1996 Tunbridge Wells Borough Council identified
the need for a more structured approach to listed buildings at risk and
work started on a survey of all the borough’s 3,000 listed buildings.
The buildings were assessed using English Heritage criteria and as a result,
36 buildings capable of occupation and 89 buildings not capable of occupation
(70 of which were gravestones) were identified as ‘at risk’.
1998 councillors approved the implementation of a five-year project with
three main aims. One of the aims was to target gravestones and monuments
through a new project.
diffcult to gain permission to repair graves at risk as the people responsible
for them are often hard to contact. Unfortunately, sometimes all family
members are dead or have moved away and as a result the numbers at risk
the ‘Grave Risk Project’, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council officers started
by contacting the Diocese of Rochester and Canterbury. After discussions
a procedure was agreed that the council would work directly with local
to carry out any work on a grave an effort has to be made to contact the
owners. The council advertised its statutory notices in the London Gazette (a publication that contains all public notices). Signs called ‘citations’
were erected, usually inside the churches, advising the proposals for
work and encouraging anyone with an interest to come forward. Owners were
required to reply to the adverts within 28 days.
only one owner was tracked down, so the council worked directly with the
churches to repair all the graves. Tunbridge Wells Borough Council agreed
to fund 90 per cent of repair costs with the church councils donating
the remaining costs. As the borough council provided most of the funding,
officers were responsible for implementing the work.
the council dealt with 14 churches around the borough. The project included
gravestones, chest tombs (many railed), sundials, war memorials, mounting
blocks and wooden ‘bedstead’ memorials. Common repairs included:
- dismantling and
re-erection of stones and tombs to correct levels and lines
- removal of destructive
and invasive plants such as holly, ivy, sycamore, and grasses and mosses
- re-fixing broken
stones with epoxy-based mortars and stainless steel pins
- re-placing rusting
dog-cramps with new stainless steel ones
- re-pointing with
lime putty or hydraulic lime-based mortars
- ‘weathering’ some
joints to allow water run-off
- re-levelling surrounding
site area and minisoakaways to ensure good drainage
- re-bedding, re-fixing
and re-painting of railings.
Wells Borough Council spent a total of £530,000 on the overall Buildings
at Risk project. The total expenditure by the council on the Grave Risk
Project was £110,000 with the additional total outlay of £11,000 by the
intends to continue to review its register of buildings at risk on a five-yearly
basis. Grants for repairs to gravestones and tombs will be reviewed at
the same time, but it is considered that the recent repair project will
have postponed the need for major repairs by 25 years. One clear conclusion
from the project is that to wait for owners to repair listed stones is
not a practical option. If councils are serious about tackling problems
caused by years of neglect, they must consider taking on the responsibility
and working in partnership with churches.
Design and Heritage Officer, Brian Hayward, believes that Tunbridge Wells
is one of the first local authorities in the UK to have restored all of
their graves that were identifed as ‘at risk’ in this way. The most important
factor in getting the work done was a good partnership between the council,
church and diocese.
was welcomed by the Diocese of Canterbury. As Ian Dodd said: 'Appropriate
conservation of memorials in Church of England churchyards is a major
concern in many of our small communities and the financial assistance
offered by the council has been of great support and encouragement. We
would certainly recommend that other local authorities consider adopting
a similar scheme'.
chest tombs such as this one one at St Mary the Virgin, Speldhurst
were in such a poor state that they had simply been dismantled.
unusual wooden ‘bedstead’ memorial before repairs at St Margaret’s
article is reproduced from Historic Churches, 2004
SQUIRE is the communications officer for Tunbridge Wells Borough
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