Statement from the Friends of St Alfege Park

September 27, 2011 by  

In response to the recent controversy over St Alfege Park, the Friends of St Alfege Park have issued the following statement:

There has been much public outrage at the recent destruction of gravestones in St Alfege Park. The Friends of the Park greatly regret our part in this distressing occurrence. While writing this statement we have been unable to contact the Chair of the Friends group, who had been working with a Community Payback team on a project in that area. He is out of the country and is due back on Thursday, 29 September.

In the Chair's absence, the Friends have sought to investigate events and we believe the following to be an accurate account.

In the process of tidying a neglected area of the park, the Community Payback team were asked to remove nettles and other plants that had invaded the ground and adjoining gravestones along a short stretch of perimeter wall at the east end of the park. The Friends have been working in that area to establish one of 2012 community gardening areas in London for the year 2012, with the help of grants from Greenwich Pride and Capital Growth. The site was agreed on in consultation with Parks and Open Spaces.

We believe that the intention was to move any stones that had to be disturbed to a storage area in front of the Old Mortuary building, and that when some were damaged by attempts to remove the plants it proved impossible to carry them and they were broken up. In the event, and for reasons we do not know, they were all broken up.

We greatly regret this, and we hope to work with the Council and local community to look at appropriate ways to reuse the broken stones, for example, by creating a memorial garden.

Although each of these 25 or 30 stones is a part of the history of Greenwich, well over 400 similar gravestones are similarly propped against the parks perimeter walls. We consider that they are all important and of great local interest, though many of those remaining are also illegible and crumbling and they no longer mark actual graves, having been moved from their original positions decades ago.

We hope that Greenwich residents will remember how hard the Friends have worked in the park since the group of local volunteers was set up in 2009, including introducing nest-boxes and regular feeding for small birds, planting more than 100 trees and bushes, taking part in the RSPB big garden birdwatch, introducing new picnic tables, installing new name plaques, holding regular working mornings and running various events including Parksfest 2010 and 2011 and will understand that we, too, are distressed at what has happened.

Suzanne Miller and Johanna Taylor, Friends of St Alfege Park


22 Responses to “Statement from the Friends of St Alfege Park”

  1. scared of chives on September 27th, 2011 10:50 pm

    So, is this something to do with ‘tidying up Greenwich for the Olympics’ ?

  2. The Ancient One on September 28th, 2011 2:51 am

    Unconvincing. Inadequately supervised use of inappropriate untrained brute force presumably free labour. Yes sycamore roots are a devil to extract without tools and perhaps a quad with towing hitch or winch, or mini tripod block and tackle.
    Putting a virtual chain gang with sledge hammers to break up rocks cool hand luke fashion was not the best solution to create the re-usable free space area somebody obviously had planned. Will certainly be interesting to read your Chairs explanation of this fiasco. Who said, the way to hell is paved with good intentions?

  3. Pete on September 28th, 2011 7:56 am

    You had no legal right to disturb any of the gravestones and the police have been informed. Considering 45,000 people are buried here 400 stones are not many if I were involved in this disgusting act I would pack up and leave Greenwich ASAP

  4. John Fahy on September 28th, 2011 8:35 am

    I appreciate the statement issued by the Friends of the Park. We should recognise the work done by volunteers in the Park over the last few years. We must now move forward and work together to repair the damage and trust caused by this sad episode.

    Catherine Grove Reply:

    Given that the credibility of the Friends is fast evaporating in the community, there can only be a “move forward” after they either refute your statement in the previous story that they “instructed” others to destroy the headstones or justify their decision to destroy the headstones with reasons backed up by facts such that they restore their credibility as caretakers of our park.

    Catherine Grove Reply:

    Absent a refutation or acceptable justification “moving forward” can only happen after: 1/ The council forces the Friends to be more accountable to them on all their future decisions, 2/ Whomever made the decision to give the instruction to destroy the headstones apologises and they are removed from a position where they can damage the credibility of the Friends as caretakers of St Alfege Park again.

  5. James on September 28th, 2011 9:44 am

    I like the Olympics but if I hear it used as one more excuse I will go potty. A 2012 garden which results in ancient headstones being smashed? Piffle.

    This statement merely sounds like you are blaming either Community Payback or Parks/Open Spaces who ‘agreed the site in consultation’ – well which is it to be?

    If you are given authority to oversee any resource then you must accept responsibility when it goes wrong. And the person overseeing this either (a) was not communicating their wishes effectively or (b) not managing the project in a satisfactory manner. Or maybe both.

    Either way, they should not be in a position to weald this responsibility ‘moving forward’ as the Councillor for Woolwich Riverside puts it.

  6. laurelleSE3 on September 28th, 2011 10:19 am

    Can’t understand why Suzanne and Johanna felt they had to offer this explanation, based on guesswork. We have waited all this time for the definitive answer from an uncontactable Chair so a couple more days won’t make much difference. I will not make up my mind on the issue until I have heard the whole story from the person responsible (whoever that may be; we still do not know), so I eagerly await the words of the Chair.

  7. Will on September 28th, 2011 11:52 am

    Can we all calm down? The tone of this debate is getting somewhat hysterical. What has happened can’t be changed. Yes we need to get to the bottom of why it happened, and make sure it doesn’t happen again, but let’s not attack these people for giving their side of the story, however limited it is at this stage.

    Don’t forget – the Friends (and no, I’m not one) give up time to make this Park better. They must be more upset than most at what has happened.

    To look at this incident as part of a bigger picture – this is what David Cameron’s Big Society is going to look like. Enthusiatic amateurs will make mistakes. I suggest we may need to get used to it.

  8. siobhan on September 28th, 2011 12:42 pm

    I agree with Will. It was a regrettable incident, but these recriminations have all gone too far.

  9. James on September 28th, 2011 1:57 pm

    Hysterical? Recriminations going too far?….I am not running anyone out of town here!

    I am pointing out that to leave a Community Payback Team – apparently – unsupervised, wielding sledgehammers in such an area is a colossal mistake.

    Its going to be very interesting to hear what the Chair has to say.

  10. Catherine Grove on September 28th, 2011 5:58 pm

    Thank you Suzanne and Johanna for being in communication. This has clearly been a difficult time for you both. At least we know now the Friends are aware of the concern in the community. No doubt it is also a distressing time for all of the Friends members as well. Many Greenwich residents, St Alfege parishioners, history lovers and people who just feel connected to the Park are looking forward to the organisation’s response tomorrow to Cllr Fahy’s statement that it “instructed” the headstones be destroyed. And, if it did, how the Friends intends to change in order to restore it’s credibility as the park’s caretaker.

  11. John on September 28th, 2011 6:59 pm

    The Broken stones have been removed and evidence of where the stones were smashed left behind .

  12. John Fahy on September 28th, 2011 9:44 pm

    Headstones removed for safe keeping pending a solution for restoration being determined.

    N J Wicken Reply:

    I saw the council workers moving the stones yesterday and they were being very careful with them, taking them for safe keeping to the depot until, as Cllr Fahy says above, their future is decided.

  13. 58frankh on September 29th, 2011 9:08 am

    Sounds like that group of people the comunity had convicted of one thing or another well and truly got their payback.

  14. Darren on September 29th, 2011 10:11 am

    I am getting a little upset with the level of hysteria this has generated. I find it somewhat perverse that this has generated such a level of reaction given the years of silence when the place was a no go area filled with drug use, alcoholoics and anti-social behaviour.

    My simple question is this – If you’re all so passionate about the park, why aren’t you already friends of it? Maybe then this whole situation could have been avoided.

    Respect to Suzanne and Johanna for putting their names in black and white, I notice those who seek to belittle them still do so from the safety of anonymity.

    Darren – not a friend just yet

  15. Ian on the Hill on October 3rd, 2011 11:03 am

    Demonising a group that is clearly attempting to help the community isn’t especially useful. But someone took a sledgehammer to ancient monuments. They mav have done it without permission or instruction, but that leaves them and the probation service responsible.

    If they WERE under instruction, or were required to be supervised then there’s been a failure there.

    We need some real detail, but I suspect what we will get is that a ‘friend’ told the offenders to temporarily move some stones without explaining themselves, and the offenders then took it on themselves to do that with sledgehammers.

    Rob Powell Reply:

    Yes, it will be very useful to get some further clarification from those with first hand knowledge. It’s worth bearing in mind however, that the breaking of stones had been going on for many weeks.

    Catherine Grove Reply:


    Am guessing there has not yet been a Chairman-approved statement by the Friends of St Alfege Park (either direct to the paper or through the council) in which they respond to the council spokesperson’s statement that the organisation “instructed” the headstones be destroyed.

    The ‘Headstone Rubble’ story was being discussed in my West Greenwich local pub last weekend and I’ve overheard locals in one of the small express/metro-type supermarkets near the post office debate the subject. There have been a lot of unfounded accusations made against the Friends (online and in public) that have seriously damaged if not destroyed the credibility of this organisation. As part of the “moving forward” process that Cclr Fahy rightly wishes these need to be proven or disproven.

    If the accusations are refuted and proven to be false by correctly identifying which person or persons were responsible for the decision and/or instruction, the Friends deserve as public an apology as they have been publicly accused.

    If they accept the accusation but feel they had reasonable justification for making the decision and giving the instruction, they deserve a chance to make their argument public.

    Absent a proven refutation or acceptable justification I believe a “moving forward” can only happen in the community after, at a minimum, the council requires the Friends to be more accountable to them in all their future decisions and whomever made the mistake of giving the instruction to destroy the headstones apologises and no longer holds a position where they can damage the credibility of the Friends as caretakers of St Alfege Park again.

    In light of there being so many unknowns, and especially since you broke the news, please do not let this story go cold before Greenwich residents get to know what really happened and that we are either assured all our concerns are either misplaced or that our concerns are validated – but that safeguards are going to be put in place so that it cannot happen again.


  16. Nancy Johnson on October 18th, 2011 9:16 pm

    It would seem any group with “brains” amongst the members would have known not to desecrate such historic headstones in the first place.

    This Friends group needs to come up with their chairman’s explanation.

  17. Pamela on November 10th, 2011 1:40 pm

    You have a nerve calling yourselves “FRIENDS”.

    I think this group of of friends should disband. they clearly don’t knw what they are doing.