Spooky. No sooner had I written about our disappearing churchyards, than in the post this morning comes the latest Conservation Bulletin from English Heritage, featuring places of worship – cathedrals, churches and, yes, memorials. (If you have doubts about the value of English Heritage, you should read this bulletin, full of wise, informative stuff about the extraordinary range of skills and knowledge that is being applied to our historic fabric.)
A piece by Jennifer White (senior landscape adviser at EH) highlights the problem that some local authorities are still flattening memorials, believing them to be a public danger. Apparently eight people have died in the past 30 years as a result of falling stones, but I venture that only lawyers and public servants of a certain type would see that as cause for sweeping the stones away (how many people have died from falling TV sets, pictures and mirrors? Should we remove those from homes?). The very tests conducted to see how safe memorials are, are damaging them and rendering them unsafe. But such has been the public response, there is a page on the local government ombudsman’s website dedicated to complaints about safety tests! “When I made my yearly visit to my mother’s grave”, goes the opening question, “I was shocked to find the gravestone laid flat and a notice telling me to contact the council”.
I’ve always liked cemeteries and memorials, long before I came as an archaeologist to realise how precious these things are for helping us understand the mind as well as the world of societies long gone. So here are a few pictures of some special places.