Memorandum by the Ancient Monuments Society
1. I should begin by making it quite clear
that the Society takes its name from "ancient monuments"
in the sense of historic structures rather than "monuments"
in the sense of memorials. Even so, we have a close interest in
memorials in cemeteries, churchyards and churches, but express
that interest in the context of the study of historic buildings
as a whole. The Ancient Monuments Society was founded in 1924
in Manchester and covers historic buildings of all ages and all
types in all parts of the United Kingdom. We are a statutory consultee
on applications for the demolition of listed buildings in whole
or part (including the occasional monument) in England and in
2. We take the Committee's use of the word
"cemeteries" as being conscious in its wish to differentiate
from "churchyards" and we therefore pass only limited
comment on these. Between them they provide the country's single
greatest legacy of vernacular art of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries,
they are an invaluable source for local history and local identity,
they provide the context of some of the country's greatest places
of worship and, it has to be said that in most cases, they are
well cared for. There are glaring and distressing exceptions but
most Anglican Chancellors now enforce the tenets of "The
Churchyard Handbook" which is conservationist in its approach
and expressly rules out the vandalistic clearances which disgraced
the 1960s and 1970s. Even where churches and chapels fall out
of use and are converted to secular function, planning authorities
and/or the ecclesiastical authorities will normally insist on
the retention of headstones and other monuments. There are, however,
very real problems occasioned by the sheer size of some churchyards,
confusion over ownership of the monuments themselves which in
theory belong to the "heirs at law" of the deceased,
and the sheer costs of repairmany 18th century chest tombs
require dismantling, the removal of cramps and re-erection once
they become unstable. Churchyards out of use are the responsibility
of the local authority in England and the Community Council in
Wales. However, there are examples of such public bodies which
do not live up to their responsibilities in this respect. Recently
Durham City Council wilfully destroyed a large number of monuments
in closed churchyards in the city centre in order to remove supposedly
dangerous elements in a way that was so brutal that the local
press reported it as the work of vandals unknown (until the local
authority admitted responsibility).
3. The Sub-committee has given certain agenda
items. I am afraid time does not allow anything other than superficial
comments on each, but I trust nevertheless that these thoughts
will be of use:
(a) "The environmental, historical
and cultural significance of cemeteries for local communities".
The significance of cemeteries in historic, conservation, ecological,
visual and aesthetic terms is enormous. An unrivalled account
of the richness of the legacy and the problems that it faces is
embodied in "Mortal Remains, The History and Present State
of the Victorian and Edwardian Cemetery" edited by Dr Chris
Brooks and published by Wheaton in association with the Victorian
Society from whom I understand copies can be obtained. This came
out in 1989 and clearly some of its observations are out of date,
but most of its insights remain true.
4. The great cemeteries of the United Kingdom
provide some of the most intense poetic and melancholy experiences
that visitors can undergo. This is particularly true of the great
Necropolis at Glasgow, the ring of 19th century cemeteries skirting
London, as at Highgate, Nunhead, Kensal Green and, further out,
at Brookwood near Woking. The significance "for local communities"
is such that many of the greatest examples have been championed
by societies and trusts formed locally. Perhaps the leading body
in this respect is the "Friends of Highgate Cemetery"
but there is also York Cemetery Trust which took over that city's
great Neo-Classical Cemetery in 1988, the Friends of the Rosary
Cemetery in Norwich, the equivalent body for Undercliffe in Bradford,
and the more recent group formed in respect of Arno's Vale in
Bristol. As the enclosed extracts from "Mortal Remains"
show, there was a distressing spate of demolition of chapels and
flattening of monuments in the 1960s, 1970s and indeed even in
the 1980s. The threat continues and there have been a number of
applications in recent years to demolish or make controlled ruins
out of listed cemetery chapels. One of the greatest examples in
the North-West, the Flaybrick Cemetery Chapels at Birkenhead,
are now little more than a ruin despite their Grade II* listing.
It is worth remembering too that cemeteries
were set up not just to bury the dead but to stir the Muses among
the living. The great Victorian architectural writer, John Claudius
Loudon in his influential book "On the Laying Out, Planting
and Managing of Cemeteries" of 1843 trumpeted what in fact
was the universally accepted viewpoint that churchyards and cemeteries
"properly designed, laid out, ornamented with tombs, planted
with trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants . . . would improve the
morals and taste of society at large. They would serve as historical
records and become a school of instruction in architecture, sculpture,
landscape gardening, arboreal culture and botany". Nearly
all the cemeteries were planned with tree lined avenues along
which the public, and not just mourners, were expected to walk.
The same appreciation of the multi-layered importance of cemeteries
is manifested today among those who value them not just as repositories
of works of art in the form of the monuments but "green lungs"
in densely built inner city areas, with much wildlife actively
encouraged. "Mortal Remains" examines the importance
of cemeteries through the study and conservation of flora, trees,
insects and birds. Highgate Cemetery remains North London's largest
haven for the urban fox.
(b) "The Condition of Existing Cemeteries".
We are not aware that there is an overall assessment of the current
condition of the nation's cemeteries other than that attempted
in a voluntary capacity by the Victorian Society. Some of the
problems are highlighted above and they are very acute. Most cemeteries
are now owned by local authorities and just as the Environment
Sub-Committee found shameful neglect among the country's Urban
Parks, the same is also true in certain areas in respect of cemeteries.
Some local authorities have acted responsibly, as for example
Sheffield City Council which bought that city's wonderfully evocative
cemetery in 1979, but with others the record is not so good. Even
where money is spent it is sometimes allocated largely to comply
with the inflexible interpretation of Health and Safety Rules
which regard any monument that is leaning (as many eventually
do as the burial underneath settles) as being potentially "dangerous"
and therefore a candidate for destruction. It is sometimes overlooked
that many of the great Victorian necropolises were set up as private
companies and as these are "buried up" they become not
an asset but a liability. Some, as for example the General Cemetery
Company which owns Kensal Green in North-West London, act responsibly
and indeed that company has sponsored a group of local Friends
and is in discussion with the National Trust about that body taking
over Kensal Green once it is full up. We would strongly support
the vesting of such cemeteries with the National Trust although
we are very conscious that the NT would require very generous
endowment before it could consider that. The only possible source
for such largesse would be the National Lottery and, in particular,
the Heritage Lottery Fund.
(c) "The Roles and Responsibility of
the DETR and other Government Departments and agencies in the
management and protection of cemeteries and public policy on cemeteries
and crematoria". Government has and can give a lead in a
number of areas.
Firstly, the DCMS is responsible for the programme
of listing. Individual monuments within cemeteries as well as
cemetery chapels, lodges and boundary walls can be protected through
listing, whilst local planning authorities can serve tree preservation
orders to protect the best specimens. They can also, as they have
done, declare the whole of cemeteries conservation areas in order
to concentrate the mind on those responsible for their upkeep.
Conservation area designation brings control over the lopping,
topping and felling of trees more than three inches in girth.
However the listing programme is extremely selective in its protection
of monuments and only those of real quality are given that protection.
We would welcome further direction by the DETR and other Government
departments to ensure that local planning authorities and other
decision makers understand the significance of 19th and 20th century
cemeteries and allocate appropriate resources towards their upkeep.
The Standard Spending Assessment compiled by the DETR should pay
due regard to the expense which local authorities should incur
in maintaining these highly sensitive areas in a presentable,
appropriate and seemly way. There should also be active discouragement
of any redevelopment of cemeteries except those areas of surplus
land without burials where the visual quality is low and where
there is no need for the provision of burial space.
(d) "The Funding and Economic Viability
of Cemeteries including funding from National Lottery distributing
bodies". Whilst English Heritage and other quangos funded
from taxation can grant aid the repair of the monuments, EH having
recently launched a specific campaign to fund the repair of war
memorials, sizeable amounts of money are only likely to be available
from the National Lottery and in particular the Heritage Lottery
Fund. The HLF has displayed an open-minded attitude in helping
to tackle the problem of cemeteries and has apparently indicated
its willingness to consider certain of them as "Urban Parks"
and therefore eligible for assistance under its programme of help
for these sites, (where almost £200 million has so far been
allocated). One of its first grants was to the disused cemetery
chapel at Grove Cemetery, Richmond-upon-Thames in Surrey, which
was taken over by a local Environment Trust to serve as a meeting
and advice centre. More recently it has given money to Canterbury
City Council to conserve and safeguard the ancient Jewish cemetery
in that city. Our recent contact with the local group of Friends
formed to champion the City Cemetery at Sheffield indicates that
they intend to approach HLF with a view of substantial funding
to conserve that outstanding survival. The threat facing the great
Victorian, Edwardian and 20th century cemeteries constitutes a
growing conservation crisis and HLF must be a key player in addressing
(e) "Other Matters". There are
subsidiary crises too manifested in the current condition of cemeteries
owned by non-Christian denominations. There are a number of significant
abandoned or quasi-abandoned Jewish cemeteries with a particularly
memorable if not especially large example at Chatham in Kent.
In recent years there has been an application to redevelop a significant
Jewish burial ground in the London Borough of Islington despite
the fact that it contains several significant monuments, including
one to Levy, founder of the Daily Telegraph, and David Mocatta,
architect of, amongst other buildings, the great railway viaduct
at Balcombe in Sussex and the railway station at Brighton.
4. I apologise to the Committee that I have
set a number of hares racing rather than come up with definitive
solutions. However shortage of time precludes much else and I
am very conscious that we do not claim particular specialism in
this area. What we do have is a great concern for, and appreciation
of, the extraordinary rich legacy that the 19th and 20th centuries
have left the present generation in the great cemeteries of the
United Kingdom. If we can assist the Committee further in its
investigation we are of course at its disposal.