Unsafe Headstones – Restoration of memorials

At Last nights National Trust(NSW) Cemeteries Committee Meeting (Monday 16 June 2003) the topic of headstone restoration and relevant standards that can/should apply to monuments of heritage significance were discussed.

The meeting was attended by representatives with backgrounds in Heritage Architecture, Local Authority Heritage Advice, Rural Heritage Consultants and Advice, Monumental Stone Masonry, Geology, Cemetery Operations and Management, Structural E

The “Burra Charter” heritage document was explained to the meeting and an example of how this can be used in conjunction with the existent Australian Standards for Headstone & Monument construction (AS 4204-94).

Across the board there was agreement to the large variance between site managed ‘operational’ and in this instance metropolitan cemeteries and the expected work practices (compliance with legislation and acts, etc), work quality and site regulation and that of the council controlled rural cemetery or burial ground seldom used, if at all still considered operational.

Discussed were the current restoration benchmarks expected at state recognised locations like Waverley Cemetery and The Necropolis at Rookwood (specifically Anglican & General Cemeteries). In these locations full rebuilds are recommended and encouraged including new internal drilling/pinning of all existing elements, with replacement in exact replica of missing or unsalvageable elements that are then set on modern foundation work (below ground) that meets and where possible exceeds the current Australian Standard (AS4204– 94) to avoid future vandal damage. This was viewed by many rural representatives as a prohibitively expensive process when used in conjunction with heritage advisers and consultants and the documentation process required by places like the Heritage Commission and other grant issuing entities that many rural applicants would not consider. Education of clients and contractors by the site managers or administrators was an example of overcoming this type of preconception of work necessarily being too expensive in consideration of the end result. There was not always the need to include the use of consultants and advisers depending on the site management, this is certainly not an automatic process for the metropolitan cemeteries.

Monumental Masons illustrated examples of what were referred to as acceptable levels of restoration and contrasted with visually substandard levels of restoration work that clearly compromised the existing integrity of the memorial design.

Underpinning was discussed with regard to any work where modern compliant equipment can not access the memorial; location. Issues of OH&S; Safety were also high on the discussion topics.

The important consideration of the history of monuments being ‘modernised’ was also raised and the need to recognise that this was a regular practice for families as they were able to afford a more appropriate commemoration.

The general resolution was made that if any work is done it must meet or where possible exceed the current standard, with reference to site interpretations by the location owner. Manager, or administrative controller. And it was the responsibility of these site officers to establish a management regime as a first and unavoidably necessary step.

Those in attendance were requested to provide a written ‘wish list’ of general direction or guidelines for monument assessment and matrix for work on heritage items and have this returned to the NT committee meeting before 21 July 2003 for further committee discussion.

This important aspect of cemetery management (even closed ‘historic’ cemetery sites or burial grounds need management principles to be followed) and important future preservation of heritage relics seems like a good workshop for the National Trust and any relevant industry associations to explore in the near future.

Henry’s in a grave state of neglect

After years of neglect the monument over the grave of leading Australian literary figure Henry Lawson(1867-1922) is in desperate need of an overhaul – but no one wants to pay for it.

At least that’s what Michelle Cazzulino wrote in the Daily Telegraph

Lawson’s grave can be found in Sidney’s Waverley Cemetery where Waverley Council has a sponsorship program allowing individuals or companies to take financial responsibility for keeping the graves in order.

But the council’s Bronwyn Kelly says they can’t find sponsors.

The director of corporate and technical services said the council had approached numerous companies and organisations.

“Those graves are obviously significant from a cultural point of view – every grave in Waverley basically is,” she said.

“We recently had a quote to restore the Henry Lawson grave, which started at $14,520.

“The repairs are not as simple as they look.

“I’m always stunned at how much it costs to take care of this little plot, but to restore them to their normal fabric, you get stonemasons in to quote and it’s really expensive.”

Vicar’s plea for green funerals

According to the BBC, an eco-friendly vicar is urging his congregation to think green when their time comes to meet their maker.

The Reverend Sam Randell, who is vicar at St John’s Church, Hurst Green, Lancashire, believes more people should take advantage of environmentally-friendly coffins.

Mr. Randell, who made the call to his flock to mark Creation Sunday, said many undertakers provided the service and added the future of funerals could lie in biodegradable coffins.

“It would be possible if more did it, but unfortunately they do not,” he said.

There are a number of options for eco-friendly funerals, with one of the most popular being the use of a cocoon casket at crematoriums.

The Cocoon System, developed by UK firm Green Undertakings, uses a biodegradable casket within a hardwood cocoon.

Just before the coffin is put into the furnace, the cardboard interior, containing the body, is removed from the hardwood cocoon, which is then re-used.

Green Undertakings say the system provides dignity in death and can also save families hundreds of pounds, as well as helping the environment.

Other environmentally-friendly coffin options exist, the cheapest being flatpack cardboard coffins, which can cost as little as £35. 

First-ever UK coffin exhibition opens

The BBC reports coffins and other items associated with funerals go on display this weekend at the first ever exhibition of its kind held in the UK.

Instead of paintings or artefacts, anyone visiting Belsay Hall in Northumberland will be able to see an unusual exhibition aimed at breaking down the taboo of bereavement. Organisers have gathered together a varied range of coffins and caskets, including a coffin shaped like the Angel of the North and another shaped like a canal barge.

The exhibition, called Handle with Care, will also feature a coffin which was specially built for a ski enthusiast.

Modes of transport used at funerals through the ages will form another part of the display, with several hearses, a Victorian coach and horses, and a motorcycle and sidecar hearse on display.

And a room has been set aside for “coffin preparation”, where visitors can experience coffins being fitted and trimmed.

The British Institute of Funeral Directors, who are joint organisers with English Heritage, says it hopes to give an insight into the vast array of coffins and caskets available today and to demonstrate the revival of traditional materials and crafts. 

Cars to be banned from London Crem (UK)

The Corporation of London, which runs the 200-acre cemetery and crematorium, is considering to ban private cars, apart from those with disabled badges, at weekends and on bank holidays following a survey that highlighted several safety concerns. The Corporation’s spokesperson is quoted to have said the move was in response to safety concerns and added that a bus service will be provided for visitors when the ban came into force next March.

He also admitted that the move might not be popular with some but insisted public safety at the cemetery in Aldersbrook Road, Wanstead, was paramount: “It is only a matter of time before someone gets killed. It is that bad. We have to consider public safety over public convenience.”

Funerals and entourage will be allowed with cars during Saturday and Sunday mornings as will blue disabled badge holders.

But in the afternoon the cemetery will be completely car free, with two buses providing transport. Wheelchairs are available for visitors at the front gate, said Mr Hussein. From Monday until Friday cars will be admitted to the cemetery as normal.

Cars are already banned on Sunday afternoons, and the ban’s extension to the rest of the weekend will be enforced by the security officers already manning the entrance.

The ban is to be trialled for a year and can be extended into the week if successful. 

Report says Victoria (AU) has enough crematoria

A report by the Department of Human Services (VIC, AU) questions the long-term viability of the state’s nine crematoriums, which are owned and operated by public cemetery trusts and are on Crown land. According to the report Melbourne’s five crematoriums – Fawkner, Springvale, Lilydale, Dandenong South and Altona – were operating at 52 per cent of capacity. As a consequence the State Government of Victoria (AU) will not approve any proposals to expand crematory services.

The report said there was a significant oversupply of crematoriums, particularly in Melbourne, and that their profits might not be sustainable in the long term. As a consequenc the department will not endorse any further use of public funds for new crematoriums until a financial analysis of facilities has been made.

The secretary of the Cemeteries and Crematoria Association of Victoria, Philip Bachelor, said yesterday that Melbourne’s crematoriums could cope with demand.

Dr Bachelor, the manager of technical services at the Fawkner Crematorium and Memorial Park, said there was not enough work for Melbourne’s existing crematoriums due largely to a stable mortality rate. 

Victoria has 561 public cemeteries that are administered by 526 cemetery trusts. 
The trusts comprise volunteer members who are appointed by the governor-in-council after a recommendation by the health minister. Of the 526 trusts, 14 are required to report yearly to Parliament. 
Each trust is responsible for the management of cemeteries under its control.