Council “appalled” at St Alfege headstone gaffe

September 27, 2011 by  

GREENWICH Council says it is "appalled" at the destruction of headstones in St Alfege Park.

The decision to remove and smash to pieces some of the headstones in the park, first reported by last Friday, has caused local outrage and even been reported on in today's Daily Mirror and Evening Standard.

It has also been revealed that the council took emergency legal measures to prevent any further action taking place in the park.

A Greenwich Council spokesperson said:

“Greenwich Council is appalled by what has happened in St Alfege Park and we understand how this will cause distress to a great number of people.

"Without the Council’s prior knowledge, the local Friends of Park group instructed a Community Payback team to break and move a number of headstones in St Alfege Park. No graves were affected. As the Council was unable to reach anyone in authority to cease the activity, it issued a legal notice to prevent the group carrying out further works.

"The Council is looking to create an appropriate setting for the headstones.”

The cabinet member responsible for parks, Councillor John Fahy, tweeted on Monday night, "Friends of St Alfege Park have seriously damaged their credibility. Breaking up these historic Headstones simply pure vandalism."

A statement from the Friends of St Alfege Park is expected later this week.


17 Responses to “Council “appalled” at St Alfege headstone gaffe”

  1. Church Headstones Smashed To Rubble In Greenwich | Londonist on September 27th, 2011 11:03 am

    […] so we don’t yet have their side of the story.At least two members of the local council have expressed dismay. Cllr Nigel Fletcher described the act as ‘appalling desecration’ and told […]

  2. Darryl on September 27th, 2011 11:09 am

    But who in the council was supposed to be supervising the “friends” in the first place?

    And how the hell did the “friends” get authorisation to start bossing a load of convicted criminals around in the first place?

  3. Jim on September 27th, 2011 11:39 am

    The Daily Mirror has done a bit of a hatchet job on the Payback Team. But then again, the Payback Team did do a bit of a hatchet job on the headstones!!!

  4. Anthony on September 27th, 2011 2:13 pm

    This article is seriously inaccurate in many ways:-

    “The decision”? No one decided. “instructed”? No one instructed. The cock-up happened precisely because of a vacuum of authority. The simple fact is that neither local government nor the church has resources to stop the decay of the park, so unpaid volunteers and charities have done their best to fill the gap.

    The Council’s emergency action was NOT prompted by the gravestone destruction. That action was caused by a paperwork problem, not getting the proper planning permission. Does the present author have any idea just how many changes in this neighbourhood have failed to get planning permission? Or how many nearby planning follies have been committed by organisations that do have plenty of money and ought to know better?

    “As the Council was unable to reach anyone in authority … “. Factually untrue.
    Long story …

    That comment about “a load of convicted criminals” is potentially libellous. The government is careful to use the word “offenders”. The type of person sentenced to Community Payback tends to be a low achiever rather than a hardened criminal. And who yet knows what resources were available for supervising these workers at the time? There were silly constraints upon what tools they could use.

    As matters of information:
    1. Other gravestones in St Alfege Park have been smashed up in the past by workers acting under direct instruction of Greenwich Council.
    2. In their positions against the park walls, many gravestones have been causing nuisances, by: facilitating rising damp, by helping vandals and burglars get access to houses, and by providing places for trees to grow and start destroying the walls.
    3. Out of the 400-plus gravestones in the park, a large proportion are now illegible. It is an unfortunate fact of life that gravestones have a remarkably short lifetime. Without active conservation, most carved stones become illegible in a century or less. Most inscriptions that survive from Roman times owe that survival precisely to being broken and buried, re-used in a building, etc. As a matter of logic, any writing on the broken stones stands at least as good a chance of being legible in 2000 years as on an intact stone.

    Anyone who genuinely cares about the persons commemorated on the gravestones (as distinct from wanting to participate in mob indignation) should join in (or help pay for) a project to move all the stones, read what is left of their inscriptions, and transfer those details to computer-stored records.

    Personally, I am disgusted by the present ignorant, sanctimonious twittery. People who have never lifted a finger to pick up litter in the park, plant flowers, cut back bushes, etc are now trying to point a finger of blame. How did Jesus put it? “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”

    Catherine Grove Reply:

    Are you a member of the ‘Friends’?

    Their silence on this matter doesn’t help quell the public indignation, correct factual errors or counter your “ignorant sanctimonious twittery”. Absent any comment by them these things will only continue and the organisation’s credibility evaporate.

    The quote above by an (unnamed) Council spokesperson is the first time I have seen anyone with supposed first-hand knowledge directly link the destruction of the headstones with a decision and action by the Friends of St Alfege Park.

    Without the Council’s prior knowledge, the local Friends of Park group instructed a Community Payback team to break and move a number of headstones in St Alfege Park.

    It is about time someone from the Friends go on the record and be quoted in a mainstream publication such as the Greenwich newspaper. If the council has instructed headstones be broken up before and that was instrumental in the decision to break them up now, that needs to be cited with a year and other information. If they have been used by persons to get access to houses that needs to be supported with crime numbers and addresses (and even then surely removal rather than destruction should suffice!). If only inscription-eroded headstones were broken up your third point may be valid, but photographs show that headstones with clearly legible inscriptions were destroyed so your point is moot.

    To my mind if the Friends are unwilling or unable to refute that quote in print or justify their “instructions” to destroy the headstones with facts, they should be disbanded. There is a similar group of residents like the Friends of St Alfege Park who tend our little local park, none of us have ever or would ever destroy its history.

    Alain de Valois Reply:

    ‘That comment about “a load of convicted criminals” is potentially libellous.’ Really? So how do you get on the Community Payback programme other than being convicted of a criminal offence?

  5. sonywolf on September 27th, 2011 2:43 pm

    I was in St Alfeges park today and would like to know were some of the headstones removed/ shattered to plant “tomatoes” and erected a greenhouse? I asked a member of the “friends” of st alfeges who granted permission for the building she told me parks and open spaces, she also said they picked the spot. so were Greenwich council actually aware of the headstones being removed??? I think a lot of question need to be answered.

    NJ Wicken Reply:

    I have been told that the Friends never actually received permission from the council to erect the greenhouse you mention. The council are apparently therefore going to enforce its removal from the park.

    I too wonder if there were more stones where the vegetable beds now are which were removed prior to this latest outrage. Perhaps certain members of the ‘Friends’ thought they got away with removing tombstones once with no consequences and so went ahead and did it again.

    We are still awaiting their statement to clarify events, so let’s hope their position is established soon.

  6. Mike Barnard on September 27th, 2011 2:57 pm

    First, stop slagging “The council”. I doubt that the church and graveyard is owned by the council, therefore I don’t see what they have to do with it other than councillors getting some free political leeway from the story.

    One assumes that the Friends are sanctioned by the owners of the church, the Church of England, and that there are guidelines laid out for the work they can do. This is where to look for your blame.

    And don’t have a go at the Community Payback teams either. They may be full of drunks, idiots and violent thugs with no respect for anyone else, but in this case they were doing what we keep asking of them. Hard work. They are run by the local Probation Trust and do whatever work is wanted by their ‘benefactors’. If they were asked to move them, then they will.

    Tom Reply:

    Afraid you’re misinformed Mike. This is a former churchyard of St Alfege – it’s now a park, very much under the control of Greenwich Council.

  7. Indigo on September 27th, 2011 7:27 pm

    For info, about St Alfege Park.

    “In 1889 the Metropolitan Gardens Association moved most of the headstones to their present position around the walls of the site and laid out the area as a public park. At the same time, the church procured a Faculty that transferred responsibility for management and maintenance of the churchyard and this burial ground to the Greenwich District Board of Works, now Greenwich Council.

    The church remains the owner of the land which for planning purposes is classified as public open space, in the London Borough of Greenwich Unitary Development Plan. In 1989 the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site (WHS) was inscribed. The church, churchyard and former burial ground lie partly in the WHS itself and partly in the WHS buffer zone and are described as a “gateway” into the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site. “

  8. Jim on September 27th, 2011 8:36 pm

    No one decided? No one instructed? How do you imagine a number of headstones were turned into rubble without anyone deciding that was ok and without anyone being instructed to go ahead and do it?

    It’s great that some people volunteer to help work in the park. I imagine many do this because they don’t have a sufficiently large garden of their own so I’m pleased their hobby can be indulged in this way. But helping out does not confer ownership and no volunteers had the right to unilaterally dismantle part of our shared community heritage with the destruction of these stones.

    Whether you visit the park once a year or once a week, this park is all of ours.

    [comment received by email, posted on Jim’s behalf]

  9. NJ Wicken on September 29th, 2011 10:57 am

    Regarding the comment ‘Other gravestones in St Alfege Park have been smashed up in the past by workers acting under direct instruction of Greenwich Council’, these removed stones have in fact been treated in a much better manner than the recent stone massacre which has caused such outrage.

    Next to the mountain of rubble the stones have been reduced to, you can see some complete stones lying face up in the grass. These are not tomb stones that have recently been removed, but the stones you refer to as having been removed in the past.

    Some time ago the council workers you speak of cleared an area in the park for stones they had to take down for health and safety reasons. The stones were then laid down flat, inscription side up, in this area so that people could still see them. A totally different situation to what has just occurred.

    Anthony Reply:

    N J Wicken’s comment is seriously inaccurate and exemplifies how this whole episode seems to have provoked hysteria based upon false assumptions.

    The smashing of gravestones under the direction instructions of Greenwich Council to which I refer occurred approximately 27 years ago. I was as shocked by the huge pile of rubble produced then as by the more recent one. However, I did not observe the work being done on that occasion any more than now. The obvious suspicion back then was that some stones got accidentally broken in the struggle to remove them from their situation against a wall, and the workmen merely carried on the process a bit further.

    Most, perhaps all, of those “complete stones lying face up in the grass” to which you refer were in fact removed recently, and not (as far as I know) by Council employees or for Health and Safety reasons. Community Payback workers were carefully laying down stones that they removed while clearing ground, in accordance with Friends’ wishes to tidy up that whole area and then later restore the stones in some appropriate way. I have no more idea than you what made the Payback workers suddenly exceed their instructions. They were forbidden to use axe or saw to clear tree stumps, so heaven knows how they got started with a sledge hammer.

    I repeat my core point that the Park was (past tense) on a serious downhill slide into dereliction and drug-taking, has been on an upward trend because of the efforts of some volunteers, and will return to going downhill if critics are allowed to get away with ill-informed armchair pontificating rather than rolling up their sleeves and doing some work.

    When can we look forward to seeing N J Wicken in the Park picking up litter?

  10. NJ Wicken on September 29th, 2011 12:36 pm

    Anthony, could you please tell me how my comment was ‘completely inaccurate’, particularly as you confirm removed stones were indeed laid on the grass?

    You are stating an event from three decades ago and I am talking about the current situation with how council workers deal with the tomb stones which have to be moved. The events in the past sound terrible, but have you seen stones destroyed by council employees in recent years?

    As to your comment ‘When can we look forward to seeing N J Wicken in the Park picking up litter?’, I have been involved in voluntary community projects for many years. You are correct that I have never been involved in helping tidy up this park, but you can’t be involved in every community project in existence.

    I just can’t understand the attitude that unless you have picked up litter, cut hedges and planted flowers in the park you don’t have the right to be upset and angry about the destruction.

  11. S Watrs on September 30th, 2011 5:39 am

    So, if you volunteer, go down and do some work, all control of the park passes to you and your friends, and you can do what you like? This appoach is like that of some over bearing busybody from a TV sitcom!

  12. Picking Up the Pieces | The Greenwich Phantom on November 8th, 2011 9:41 am

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