Memorandum by the Friends of West Norwood
Cemetery, the South Metropolitan (West Norwood) Cemetery Scheme
of Management Committee, the South Metropolitan (West Norwood)
Cemetery Management Advisory Group; and the London Borough of
Lambeth (CEM 53)
ENVIRONMENTAL, HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE
OF CEMETERIES IN LAMBETH
1. The Council owns three cemeteries, the
South Metropolitan Cemetery at West Norwood in Lambeth, and Lambeth
Cemetery and Streatham Cemetery, both of which are situated at
Tooting within the London Borough of Wandsworth. It also owns
two crematoria, one of which is situated within the cemetery at
West Norwood. The resident population of the Borough is 272,500
(1999 mid-year estimate). Ethnic minorities make up some 34 per
cent of the Borough's population, a substantial proportion of
whom favour earth burial. In 1999 the Council undertook 639 interments
(including 7 stillborn infants and 81 cremated remains) and 1470
cremations. There is also a privately-owned cemetery and crematorium
and a Jewish burial ground within the Borough (Streatham Vale).
Interments have also taken place in churchyards in the Borough,
but all are now closed to new burials.
2. The Friends of West Norwood Cemetery
were formed in 1989 to attempt to preserve what remained of the
cemetery and to promote knowledge and appreciation of its historical,
cultural, and environmental significance. The South Metropolitan
(West Norwood) Cemetery Scheme of Management Committee and Management
Advisory Group were constituted in 1997.
3. Lambeth and Streatham Cemeteries were
established by Parish burial boards from 1853. Portions of the
grounds of both cemeteries are consecrated. Whilst serving the
burial and commemorative needs of the Borough for the last 150
years they have attracted limited attention on environmental,
historical, or cultural grounds. Both cemeteries were subjected
to extensive "lawn conversion" from 1969-91 and many
thousands of monuments were removed. No new graves are available
in Streatham Cemetery. There is some limited grave space available
at Lambeth Cemetery for new burials.
4. The South Metropolitan Cemetery at what
was then Lower Norwood was established by statute in1836 (opened
1837) and was the first cemetery in the UK to be designed in the
Gothic style. It is also thought to be the first cemetery in the
UK to have been designed in toto by one person, the architect
(Sir) William Tite (see Annex 1 and attachments for a brief history
of the cemetery). It is a site of international importance. The
Council purchased the cemetery compulsorily in 1965, the principal
enabling power being the Public Health (Interments) Act, 1879.
The Council's management of the site until 1994 has been the subject
of much critical consideration. We feel that some of the issues
encountered at West Norwood reflect national problems hence this
Issues Encountered at West Norwood
5. The Council purchased the cemetery with
no clear aim in view, other than that of continuing to operate
it as a working cemetery. In the early 1970s there was some consultation
with the Victorian Society that resulted in a proposal to create
"West Norwood Memorial Park". Large numbers of memorials
were to be demolished, and "significant" memorials were
to be retained, but there was no definition of "significant".
The extent of consultation within the Victorian Society at the
time is unclear, and the Society now regrets the advice given.
In the event the cemetery managers approached the work piecemeal.
This situation continued until the formation of the Scheme of
Management Committee in 1997 and only in this last year has the
Committee commissioned a detailed Land Management Survey for consideration
and development by all interested parties. It is hoped that this
survey will form the basis for the conservation, development,
and enhancement of what remains of this historic site over the
next 20 years or so.
(i) There should be a requirement for a business
or development plan or conservation (including nature conservation)
strategy for cemeteries, either alone or as part of a group of
(ii) There should be a mechanism whereby
local groups and concerned individuals as well as National bodies
might have input into the plan or strategy; and
(iii) A proper, detailed survey of the existing
state of the cemetery should be considered an important initial
step in the planning process.
6. The South Metropolitan Cemetery was established
by statute. The Council inherited all the responsibilities of
the Cemetery Company as a result of the purchase of the site,
although this was not accepted until the 1994 Consistory Court
judgment delivered by the late Chancellor Gray. As is made clear
in the judgment, the Council decided in 1980 to review its lawn
conversion policy following substantial protests, including complaints
to MPs and the Local Government Ombudsman. Unfortunately, the
persons then responsible for management of the Council's cemeteries
carried on clearance work in the cemetery notwithstanding. This
culminated in substantial clearance operations on consecrated
portions of the Cemetery in 1991 that led to further serious public
concern. In retrospect, it is clear that the officers involved
in these decisions were purporting to rely on various pieces of
cemetery legislation, reliance that was entirely misplaced. In
addition, statutory requirements inherent in these self-same pieces
of legislation were not followed. The consequences of these illegal
actions are far reaching at Norwood.
(i) Some attempt should be made to simplify
and consolidate the law as it presently applies to cemetery operation;
(ii) Enquiry might usefully be made of burial
authorities as to their implementation of certain provisions especially
as regards "lawn conversion" and the requirements to
keep records of monuments removed and to place markers on graves
when a monument has been removed;
(iii) A mechanism whereby clear and consistent
central guidance on the implementation of existing recommendations
on cemetery policy and operation within the law should be established;
(iv) An avenue whereby concerned local groups
or individuals may appeal to a central authority for help and
guidance in the event that they feel illegal operations may be
continuing in a given cemetery should be made available.
7. At Norwood it might have been thought
that statutory listing in 1981 of 44 (7 grade II*) memorials and
inclusion of the whole cemetery within the West Norwood Conservation
Area should have provided some protection to the surviving historic
monuments. That it did not is because the Council's cemetery managers
did not apply for listed building or conservation area consent
for operations within the cemetery, the group within the Council
responsible for enforcement of listed building and conservation
area legislation failed to act, English Heritage failed to take
enforcement action even though this option was clearly available
to them, and the Department of National Heritage also failed to
act, one consideration being that individually the monuments were
too small to be protected by conservation area legislation. In
the event the Archdeacon of Lambeth was able to intervene because
some 80 per cent of the cemetery is consecrated ground and no
Faculty to permit operation on such ground had been obtained.
(i) A mechanism is needed whereby conservation
area and listed building legislation can be enforced when a Council
or other agency responsible for enforcement of the legislation
is itself the owner of the property being altered or demolished
without consent and/or the initiator of the works;
(ii) Advice should be made available to concerned
groups and individuals as to the appropriate course of action
to be followed to prevent wilful destruction or damage occurring
in breach of conservation area and related legislation when the
statutory bodies charged with enforcement of the legislation fail
(iii) For cemeteries within conservation
areas the minimum volume requirement before individual monuments
gain protection should be abolished;
(iv) Specific guidance should be provided
by Government in DCMS/DETR PPG 15 as to the importance of conserving
and maintaining cemeteries of significant historic, architectural,
landscape, and/or nature conservation value;
(v) The implications of Chancellor Gray's
Consistory Court judgment as to surrounding historic monuments
being within the curtilage of listed tombstones might usefully
be explored in other cemeteries [at Norwood with 64 listed tombs
from 1993, the curtilage was defined as the boundary wall/railings
of the cemetery]; and
(vi) Cemetery owners should be reminded of
the requirement to obtain a Faculty to permit any operations on
8. In 1994 the Consistory Court ordered
the restoration of the listed monuments that had disappeared and
the repair of those damaged since 1989. The Council has reinstated
the tombs of Sir William Cubitt (d. 1861) and John Garrett (d.
1881). Repairs to the other listed monuments cited in the judgment,
including those of JW Gilbart (d. 1863) and the Revd. William
Morley Punshon (d. 1881), have also been completed. Other listed
monuments repaired with funds from various sources include those
of Anne Farrow (d. 1854), Sir Henry Tate (d. 1899), Sir Henry
Doulton (d. 1897), and Baron Julius de Reuter (d. 1899). A number
of other important monuments have also been restored. However,
there is still a vast backlog of work required to surviving monuments
not only to preserve them for future generations, but also to
ensure a safe environment for present-day cemetery visitors. It
is acknowledged by all parties that the fabric of the cemetery
(as well as, to a lesser extent, the cemetery's documentary records)
had deteriorated considerably by 1966 when the Council acquired
it. A further highly relevant consideration is the pressure on
Council funds from many sources.
9. The iron gates and railings at the Cemetery
entrance have been renovated by the Council and painted light
brown ("spice") to conform to their original colouring.
The rest of the railings on Robson Road are to be painted in the
same colour, whilst the railings near to Auckland Hill are to
be painted a shade of green. Reconstruction of the wall in the
SE corner of the Cemetery was completed in 1999 and repairs to
the northern boundary wall are in progress. Major areas of continuing
concern are (i) the continued deterioration of the Grade II listed
Catacombs and their associated coffins beneath the site of the
former Episcopal mortuary chapel, and (ii)) the extensive invasion
of scrub into parts of the cemetery containing the greatest concentration
of historic memorials and the consequent damage to memorials this
10. Although re-sale of unused burial
space in private graves for new interments was not envisaged when
the "lawn conversion" was started at Norwood, statutory
instruments (1974 and 1977 Local Authorities Cemeteries Orders)
allowed this to be done in certain cases where there had been
no burial for 100 (later 75) years. At Norwood the Council started
to resell unused space in private graves under the mistaken belief
that this was authorised under these orders. However, resale of
private graves was deemed illegal at Norwood by the 1994 Consistory
Court judgment, which the Council did not appeal. Most recently
the Council have sought to rely on the provisions of Section 9
of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1976 to regularise,
insofar as is legally possible, the former resale of unused grave
space. This issue was the subject of a further Consistory Court
hearing in April 2000 and is likely to be considered further by
the Court in the early part of 2001. Some 1,000 graves are affected,
a recent independent survey having shown that the Council failed
to keep proper records of even the graves it had resold, or indeed
keep to the provisions of the 1976 Act in all cases (graves in
which the latest previous interment was as recent as 1945 appear
to have been resoldthe 1976 Act specifies a minimum of
75 years since the grave was last opened before remaining space
could be resold, and no marker stones were placed on graves from
which the original monuments were removed, and no records were
kept of such monuments).
(i) Some attempt should be made to simplify
and consolidate the law as it presently applies to resale of unused
burial space in private graves in certain cemeteries;
(ii) Enquiry might usefully be made of burial
authorities as to their implementation of provisions in the 1974
and 1977 Local Authority Cemeteries Orders and the GLC (General
Powers) Act 1976 as regards resale of unused burial space in private
graves and the requirements to keep records of monuments removed
and to place markers on graves when a monument has been removed;
(iii) Clear distinction should be drawn between
resale of unused burial space in private graves, which does not
involve disturbance of human remains, and proposals to reuse existing
graves that would involve excavation and reburial of those remains
already buried in the grave, and would require legislation allowing
the disturbance of human remains.
11. At Norwood, some 164,000 interments
have taken place in some 42,000 individual graves and there have
been some 34,000 cremations. At one time it was claimed that there
were 14,000 private graves that had not been opened for 100 years.
However, it seems that many of the cemetery records may be incomplete.
In addition, since no proper records of the position of the graves
were kept when many of the headstones were swept away, it is not
possible to locate existing graves in "converted" areas
of the cemetery with any accuracy even if the Council wished to
resell unused grave space in them.
Enquiry might usefully be made of burial authorities
as to the nature and accuracy of records kept in cemeteries from
which monuments have been removed either in the course of "lawn
conversion", or in order to release space for future burials.
This must include detailed site or grave location plans if either
the resale of unused grave space or reuse of the entire grave
12. Although new burials continue to take
place in existing graves at Norwood, in June 1999 the decision
was taken not to offer "new" graves for sale in the
cemetery for the foreseeable future.
Possible Extension of the South Metropolitan Cemetery
13. At Norwood a unique opportunity to extend
the existing cemetery and thus to provide new burial space is
presented by the availability of a disused Council depot adjoining
the Eastern wall of the cemetery. The use of this site could provide:
(i) proper facilities for the Council's mechanical equipment and
staff, (ii) sufficient new burial space to meet the needs of the
Borough for a number years if properly managed, thereby providing
a source of income to offset in part the cost of acquiring the
site, and (iii) a Heritage Centre that could incorporate facilities
for local residents such as a Community Centre, a long-term local
need. We would hope that such a scheme incorporating the above
items and others would qualify for external grant funding. It
must be stressed, however, that this proposal is one of several
options for the land that the Council is presently considering.
14. The Council also owns additional land
adjacent to the cemetery and to the recently vacated depot and
this might also become available in due course.
Possible Creation of New Burial Space
15. As discussed above it is thought impossible
to locate unused burial space in private graves in "lawn
converted" areas at Norwood even if it were deemed legal
to resell such space because of past mismanagement of the site.
Similarly the suggestion of excavating existing graves where no
burials had taken place for a given period of time, collecting
and reinterring surviving remains at the bottom of the grave,
and thereby liberating the grave for new interments, is not helpful
if the precise location of the grave to be excavated is not known.
16. At Norwood the only graves that have
not been opened for 75 or even 50 years and which might therefore
be exploited via either resale of unused grave space or reuse
of the grave are those whose monuments survived the Council's
"lawn conversion" programme. These monuments are now,
as all parties accept, protected by listed building and conservation
area considerations. However, a further option is the resale of
unused space in the grave, or the re-use of the entire grave,
on which a historic monument survives, provided the purchaser
gives binding undertakings to renovate, restore, and protect the
monument for a defined period. Clearly some appropriate form of
memorial for the new interments must be considered provided this
could be achieved without detracting from the historic and artistic
merit of the existing memorial. One of us (Dr RJ Flanagan) has
seen this policy in successful operation in Berlin.
Consideration might usefully be given to the
resale of unused grave space or the reuse of the entire grave
on which a historic monument survives provided that the purchaser
agrees to undertake the full and complete restoration and maintenance
of the existing monument.
17. If further resale or indeed reuse of
graves is planned in order to provide new burial space in existing
cemeteries, we would strongly suggest that traditional means of
advertising intentions in this respect using advertisements in
newspapers and notices in the cemetery are inadequate today. With
the growth and widespread availability of modern methods of electronic
communication, including the World Wide Web, it is now easy to
publish details of intending operations electronically, including
digital images of any monuments that might be affected, and thus
make them easily and permanently available to interested parties.
By way of example, Lambeth Council is in the process of publishing
details in the national press drawing attention to the establishment
of a special South Metropolitan (West Norwood) Cemetery web-site
where details of all the re-used graves at Norwood, including
the name and address of the original purchaser of each grave and
the names and dates of all the burials in each grave, will be
Consideration should be given to the use of
modern information technology by burial authorities to not only
inform grave owners and other interested parties of operations
which might affect a given grave or monument, but also to provide
a proper and permanent record of any operations carried out in
a cemetery which will affect or might existing monuments BEFORE
any such works are carried out.
18. A further option that is perhaps not
applicable at Norwood at present, but might be planned for in
any extension, is the use of above ground burial as practiced,
for example, in Barcelona as witnessed by one of us (Dr Flanagan).
Here the citizens took the decision not to demolish historic monuments
in order to provide grave space for new burials, but to provide
loculi in special structures that can be rented for a specific
period (15 years or so in the first instance). At the end of the
period the rental can be renewed, the remains removed by the family,
or failing either option, the remains removed by the cemetery
management and either cremated or interred in a communal plot.
Consideration should be given to the provision
of above ground burial space, or Catacomb or other means of recycling
grave space, on a much shorter time scale than practiced in the
UK at present.
19. Although there is no statutory requirement
for cemetery management to be undertaken by professionally qualified
staff, we would suggest that this should be encouraged for the
future and perhaps in time made compulsory. We feel that many
of the problems which led to the partial destruction of Norwood
could be attributed to inappropriate staff recruitment and training.
There should be in time a requirement for cemetery
managers to have completed an appropriate training programme and
to hold an appropriate professional qualification. This should
encompass some training in all the issues that cemetery managers
nowadays encounter and not be confined simply to operational matters.
20. Traditionally cemeteries and churchyards
have generated income from the sale of graves and grave spaces,
and by charging fees to erect monuments, maintain memorials, etc.
With the increasing scarcity of space for new graves in many urban
cemeteries and consequent decrease in the funding derived from
these sources, many cemeteries have become financially unviable
at the same time as the historic, irreplaceable nature of 19th
and early 20th century "tombscapes" has been acknowledged.
In many cases the need for substantial repair and reinstatement
programs to preserve these tombscapes has also become apparent
in recent years. In addition, cemeteries, especially historic
cemeteries in larger towns and cities, and urban churchyards have
also now acquired rest and recreation, and nature refuge/nature
conservation functions that are not reflected in funding provision
except in certain special cases.
Consideration should be given to establishing
alternative funding schemes for cemeteries that have acquired
conservation, education, and rest and recreation uses additional
to the traditional functions of burial and memorialisation.
21. There is widespread acknowledgement
that the shortage of space for new private graves in cemeteries
in London and other metropolitan centres is becoming acute. We
would welcome a forum for discussions on this problem with central
government and with other burial authorities in London, for example.
However, we do not feel that one suggestion that has been made,
namely the creation of a single burial authority with administrative
powers for London, is necessarily the best way forward given the
diversity of cemeteries in London and the range of types of ownership
involved. However, the development of regional strategies for
the provision of burial and cremation services could prove a valuable
initiative. Such an initiative could address the question of widely
different fees being charged in adjacent parts of towns and cities
by different burial authorities, the need for consultation with
elderly cemetery visitors and the provision of facilities to cater
for their needs, and the question of vandalism of structures and
theft of memorials.
That consideration be given to establishing
Regional Burial Advisory/Coordination groups in areas such as
London where the various burial authorities face common problems.
ANNEX 1A BRIEF
A1. In Victorian times the cemetery (42
acres) became the most fashionable cemetery in South London and
was known as the "Millionaires' Cemetery" because of
the number and quality of the mausolea and other elaborate memorials
it contained. The cemetery contains two plots within which exclusive
rights of burial have been sold. One belongs to the Greek Community
and has survived largely intact thanks to the continuing care
of this community. The other belongs to the Parish of St. Mary-at-Hill.
A2. Largely full of graves and associated
monuments by 1914, some roadways were used for burials. World
War II brought the loss of some monuments and damage to the chapels,
both of which were later demolished, the Dissenter's chapel and
crematorium being replaced by the present Crematorium and the
Episcopal chapel being replaced by a rose garden.
A3. Despite war damage, the cemetery, including
the St. Mary-at-Hill plot, remained largely intact until 1965
and was adjudged "the finest Victorian Cemetery in England"
by virtue of its situation and the number and quality of its memorials.
In 1978 it was included within the West Norwood Conservation Area
and was recognised by the Secretary of State as "outstanding".
In 1981 the entrance arch, the boundary walls and railings and
some 44 monuments were listed Grade II (7 11*). A further 20 memorials
were listed in 1993at present Norwood has more listed monuments
than any other cemetery.
A4. In 1965 the cemetery was purchased compulsorily
for £6,000 by Lambeth Council. A condition of the deed of
transfer was that that rights of existing grave owners were to
be maintained (graves had originally been sold either in perpetuity
or for a limited period). Moreover, the Acts of Parliament (a
supplementary Act was passed in 1914) that govern operations within
the cemetery were not repealed.
A5. The Council renamed the cemetery "West
Norwood Cemetery and Memorial Park", but this title has no
basis in law. More importantly a programme of "lawn-conversion"
was initiated which in time led to the removal of at least 10,000
(probably 15-20,000 monuments). The Council purported to rely
on the powers contained in Section 36 of the London County Council
(General Powers) Act, 1955, but it has since become clear, and
accepted by all parties, that: (i) the rights of grave owners
were ignored, (ii) little or no records were kept, (iii) very
few markers were placed on graves, and (iv) no Faculty was obtained
to permit operations on consecrated ground. Even gravestones recording
burials as recent as 1977 were removed.
A6. The destruction was stopped in 1991
by the Archdeacon of Lambeth under the Care of Churches &
Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure, 1991. By this time two listed
monuments had been lost, only the bases remained of a further
two (1 II*), and eight others had been badly damaged.
A7. In 1994 the Consistory Court of Southwark
adjudged the "lawn conversion" to have been illegal,
but nevertheless granted the Council a retrospective Faculty.
However, the power of management of the consecrated portion of
the cemetery, power the Council was granted under the LCC (Open
Spaces) Act, 1906, was delegated by order of the Court to a Scheme
of Management Committee to which the Council appoint representatives.
Moreover the Diocesan churchyard regulations were to apply to
the cemetery. The land management survey required under the Court
judgment has been undertaken recently. Most notably the cemetery
has been identified as the principal site of nature conservation
value within the Borough in addition to its outstanding value
as a site of national historic and cultural interest.
A8. In 1997 a Scheme of Management was formally
agreed with the Council. The Council, the Scheme of Management
Committee, the Management Advisory Group, and the Friends of West
Norwood Cemetery are now working together (i) to attempt to preserve
and enhance what remains of the historic fabric of the cemetery,
(ii) to provide a burial and cremation service within the framework
of existing legislation and past use of the cemetery, (iii) to
preserve and enhance the nature conservation value of the site,
(iv) to provide a safe environment for visitors to the cemetery,
and (v) explore ways of funding the above aims.
A9. Further details of the cemetery and
its history are given in the attached posters. 
Dr RJ Flanagan
Friends of West Norwood Cemetery
21 Ev not printed. Back