EXCLUSIVE: Headstones reduced to rubble in St Alfege Park
September 23, 2011 by Rob Powell
Gravestones that survived for hundreds of years have been reduced to rubble in St Alfege Park.
The headstones which had been positioned around the perimeter wall have been broken up and now sit in a large pile in the deconsecrated church yard.
Greenwich.co.uk understands that the Friends of St Alfege Park have been engaged in removing the headstones over a period of months, although this process was accelerated recently with the assistance of workers from the Community Payback probationary scheme.
The London Probation Trust confirmed to this website that a team from Community Payback has been working to clear the grounds at St Alfege Park. A spokesman commented:
“Part of this work has included the clearance of stone markers believed to be monumental and/or gravestones as requested by a representative of the Friends of St Alfege Park. This has now been completed and we are now working on another project within the grounds.”
Local historian, Horatio Blood, was left appalled by the scene of broken headstones:
“The smashing to smithereens of these historic tombstones is wanton destruction and a terrible tragedy. All that remains are a few sorry stumps, like broken teeth, and the ghost impressions left behind on the brick wall. The Friends of St Alfege Park appear to have succeeded where the rioters failed.”
But there is confusion as to who authorised the removal of the headstones in the park, with Greenwich Council legally obliged to ensure headstones remain safe in what is classed as a “closed church yard.”
Additionally, the removal and destruction of gravestones is subject to controls under the 1977 Local Authorities Cemeteries Act.
Greenwich Council’s cabinet member in charge of parks, Cllr John Fahy, told Greenwich.co.uk:
“There would seem to be some dispute as to what instructions were given to the Payback Team. As this is a Council responsibility I believe that the Friends should not have been involved. The memorial stones are an important legacy. Not all of the Headstones were damaged and I have asked Officers to look at creating a memorial garden where all of the tombstones can be brought together to create a large memorial plaque.”
A request for information on why the work was carried out had not been answered by the Friends group at the time of publication, but a clue may be found in the Management Report of 2008.
It says the headstones around the perimeter wall are prone to vandalism or damage from plants behind because of the gap between the stone and the wall. The report recommended mortaring the stones in place to reduce the possibility of damage.
The authors of the Plan also commented “memorials within the park add an excellent ambience to the site.
“If they were removed, it would significantly decrease the site’s visible heritage.”
The Friends of St Alfege Park was formed in recent years and its volunteers have worked to improve the quality of the park. It has become a venue for live theatre events and the Friends are aiming to achieve Green Flag status by 2013/14.
Conservative Deputy Leader and shadow cabinet member for culture and the Olympics, Cllr Nigel Fletcher, commented:
“‘I’m shocked that this appalling desecration of headstones could be allowed to take place in this way, and I’m glad Cllr. Fahy is taking the matter seriously. Whatever instructions were given should never have been allowed to be carried out, and I hope we will get some answers, fast, on just what happened. ”