Tuesday, May 02, 2006

What to do about graveyards?

click photo to enlarge
What can we do about graveyards in Britain? In recent years, in many places, there isn't enough space to bury everyone who wants it, and who can afford it (remember, dying isn't cheap!) One solution, adopted in some cemeteries, both here and abroad, is to exhume the bones of the long dead, place them in a charnel house or other location that is more space-efficient, and use the plots so recovered for the newly dead. Another strategy is to cremate, then bury the ashes. This takes up much less space. In some places the ashes are in one of many repositories in a wall: a sort of mini-skyscraper of the deceased!

Graveyards that are full are a different problem, because they require fairly labour-intensive maintenance. I have seen sheep employed to keep the grass down. This strikes me as particularly apposite around a Christian church! Elsewhere, men (it usually is men) with strimmers, scythes and mowers, cut the grass periodically. Or, in some churchyards, most of the gravestones are moved to the perimeter, leaving essentially a lawn with a few tombs here and there. This makes grass-cutting easy. It also gets round the alleged danger of unstable stones falling on visitors, a health and safety concern that has exercised church councils in recent years. However, by far the best solution, and one adopted in a fair number of places, is to reduce the area subject to maintenance, and let part of the graveyard run wild. This strategy requires minimal management, attracts wildlife, preserves the tombs, and creates romantic vistas like the one in my photograph from Glassonby in Cumbria. Here the rhododendrons and brambles are growing around the gravestones in a very attractive way.

I couldn't decide whether to present this photograph in colour or in black and white. Both seemed acceptable, but the colour version has more depth, and shows the flowers to better effect. And, whilst the red sandstone colour of the tomb is not to everyone's taste, it is unusual, and is characteristic of certain areas of north-west England, so that is the one I chose.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen