatest cause of low standards in
most older municipal cemeteries is "vandalism", which
is exacerbated by poor security, eg cemetery lodges not functional,
no patrolling and poor maintenance/removal of walls, hedges and
Available resources are concentrated on the
repairs of damage, litter clearance etc, instead of planned maintenance
Recent injuries to people have focused attention
on the safety of cemetery memorials. Whilst burial authorities
have produced income from memorial fees, this has inevitably been
used to offset operational costs and never invested for future
costs of removing or making safe the memorials which are damaged
or fall to disrepair. Whilst responsibility should rest with the
memorial owner, inevitably the owner cannot be traced.
Calderdale MBC could have responsibility for
ensuring that at least 35,000 memorials are safe. Inspection,
say twice per year, would give a full-time employee only 1.5 minutes
per inspection, with no time for either reporting or rectification!
3.0 ROLES OF
DETR AND OTHERS
3.1 The co-ordination and simplification
of the legislation relating to Cemetery provision and operation,
in the form of the Local Authorities Cemeteries Order 1977, was
extremely useful to the Authority.
This statutory instrument should be extended
to strengthen the following aspects:
(i) The right of the authority to remove
any article (whether construed as a memorial or not) placed in
the cemetery and which could be unsafe, obstructive or which detracts
from the standard of maintenance and appearance that it is desired
(ii) Where removal of memorials is concerned
(see schedule 3, para 12, line 2) other options may usefully be
suggested in place of the words "remove from the cemetery
and destroy". Many memorials were constructed from quarried
material of superior quality unavailable today, and which could
be usefully re-cycled after removal of inscriptions. Furthermore,
authorities should be encouraged to repair and re-erect memorials
of cultural, historic or structural interest, and to invest a
proportion of their initial income for future maintenance.
3.2 The disposal by burial (whether as normal
interment or by the interment of cremated remains) is such a fundamental
function of every society, and has such future land use and maintenance
implications, that it should be the responsibility of the DETR
to provide and maintain a central register of good practice. This
could be performed in conjunction with the Institute of Burial,
Cremation Administration (IBCA), the confederation of Burial Authorities
(CBA) and the Association of Burial Authorities (ABA).
3.3 Once established, the central register
of good practice could not only assist and advise local authorities,
it would have the expertise to better perform a function of inspection
and assessment on the necessary occasions.
4.0 LONG TERM
4.1 The population of Calderdale is relatively
static with a relatively static and predictable number of disposals
4.2 Long-term planning for burial space
has not been undertaken but will have to be considered within
the next 3 to 5 years. Items of which the Council is already aware
and will influence the planning exercise are:
(i) The need to research the number of used
but unpurchased graves, which still have available capacity.
(ii) The spaces available which are unsuited
to full interment but which are suitable for children's graves
or for cremated remains.
(iii) The option of providing a low maintenance
cemetery for those who will favour that facility and to retain
existing traditional cemeteries for those who require traditional
(iv) The possibility of woodland or moorland
burial areas, with centralised memorial facilities leaving a more
environmentally acceptable burial area which can be returned to
forestry or agricultural/grazing use in the distant future.
(v) The establishment of ecological cemetery
areas with reduced maintenance and possibly grazing as a means
of vegetation control.
(vi) The possibility of encouraging cremation
and to provide large, low density scattering areas in parkland
as an alternative to burial. The natural assimilation of remains
in low-density scattering allows re-use of the land, which together
with a centralised form of memorial (eg Book of Remembrance or
electronic commemoration) would give a facility of almost infinite
capacity and availability.
4.3 The Council is also conscious of the
requirement of minority groups, which are well established in
the Calderdale area. The grave sizes required, together with the
requirement for single shallow depth burials, causes 3 times the
area of cemetery land to be used, by comparison to that used by
the indigenous population, when projected over a 10-20 year period.
5.0 THE MANAGEMENT
5.1 The provision of cemeteries by local
authorities, mainly due to the influence of the Burial Acts 1852-1956
and the Public Health (Interments) Act 1879 was a logical and
necessary step at that time.
Whether the service should remain with the local
authority is questionable.
5.2 The service is specialised. It sits
comfortably alongside the provision of Crematoria and the two
facilities work well as a combined department for practical reasons.
The service combines well with the provision of mortuary services,
the maintenance of closed churchyards, the provision of funerals
under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984.
5.3 Although a specialised subject, the
elements involved are diverse; legal requirements, detailed records
and administration, horticulture, grounds maintenance, environmental
issues and civil works are all involved. Whilst cemeteries are
part of a local community (and should always stay that way) there
would be advantage in making the overall administration, funding
and training etc a regional function, with all aspects and specialists
"under one roof".
5.4 At the present time, the availability
of experienced and specialised managers for cemeteries is limited;
in the main because of unattractive career prospects and also
because cemeteries often form only a minor part of a large, diverse
local authority department. We believe that a dedicated organisation
would provide better career prospects. If also combined with more
enthusiastic support of the IBCA education organisation, the UK
would be provided ultimately with a better standard of management
of its burial service.
5.5 Other aspects of provision are:
(i) It would seem reasonable to expect minority
groups to provide their own facilities where their requirements
vary significantly from those accepted by the indigenous population.
It would also seem reasonable for the facilities to be inspected
periodically to ensure that legal requirements (eg depth of burial)
are being observed.
(ii) Whilst private companies have provided
large cemeteries in the past, these have only survived whilst
there has been ample income from the sale of burial rights etc.
The lack of viability in the larger, older traditional cemeteries
will keep them in the public domain for the foreseeable future.
(iii) Cemeteries could be established on
a trust basis.
6.0 FUNDING AND
6.1 Unless a cemetery has:
(i) a low maintenance and operational cost
(ii) income from the sale of new graves (ie
burial rights) then it will not be economically viable. In the
case of large, older, traditional cemeteries such as those in
Calderdale, those conditions are not met and to increase the fees
for interments to a level which is economic, would be unacceptable
to potential users.
6.2 The cemeteries of Calderdale in common
with most other similarly placed authorities, run at a deficit,
ie £102,000.00 per annum at current expenditure levels.
6.3 In these circumstances, factors such
as vandalism, rubbish-dumping and unauthorised items placed in
the cemetery provide a severe impediment to resources which are
6.4 It is in the heavily populated and older
industrialised areas where the greatest areas of difficult to
maintain, traditional cemeteries are found. It is also unfortunate
that in these areas the greatest number of disused burial grounds
or churchyards also exist, which ultimately devolve to the local
authority for maintenance. This imposes yet a further burden.
6.5 Funding from sources such as the National
Lottery would be useful, but controls must be in place to ensure
that the funding provided is used wisely and addresses the main
problem. For instance, funds provided to cut long grass in May
would be forgotten by September! Funds would be most useful which:
(i) increase security physically in the form
of rebuilding walls, gates and railings or indirectly by re-establishing
residences on site
(ii) increase interest in the cemetery; assistance
by setting up interest groups
(iii) invest in refurbishing cemetery chapels
which have potential for increased use
(iv) assist replacement of paths and drives
(v) allow inspection of memorials and repair
of those with historic interest etc
(vi) allow research into, and survey of,
new cemetery areas and layouts and possible new cemetery purchase
(vii) permit the re-binding of ancient registers
and re-drawing of plans.