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London’s cemeteries shaping up for the 21st century

Shortage of graves, heritage, funding, cemetery management and archaeology were under discussion at a recent seminar on London cemeteries.

Delegates heard about local authorities’ methods for reclaiming old graves to create burial space, as well as  the key issues for cemetery managers,  including lack of investment by cemetery owners and vandalism.

The seminar, organised by English Heritage, London Parks and Green Spaces Forum and the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management (ICCM), was held at the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium.

Dr Julie Rugg from the Cemeteries Research Group at the University of York, presented the Greater London Authority’s recent audit of burial space, which shows that, with approximately 15,000 burials in London each year, local authorities can continue to provide for the needs of those who wished to be interred only by reusing old graves.

Julie Dunk from the ICCM identified the key five issues facing the cemetery manager: the challenges of dealing with the bereaved; the lack of investment in cemeteries by cemetery owners; vandalism and anti-social behaviour; memorial safety; and the lack of awareness of heritage issues in cemeteries.

The shortage of burial space was also discussed, as was legislation – applying only to London – that permits the reclamation of graves through extinguishing grave rights that are older than 75 years, and also the more recent permission to reuse old graves.

Gary Burks, superintendent and registrar at the City of London Cemetery, gave an insight into the pilot scheme to reuse graves, being carried out within a small section of the Corporation of London’s vast cemetery at Manor Park.

Working under a faculty issued by the Chancellor of the Diocese of Chelmsford (where the cemetery is situated), a section containing public graves is being cleared to provide new burial space. After a notice period, graves are cleared of human remains and reburied in a designated grave and the land is then released for new burials. Cemetery staff assess the contents of a grave according to six categories; if anything more than a significant amount of human remains and coffin are found, the grave is left untouched.

Carrying out this reuse scheme under a faculty enables staff to move remains from consecrated ground only to a similarly protected site; moving the remains to unconsecrated ground would necessitate possession of a Ministry of Justice Licence, which would not be granted for this purpose. At the City of London Cemetery this pilot scheme has released 269 new graves.

The Greater London Authority’s Audit of Burial Space can be found at:

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