Historic cemeteries gain Parks for People funding

More than £13m of the £32m Parks for People funding awarded last week will go towards the restoration of historic cemeteries. Among them, The Royal Parks' grade I listed Brompton Cemetery in west London received £4.5m of second-stage funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Big Lottery Fund grant programme.

Brompton Cemetery: funding will go towards work including restoration of historic buildings such as north lodge
Brompton Cemetery: funding will go towards work including restoration of historic buildings such as north lodge

Rectory Lane Cemetery in Berkhamsted, Sheffield General Cemetery Park and South Metropolitan (West Norwood) Cemetery in London have also received phase one funding.

Brompton is one of London's "Magnificent Seven" cemeteries established in the mid 19th century. The 16ha site was designed by Benjamin Baud in 1840, with planting by JC Loudon, and is designed to be a "garden cemetery", with paths and planting suggesting a cathedral floor plan.

It houses some unique and historic monuments, including its picturesque chapel. Among the 205,000 people buried there are suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and Queen Victoria's surgeon Sir Thomas Spencer Wells as well as thousands of former Chelsea Pensioners.

But increased pressure on budgets and question marks over the future management of the cemetery has meant its condition has deteriorated. Now it will undergo a £6.2m facelift, with £1.2m coming from The Royal Parks and a further £500,000 from its charity arm The Royal Parks Foundation.

Andy Williams, park manager for both Brompton Cemetery and Kensington Gardens, said landscape and horticulture have always been important aspects of the cemetery along with the architecture. "Brompton is a very formal, classical landscape with an axial layout and strong views of the buildings."

However, some of the "clarity" of those lines of sight has been lost, he added. Initial work will tackle invasives such as bracken, and vegetation will be cut back, including the Portuguese laurel and Garrya eliptica currently obscuring the chapel. Grassland will be added and there will be opportunities to include more "high horticulture", particularly in the remembrance garden where many notable figures including former Chelsea Physic Garden curator and plant hunter Robert Fortune are buried.

Visitor facilities will be built and historic buildings restored, while the cemetery will be actively managed for wildlife. A volunteering programme and community activities will help to ensure that the cemetery is relevant for the 21st century. The HLF is also keen to see the funerary business bringing in a sustainable business plan.

LDA Design led the masterplanning and design process, working alongside the Friends of Brompton Cemetery and The Royal Parks. Tenders will go out within a few months and work is due to start on site in the autumn. With finances tight, The Royal Parks Foundation has only raised half of its £500,000 target and additional support is still needed. Donations can be made via www.support theroyalparks.com or by calling 020 7036 8060.

Comment - Exciting to see historic sites coming forward for funding

Heritage Lottery Fund head of landscape Drew Bennellick said it is exciting to see the most important historic cemeteries coming forward for funding, including those on Historic England’s at risk register.

Landscape is a key element of these cemeteries and crematoria, many of which were built as public gardens with careful thought given to horticulture, viewpoints and circulation of mourners, he explained.

"The Victorians set them out as places where you showed off and perambulated. They have very elaborate entrances and gateways, different chapels for the conformists and dissenters — they really thought carefully about design — and those prime plots sold for a lot more money." Local authorities tend the cemeteries as best they can but with finances tight they still fall into disrepair, said Bennellick.

"A site like Sheffield General Cemetery [pictured above] is really important as a park and for nature, but it’s got very expensive engineering problems that the local authority could never afford to fix, like rebuilding serious retaining structures or catacombs. Those are things we can help with."

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