Finding the right place for me

20th July 2018#other
Finding the right place for me

James Leedam


A historic graveyard

I love a historic churchyard or a Victorian cemetery. The craft and sculpture of the memorial mason. The darkness of mature yew trees, the statuesque sequoias and grand cedars. The mellow tones of limestone and lead and the flash of verdigris from weathered bronze. Wrought and cast-iron railings, sundials and globes, anchors and chains. Such decadence. Rich and competitive displays of grief. But, they were never sustainable and continue to drain the resources of those who care for them or fall into disrepair.

The Second World War cut labour and material resources. It also brought about a change in attitude towards death and equality. This put a stop to the exuberance and rich craftsmanship of previous generations. Here enter modern municipal cemeteries.

Modern Municipal Cemeteries

These strived to take a more pragmatic approach with the aim of reducing maintenance requirements. The lawn cemetery, conceived in the 1950s, took inspiration from the simple uniformity of the war graves. They adopted the principle but lost their soul.

Today’s lawn cemeteries have less charm or beauty. They feature narrow strips of mismatching, back-to-back memorials bolted onto bands of cast reinforced concrete. Steps down with each change in level. Between the rows of memorials, aisles of barren, mown grass continue the austerity. They present a rather sad, perfunctory arrangement. They stock headstones of indestructible polished rock, imported from halfway around the world.

New technology has allowed images to be laser etched or full-colour printed onto the stones. They lie alongside clich├ęd epitaphs, sandblasted into the stone. Flowers left in integral vases range from fresh to spent. While artificial blooms linger longer to end in faded brittleness. Across an internal tarmac road might lie an area of ‘traditional’ graves with kerbstones and more substantial memorials.

Here, to avoid strimming and fiddly grass-cutting you find lawn replaced with buff-coloured gravel. Interspersed by resin-bonded micro-gravel paths, the only green here is the green that has worked its way into the cracks. Further on is an array of stone tablets each with its own flower vase and inscription. A sea of artificial silk flowers on a plastic-coated wire stem. Cast stone figurines and solar-powered lights, it’s all too much for the eye to settle on.

Where I belong

My heart sinks in these places. I don’t belong here. I long for the calm uniformity, and crispness of a war grave, or to browse the heritage, art forms and craft of the high Victorians, or to feel the patina of weathered, local stones leaning in God’s green acres. But I’m most at home in the peace and simplicity of a truly natural burial ground.

Our mantra – ‘Simple, natural and beautiful’ seems to work best.

See what you think for yourself…

Natural burial grounds focus on life, not death. On memories that remain and not the headstone left.