|Home About us NFoCF AGM|
June 2006 - National Federation of Cemetery Friends AGM and visit to Nunhead Cemetery
On Saturday 10 June we (Janette and Sally-Ann) represented Ryde Social Heritage Group at the National Federation of Cemetery Friends AGM in London. The event was hosted by the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery at the St Antony and St Silas Community Hall in Nunhead.
In order to arrive by the 9:30 introductions we travelled up the night before and stayed in a nice hotel on the South Circular road in West Dulwich. On the A-Z it looked like it would just be a short walk from West Dulwich to Nunhead so after breakfast at the hotel we set off. The weather was gloriously sunny and it was already fairly warm when we left the hotel at 8:30 but it soon began to get hotter and hotter. We realised too late that the walk was going to take longer than we anticipated. We only saw one taxi in all the time we were walking and he refused to stop for us. We finally arrived at the community hall at about 9:45. We were both feeling tired, very hot and thirsty. The locals looked at us like we were insane when we told them we had just walked from West Dulwich, and in retrospect we would have to agree!
We received a warm welcome and a cool drink each and we set out a few items about Ryde Social Heritage Group on one of the display tables. As we had travelled by public transport we had not been able to take much in the way of display material, but enough to get people interested and talking to us. There were groups of Cemetery Friends from all over the country attending and many of them had interesting displays.
At 10 o’clock the proceedings started, everyone took a seat to be officially welcomed by Ron Woollacott, Chairman of the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery (FONC). The Mayor of Southwark was also due to attend the meeting to give a welcoming speech but he was not there (no-one seemed to know why) so his speech was read to us by one of the committee of FONC.
At 10:30 we all got onto two buses and were taken to Nunhead Cemetery for a guided tour. We were split into three manageable sized groups for the tour which lasted about 2 hours.
You never know what to expect when visiting a cemetery as each one is unique. We thought Nunhead cemetery was a delight although perhaps not everyone would agree. It has over the years become very overgrown (at least the area that we visited is so) and has become a wild life haven and a pleasant place for the locals to walk (with or without dogs). Tim, our cemetery guide, explained that FONC only clear graves if they are of significant people. They prefer to keep the cemetery as a nature reserve. It was wonderful to be able to stand and listen to bird song in the middle of beautiful woodland, just a few minutes walk from a busy city street.
Much research has been carried out by FONC and booklets produced for sale about the history of the cemetery and the lives of some the notable people buried there. The tour took us to the catacombs which consist of three large underground rooms with shelves for the coffins. We had to use our imagination for this bit as we could only stand on top of the catacombs which were sealed some time ago after some incidents of vandalism and grave robbing.
The tour then took us up the hill and along well maintained and easy to navigate paths where some of the wealthier people are buried and therefore have some of the most impressive memorials. From the top of the hill we could just glimpse St Paul’s Cathedral through a gap that had been cut in the trees. Tim told us that when the cemetery was first established there were few trees and the view of the city was uninterrupted.
Finally our tour took us to the chapel, which had been vandalised in the 1970s in an arson attack which destroyed the roof. At the chapel which has a central octagonal room we were able to go up a tiny spiral stone stair case to the viewing platform where we could again glimpse views of the city the London Eye and the post office tower could be seen from the top. We were also taken down to the crypt and shown the where the coffins had been stored. Because of the previous vandalism in wet weather rain pours into the crypt and it is dark and damp down there with some interesting fungi growing.
At the end of the cemetery tour there was an opportunity to purchase some of the publications produced by FONC before we were bussed back to the Community Centre for lunch.
FONC laid on a wonderful spread of food for us, and we were able to enjoy it sitting in the sun (or shade) in the pleasant garden of the community centre. This also gave us an opportunity to talk to other people from other groups.
At 1:30pm the AGM started. It was very well organised and kept on schedule by the committee members, the Chairman Arthur Tait, Secretary Gwyneth Stokes and the Treasurer Ian Simpson. This small and hardworking committee give a lot of support to Friends of Cemetery groups around the country.
A new website for the Federation has been built by John Avery of the Friends of Southampton Old Cemetery and the address is www.cemeteryfriends.org.uk.
There was some interesting discussion during the AGM. One proposal was about whether the Federation should support the notion that when cemetery owners and/or conservation groups undertake conservation work on abandoned graves they should be shielded from civil action if the Burial Rights Owner, or relative of the deceased, subsequently claimed damages again those carrying out the work. This motion was carried by a majority vote.
There was also a discussion about the creation of a ‘graves at risk’ register as it is believed that a grave included on such a register would be able to attract funding for maintenance/repair.
By 4 o’clock all the official business was over and everyone started to pack up their displays ready for the journey home. After a quick up of tea, we set off with John Ash who lives on the Island but is a member of a Friends group from a small London cemetery. John gives a lot of support and advice to local people wishing to set up new Friends of Cemetery groups. The journey was long, hot and tiring and we were glad to get back home by about 8:30pm for a much needed rest.
Many thanks to the National Federation of Cemetery Friends for such a well run event and also to the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery for their hospitality.