So Where From Here?

I have been haunted all day by Rob at greenwich.co.uk’s story about the sanctioned vandalism of headstones at St Alfege’s church .

Of course the first thing that has to happen is that whoever thought this was a good idea needs to be discovered and fired. I find it hard to imagine that a group calling themselves the ‘friends’ of St Alfege’s park would have done something like this, but since no one’s actually denying anything just now, it’s looking a bit dodgy. Certainly I can see some young offenders on the Payback scheme enjoying themselves hugely at getting to smash stuff up but didn’t their supervisors think to themselves ‘hmm – this seems a bit odd?’ at any point?

I’m not sure what the legal implications of desecrating these monuments are. I  mean if a bunch of teenage herberts were found to have done far less than this off their own bat, there would have been all hell to pay. There would be pictures of grieving families in the local paper, and someone would be telling us Society’s gone to the dogs. But this was, seemingly, ‘official.’

Actually, when I say ‘I’m not sure’  about the legal implications, I mean ‘I know nothing about them,’ of course. Perhaps that’s why no one’s actually saying anything yet, they’re busy hurriedly consulting lawyers. I am sure that the national newspaper that’s been in touch with Rob will be able to shed some light on it (well done, Rob, for getting them on board…)

But what I’m thinking now is this. What’s to be done with this high-quality rubble? I am sure the perpetrators will be keen to get this out of people’s sight as soon as possible – but surely that will compound their crime even more appallingly.

To me it would be a huge shame merely to load it up onto a lorry and cart it off for hardcore – surely some of it could be saved, and used for something cool, and while a sort of jigsaw-crazy-paving scheme could be rather good, I think we should think bigger.

We have umpteen artists here in Greenwich. I bet someone could come up with a really great installation using the pieces that will, perhaps, go some way to offsetting this cultural crime while at the same time honouring both the dead  - and the historic value of a thousand-year-old church (Yes, yes,  I know the graveyard’s only several hundred years old, but that does not in any way make this any less appalling.)

Ideas, folks. What should be done with these little shards of history?


36 Comments to “So Where From Here?”

  1. Dazza says:

    Whoever is found to have sanctioned their destruction should be made to pay for their re-instatement as a memorial!!
    I wonder if they should lose any privileges they get from the council? Council tenants lose homes..one law for all!

  2. Joe F says:

    When the Midland Railway was being built, it cut through the churchyard of Old St Pancras church, necessitating the respectful exhumation and reburying of many grave remains. The architect of the overall works put one of his students in charge of the churchyard task – Thomas Hardy (yes, that one). The headstones were collected to form an almost abstract sculpture around an ash tree, now known as The Hardy Tree, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:2780theHardyTreeOldStPancrasChurchyard.jpg. While this is clearly too late for St Alfege’s, it might offer some inspiration to a Greenwich artist.

  3. scared of chives says:

    One of the lovely things about old gravestones – after family and friends have long gone – is the names, the dates and each epitaph – the wonder of a previous life, probably a local life too.

    Clearly, after all this time, many will be hard to read – but somehow, especially after this – work can done on them so they can be shown. I’d happily help (or do I need to do Community Payback and be told what to do?)

    I can’t wait to get that name of the person who sanctioned this.

  4. cerletone says:

    Joe I’d forgotten all about The Hardy Tree, thanks for the reminder. I might have to make a trip to St Pancras this week.

    The stones should be collected and used to build a large (it’d have to be very large) sarcophagus. This could be used to intern the remains of useless local politicians and dignitaries who do stupid things to spoil our beautiful piece of London. Now, where to begin…

  5. cerletone says:

    And I think I meant ‘interred’, not interned!

  6. Ebspig says:

    Yes, every scrap needs to be saved (I hope to God no one has taken any souvenirs). Some of the gravestones could – just about – be re-assembled, and the rest made into something which celebrates all those individual lives which made (and make)the whole community of Greenwich.

  7. [...] attracted many comments from amazed locals. Meanwhile, Greenwich Phantom has more coverage, and some background historical information about the deconsecrated church yard.TweetNews Tagged: [...]

  8. RogerW says:

    Just seen this (I’m not currently in England) and to say that I was utterly appalled would be a massive understatement.
    Can anyone say if the story been passed to the press, and other news media, as yet? It damned well should be.

  9. This is very sad. While I’m not really all for burial anyway, these were clearly old stones and in the day burial and remembrance was important to the family. Even if the stones were no longer readable there’s an element of respect expected, especially in a churchyard.

    I LOVE your idea about making something else with the stone. I suggest a mural/mosaic of remembrance of some sort?

  10. ps. I saw the story on Londonist, which linked to you. So let’s see how much exposure this gets.

  11. Roger – there is a suitably lurid story in The Mirror this morning and I think ITV news are interested. All credit to Rob at greenwich.co.uk for this – he picked up on the story where I failed.

  12. laurelleSE3 says:

    Well done, Greenwich Phantom, for your report and for suggesting the idea of creating a work of art from these little shards of history. The deed has been done and therefore we need to move on and ensure something good comes out of it all. I think Tina Mammoser’s idea of a mosaic mural is a good one, and I am sure there are lots of artists out there who could do a good job of it. Maybe possibilities could be posted to a dedicated forum for Greenwich residents to vote on?

  13. [...] attracted many comments from amazed locals. Meanwhile, Greenwich Phantom has more coverage, and some background historical information about the deconsecrated church yard. [...]

  14. lula says:

    Guys, have you thought about why these have been removed? This park has been used by junkies etc for years and the Friends of St Alfege Park have been doing a fantastic job of getting this park improved with local events, more patrols, getting the community payback teams to do work that the COUNCIL will not do – eg cutting back plants, building greenhouses etc. They’ve fought for funding and have done some awesome work with a bird charity to increase the number of birds in the park.

    If the headstones have been removed it will be because the COUNCIL will not pay to have them restored. A guy is employed by the council to pull down ANY headstones that are even slightly wobbley. They are then just left on the floor for people to walk over and trip over.

    Also, because there is no vehicular access to the park, I know they need to create this to allow the Council vehicles into the park for maintance. The council will not pay to have gates wide enough put in. The Friends of St Alfege have been fundraising to do this, and I imagine the Headstones have been removed to make room for these gates. It’s a shame that the headstones are broken, but I don’t think it’s a case of them being “smashed up”, more than the stones had to be broken to be removed.

    If you’re mad at anyone, be angry at the Council whose lack of funding has lead to the stones not being maintained and restored in the first place.

    Also, I think the Friends group is a step ahead, and I would be certain that there are plans for these stones, and again I know doing artwork with the stones has been considered.

    I’m sure no one wants the park to return to being unsafe and needles littering the floor again, but progress sometimes means changing things, and we ought to be more postive and support the people willing to make a change in our community.

    How many of you spend your saturdays cleaning up after junkies and doing the gardening that the Council refuses to pay for?

    These people do this… ~EVERY SATURDAY. They give up their time and energy to improve things for people. Let them at least have the opportunity to explain why the Headstones have been removed, and to explain what they will do with them moving forward.

  15. Andy A says:

    Lula,

    I disagree with you. Smashing up gravestones without consultation is wrong in my book. How would you feel if your parents or grandparents graves were damaged in this violent way?

  16. Barbara says:

    Sorry Lula this is vandalisim. The difference between this & the recent riots – not alot, wanton distruction of somebody else’s property, the “friends” are not the owners of this park.

  17. RogerW says:

    OMFG :(

    Lula, here’s a suggestion for you, that might be quite apposite considering that it’s a churchyard we’re talking about:-

    “When you’re at the bottom of a hole, it’s probably time to stop digging”

    I mean, how the hell can anyone even suggest that a headstone no more than six inches away from a wall, create any obstruction to vehicular access???

  18. Thing is, that up til now, the friends HAVE been doing some really brilliant stuff. And I can only assume that somewhere along the line someone misunderstood something – I can’t imagine that anyone who spends their weekends beautifying somewhere would think this was a good idea. But a communications breakdown doesn’t absolve anyone from this – until Horatio flagged it up no one seems to have questioned a massive pile of carved rubble.

  19. Paul T says:

    Part of me feels sympathy for the Friends – they are the people who’ve been working in the park, and now they’re faced with the full outrage of people who’ve done little to help it in the past.

    But I can’t help remembering the changes I’ve seen over the last few months, when gravestones were, I believe, taken down near the entrance to Bardsley Lane. I can understand that some will want to clear the space completely, because of the kind of people hanging out there, but some of the clearing seemed excessive to me, even before what happened last week.

    I look forward to hearing the Friends finally go on the record – and I hope at that point we’ll get the story of what’s been happening to the gravestones over the last year, not just the last seven days.

  20. A concerned party says:

    I am astounded that anybody would seek in any way to defend this vandalism. The importance of gravestones as a source of local history, not to mention their intrinsic aesthetic value, should be self evident and has certainly been made clear in the past by everyone from English Heritage downwards.

    The key question surely is whether amateurs should be allowed to deal with historic sites at all, at least without proper supervision. English Heritage or the Council for the Care of Churches both publish advice and will respond to questions – they are only an email away.

    The damage is done – what I would like to know is what the Friends are going to do to try and make good the terrible damage they have done. For example the gravestone fragments could be collected together, sorted where possible by stone and put in secure storage; they could be recorded (if this has not been done already) and examined by a specialist conservator; and the Friends could start to raise funds for at least selective restoration.

    But please no more pathetic excuses!

  21. Robert Number 16 says:

    Sorry for this .More Bad News for St Alfege Park. I have just been told that several houses in Sussex Court ( That back onto the Park) have had large amounts of Lead nicked. several youths seen doing this.

  22. Richard says:

    Well said Lula. The park is usally a horrible and intimidating place to be. Always full of junkies and winos.

    If the families are the deceased were so outraged surely they would have ensured the graves were well cared for up to this point. This would be expected in a municipal gravedyard?

  23. DaveH48 says:

    Phantom said “…….young offenders on the Payback scheme enjoying themselves hugely at getting to smash stuff up but didn’t their supervisors think to themselves ‘hmm – this seems a bit odd?’ at any point?…”

    I’ve seen one of these one of these payback groups at work (?) and as far as I could see the supervisors were drinking coffee and chatting whilst the workers(?) were either on mobil phones or almost using the brooms supplied to push rubbish around.

    Handing out sledgehammers and pointing them towards the head stones must have been like Christmas coming early!

    Not matter what arguments you come up with, for and against – why and how, it’s still vandalism. As all concerned busily start pointing fingers and covering their own backsides I fear some poor soul way down the food chain will end up taking the blame.

  24. Harriet says:

    I visited St Alphege earlier in the year in hope of “visiting” my Richardson ancestors and although saddened that it wasn’t possible to I was heartened as the headstones were around the perimeter – although in most cases unreadable – it felt as if some respect and dignity was still afforded to those who had been buried there. Now this. It quite beggars belief – I hope that it is a case of communication going completely awry rather than a “informed decision”. What’s done is done and unfortunately given the photos not repairable but a “full and transparent” answer needs to be provided as to how this has come to pass.

  25. Hils says:

    The Friends of St Alfeges Park are a hard working group who give up their spare time to improve the park. Lets not jump to conclusions before we know the full reasons.

  26. Lula says:

    The point is, there could be a good reason they have been removed – it could have been a terrible misunderstanding. Please hold judgement until you know what’s happened. I believe the chairman of the group is away, but returns tomorrow.

    Please remember the good work the friends group have done – judge when you know the full story.

    And finally, the payback teams are generally very hardworking and decent people who are glad to be given the opportunity to engage and work in their community. If you’ve ever stopped to engage with them you’d understand what I mean.

  27. scared of chives says:

    I’d rather there was litter in the St Alfeges Park – but that the graves were there in 100 years – than it was pristine but vandalised.

  28. anonymous says:

    Dear Phantom. Where do we go from here ? As standing back and looking in on this there seems to be a rather exciting opportunity (I am not a gardener but a technician). It is very clear that the Friends of St Alfege Park have great passion about change which clearly must happen. I understand that some of them are not as local as others. Where do we go from here ? May I make a suggestion ? There is a man who lives mere yards from St Alfege Park who seems to have turned a tiny corner shop into a Greenwich icon. Why doesn’t one ask him with his peculiar talents and multitudinous TV capabilities to turn this precious piece of Greenwich into something special ? Like him or loathe him, he gets things done.

  29. Parky says:

    Does anyone know if the friends did have anything at all to do with this? Most of the headstones I’ve seen in that park had no writing on and are used mostly for local youths to get on or over the walls. Maybe whoever did this always planned to create a memorial with the crumbling stones instead of leaving the to give a literal leg up to local youths? Does anyone know anything at in the way of facts about this?

  30. anonymous says:

    I agree with anonymous – the guy that’s been running the Greenwich Book Time shops for years (and appeared on TV once) is a major local talent.

    He’d know what to do.

  31. anon says:

    Anonymous… All the people on the committee of the Friends group are local – they all live very nearby the park, and are regular users of the park. They would be delighted if more people joined them, but to be honest, it’s all very well saying “Oh, so-and-so should run it”, but when these people don’t come forward, and offer to help it’s quite hard! Some of the people who make the most noise aren’t the people who are hard at work behind the scenes!

  32. P & D says:

    Lula

    You said, “And finally, the payback teams are generally very hardworking and decent people who are glad to be given the opportunity to engage and work in their community. If you’ve ever stopped to engage with them you’d understand what I mean.”

    Are you being serious? Decent people given the opportunity to engage and work? They are criminals who have been ordered to repay the community by a court because of a crime they have committed. They are not the Womens Institute doing charitable work!

    Unless you are talking about the parole officers overseeing the work of the chain gang you are greatly misguided.

  33. Stephan says:

    My thought is we should have a monument to the destruction of these historical stones.

    A modern artist’s view on this kind of vandalism could be a good and very appropriate way of presenting our town’s protest against what has been going on. At the same time, it could incorporate parts from the vandalised stones and as such honour the dead.

    I think what we need is an expression of our cultural heritage and understanding that these vandals so obviously do not possess.

    I don’t think there would be any trouble with finding a way to display this piece.

    Let us not accept this but make something out of it that is uniquely Greenwich.

  34. Simon says:

    This reminds me of the clearance of St Margarets church yard in Woolwich. Back in the sixties, the “right on” new vicar decided the old church yard would be better as an open park. So he organised the clearance of headstones and the turfing over of the graves. A lot of these graves were fairly recent with rent paid on the ground and relatives still placing flowers. The only tomb that was saved (after a public campaign) was that of bare knuckle boxing champ Tom Cribb. It caused untold outrage and pain for relatives as well as the destruction of local history. Sometimes the people placed in charge of these historic sites lose sight of just what they are responsible for. The excuse that St Alfege’s park was full of junkies just does not wash. Would they pull down the church to remove the cover for these drug users?

  35. Well, I believe the chairman of the Friends was due back yesterday. I am sure he/she will be able to explain what the hell’s been going on.

  36. RogerW says:

    FWIW, I did come across something that passes for a statement/explanation, posted on Sept 28th, at ‘docklands24.co.uk’

    http://www.docklands24.co.uk/news/st_alfege_park_group_regrets_and_is_distressed_by_damage_to_headstones_in_greenwich_1_1073451