Memorandum by the Garden History Society
1. The Garden History Society is the national
amenity society for the study and protection of historic parks
and gardens. It is a statutory consultee on planning applications
affecting sites on the English Heritage Register of parks and
gardens of special historic interest, which includes cemeteries.
PPG15 states that the Society "has more experience of dealing
with planning applications affecting parks and gardens then any
other body" (paragraph A16).
2. Cemeteries have an important place in
the history of British gardening and landscape design. Along with
parks and hospital grounds they are one of the three great innovations
in public landscape of the nineteenth century. In their present
maturity, and despite their often lamentable condition, they add
immeasurably to the urban landscape: the huge range of stone memorials
from simple crosses to statuary and mausolea, the richness of
the structural planting and the mature trees, the intricate and
often subtle layout of drives and paths, the elaborate mortuary
chapels, the boundary walls and railings, lodges and gateways,
still constitute designed landscapes of striking power and beauty.
3. The design principles stem directly from
garden design, with the great horticultural theorist, John Claudius
Loudon, playing a fundamental role in promoting a design aesthetic
and rationale in his book On the Laying out, Planting and Management
of Cemeteries (1843). Loudon's stress on a geometric, grid-pattern
layout was not especially influential: most subsequent cemeteries
continued to favour at least an element of informal design. But
the book, grounded in pragmatic questions of hygiene for expanding
conurbations, epitomised the unity of Victorian ideas on beauty,
utility and "morals", and the importance which was laid
on cemeteries as part of what we would now call the public realm.
4. Nineteenth-century thinking on cemeteries
developed in response to the chronic problem of over-crowding
in existing, inner-city burial grounds, and the threat to health
that posed. The way was led by Paris, which in 1804 banned churchyard
burials and in the same year purchased land to the east of the
city to lay out the cemetery of Pe"re Lachaise.
5. In England, cemeteries began to be developed
during the 1820s and 30s, much influenced by the English landscape
style of parkland design. The purest example of this is probably
Norwood Cemetery in London (1837), while Kensal Green included
additional formal features such as avenues. Some new cemeteriesagain
influenced by garden designexploited naturally dramatic
topography to create landscape interest, such as St James's in
Liverpool which was laid out in an abandoned quarry (1829), the
Glasgow Necropolis on a steeply sloping hilltop site (1831) or
Highgate in London where the steep banks accommodated catacombs
and necessitated picturesquely curving drives (1839). Under the
influence of Loudon and changing tastes in garden design, mid-nineteenth-century
layouts became notably more formal such as Joseph Paxton's London
Road Cemetery in Coventry (1847) with its formal terrace. In the
later part of the century, cemetery design tended to combine formal
and informal elements.
6. Underlying these various trends however
was the common belief that cemeteries should be high-quality designed
landscapes, reflecting not only Victorian ideals of death and
remembrance, but also the belief that they were an essential part
of the civic realm of towns and cities; that, like parks, they
reflected on towns' healthiness, prosperity, and civic pride.
7. Loudon promoted the idea of combining
disposal of the dead with horticultural, and particularly arboricultural,
interest, championing the notion of a "garden cemetery"
which he took from the Necropolis Glasguensis of John Strang (1831).
Abney Park Cemetery in London, planted by the leading nurseryman,
George Loddiges, in 1840, exemplifies the doubling-up of a cemetery
with an arboretum approved of by Loudon: he cites Abney Park as
an example of his nostrum that,
"a general cemetery in the neighbourhood
of a town, properly designed, laid out, ornamented with tombs,
planted with trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants, all named, and
the whole properly kept, might become a school of instruction
in architecture, sculpture, landscape-gardening, arboriculture,
botany, and in those important parts of general gardening, neatness,
order and high keeping" (Cemeteries, p13)
For many urban dwellers in the period up to
the 1850s, when the park movement began to gather momentum, cemeteries
were the only available green space available for relaxation and
8. The importance of cemeteries in garden
history is recognised to some extent by English Heritage. At present,
22 cemeteries are included on the national Register, while recent
research has we gather identified 22 more for consideration. However,
a 1994 theme Study for EH by the leading authority on cemeteries,
Dr Chris Brooks, suggested that of a national resource of roughly
2,250 cemeteries, probably about 300 could be registered, in whole
or in part. His study further submitted descriptions of 56 sites
for inclusion, of which only a handful (which he recommended be
upgraded) were on the original Register. Of these, 15 were recommended
for inclusion or upgrading to Grade I, 17 Grade II* and 24 Grade
II. Dr Brooks also recommended that a national survey be undertaken
to identify these cemeteries in the national stock which are historically
and aesthetically important, to provide historical information
on them, to compile a basic photographic record and to make recommendations
for registration, Conservation Area-designation, or (building)
9. It is disappointing to see how little
progress has been made by English Heritage in implementing Dr
Brooks' recommendations. There has been no national survey and
omissions from the Register currently include 2 of his recommendations
for Grade I, 16 of his Grade II*s and 19 of his Grade IIs. At
present, there are no Grade I registered cemeteries and only 6
Grade II*. As English Heritage is not a statutory consultee on
Grade II registered parks and gardens, its input on threats posed
by planning applications to cemeteries is thus limited to a mere
half-dozen sites. In our opinion, this represents an inadequate
and inaccurate reflection of the historic interest of cemeteries.
As it is now doing in the case of urban parks, English Heritage
urgently needs to rectify this under-representation of a major
national resource through a positive and specific programme of
cemetery survey, assessment and registration.
10. Apart from the question of national
historic importance, cemeteries are a unique part of the local
heritage. Their monuments and archives represent an irreplaceable
resource for family and local historians, and they have immense
and largely (although some authorities and Friends groups as in
Sheffield have produced schools packs) untapped educational value;
they reflect the demography and development of our great towns
and cities; they are landmarks which contribute to local distinctiveness
and cultural identity, and they are often an invaluable part of
the local natural heritage, preserving as they do oasis-sites
in generally highly developed areas of towns and cities.
11. Above all, working cemeteriesand
most Victorian cemeteries are still openare a living heritage,
embodying a continuum with the past, by virtue of still being
used for burials. The quality of death is an integral part of
the quality of life and poorly maintained cemeteries have a detrimental
effect on the latter.
12. The Heritage Lottery fund has grant-aided
restoration plans or repairs to a small number of churchyards
and cemeteries (approximately fifteen), closed and open. However,
only a handful are to non-denominational cemeteries: Mansfield
Cemetery, Nunhead, Hampstead, Brompton, Highgate, St Pancras.
Others are to Jewish cemeteries (Kingsbury Road, Islington and
Whitstable Road, Canterbury) converted burial grounds converted
to gardens (Greyfriars, Perth), churchyards (St Mary's Haringey,
St Dunstan's and All Saints' Tower Hamlets) or memorial gardens
(Stoke Poges). We believe that the Heritage Lottery Fund should
consider how is might increase the number of cemetery projects
it is funding and how to achieve a better geographical spread.
13. The environmental, historical and cultural
significance of cemeteries is poorly reflected in local strategies
and policies. A numbersuch as Key Hill in Birmingham or
Arnos Vale in Bristolhave been designated Conservation
Areas in recognition of this local historic interest. However,
in general there is a dearth of local initiatives recognising
this importance. We have not seen them addressed in any Cultural
Strategies, and they receive only occasional reference in Parks
and Open Spaces Strategies; at best they are the subject of a
separate strategy on burial provision. It is essential to recognise
their local cultural importance, as physical components of the
urban landscape, as repositories of collective memory and civic
identity, and for the role that death rituals play in the spiritual
quality of life of our towns and cities. Alan Ruff has said of
public parks, and it is true of cemeteries: "They were and
remain statements of how we see ourselves as a society".
We believe that the historical and cultural importance of cemeteries
needs to be recognised by local authorities and addressed at a
strategic level, for example in Local Cultural Strategies or the
public realm strategies recommended in the Urban Task Force report,
and that local authorities also need actively to promote their
long-term conservation at a strategic level.
14. In a way that would have disappointed
Loudon, cemeteries are today not seen as fundamentally fulfilling
the same role as public parks, botanic gardens or arboreta, in
terms of the civic realm of a civilised city, a concept epitomised
by Robinet in his 1869 Paris sans Cimetie"re: "Without
a cemetery, there is no city". Indeed it is notable that
cemeteries are not referred to as part of "the public realm"
in the Urban Task Force's Towards an Urban Renaissance (1999);
nor do they appear to receive a mention in the Urban White Paper.
This represents a significant failure in strategic thinking about
the public realm and urban policy generally. We hope that this
inquiry will represent a major step in reinstating cemeteries
in understanding and discussion of the public realm.
15. Occasionally well-maintained cemeteries
only serve to highlight the appalling condition of the many. Registered
cemeteries such as Arnos Vale are often in no better condition
than un-registered sites. As in parks, there is an urgent need
to repair the basic infrastructure of boundaries, entrances, circulation
routes and tree-planting.
16. The condition of monuments is a separate
consideration and in many ways a yet more difficult challenge.
Many have been demolished on safety grounds or removed wholesale
where areas of cemeteries have been converted to lawn. It is arguable
that under the present system, where the ownership of a monument
stays with a family which may long ago have severed all connection
with a cemetery, maintenance of all monuments is simply unsustainable.
However, allowing monuments to fall into poor condition ad hoc,
rather than repairing them on a strategic basis, is unacceptable
and represents a major threat to the national and local heritage.
17. Cemeteries have suffered as a result
of the same trends in local authority organisation and funding
that have so damaged urban parks. Local government reorganisation,
compulsory competitive tendering and increased central government
control on spending, have all resulted in lowered status, fragmented
management structures and cuts in budgets.
18. The problem of maintenance and repair
is hampered by the provisions under which local authorities are
responsible for the safety of monuments in cemeteries but are
not owners of those monuments. Local authorities' public liability
in the case of accidents makes demolition or utilitarian repair
of monuments more likely.
19. While many cemeteries are benefiting
from input from the voluntary sector, it is reasonable for communities
to expect good quality maintenance and management to be provided
as a service by the local authority. It would not be reasonable
to look to the voluntary sector, or indeed the commercial sector,
for broad-brush solutions to the current problems.
20. The poor condition of cemeteries rules
many of them out as areas for public amenity: it is difficult
to determine to what extent their abandonment as places for quiet
enjoyment is due also to a cultural shift in attitudes towards
mortality, but we suggest that their condition has played a large
part in discouraging this sort of use, which is not only legitimate
but positive. Indeed, the condition of cemeteries represents a
deplorable wasted resource in terms of urban greenspace.
21. Cemeteries have one great advantage
over public parks: the generation of income is integral to their
function. In a way that would not be feasible for public parks,
there is the possibility of maintaining the special character
of cemeteries and their cultural importance, while making cemetery
services financially self-supporting. This would depend on setting
fees at a realistic level. We believe that this potential makes
well-managed, sustainable cemeteries an exciting and realistic
prospect for the future. The committee should consider the question
of charges and in particular setting charges at a level which
allows for sustainable long-term management of a cemetery.
22. English Heritage should consider grant-aiding
the restoration of a Grade II* cemetery as a pilot study.
23. The Heritage Lottery Fund should consider
actively promoting grants to cemeteries, registered and unregistered.
OF DETR AND
24. There is a need for authoritative policy
advice from central government on the management and provision
of cemetery services. In order for this advice to be well-grounded,
there is a need for basic data-collection: the information deficit
identified in the case of public parks also hampers the formulation
of policy on cemeteries. We believe that the Government needs
to address this information deficit as a matter of urgency.
25. The Institute of Burial and Cremation
Administration's Charter for the Bereaved (1996) is a landmark
and excellent document, produced by the professional body for
cemetery professionals. However, the Government needs to play
its part in addressing the significant variation in standards
of cemetery management across the country. Good policy advice
would help but given the fundamental importance of burial provision
and its woeful under-resourcing at local level, we believe there
is also a strong case for the formation of an independent inspectorate
to drive up standards where management is currently poor. We believe
that the Government needs to address the lack of national standards
as a matter or urgency, and the case for an independent inspectorate
as the most effective way to remedy that lack.
26. The London Planning Advisory Committee
(LPAC) produced a well-researched statement on burial provision
in London (Planning for Burial Space in London, 1997) which clearly
identified re-use of burial space as the key to sustainable management
of cemeteries. The notion of the grave as an eternal resting place
is a fairly recent cultural construct, dating from the nineteenth
century; in other European countries it is not current. There
has been thorough research on public attitudes towards re-use
(Douglas Davies and Alastair Shaw, Reusing Old Graves: a report
on popular British attitudes, 1995), which concludes that there
is widespread public support for the principle of reuse.
27. We believe that from the point of view
of the historic and landscape interest of cemeteries, re-use need
not have a detrimental impact. On the contrary, use is fundamental
to maintenance and we believe that with sensitive detailing the
re-use of monuments would safeguard their future. From that point
of view, it would be necessary to introduce strong safeguards
for monuments of architectural or historic value, and for the
landscape character of a cemetery, but that would not interfere
with the principle of re-use. Clearly, the re-use of graves is
a sensitive matter and also would require legislation, but we
believe that it is time that the issue of re-use was fully considered
by Government. We would request that the Committee explore this
key issue during its inquiry, and we would support a recommendation
to Government that it issue a consultation document on changing
the law to enable reuse.
In conclusion, we welcome this inquiry. We trust
that it will recognise the historic and cultural importance of
cemetery landscapes: it is a major opportunity, long overdue,
to explore the reasons for their present problems and identify
ways to redress them.