4PM Thursday 7th June 2012 Nunhead Heights

The Wood of Camberwell Old Cemetery, Southwark

There was a dude on the BBC programme last night – the documentary on what The Greenwich Council did to Deptford High Street. I’m pretty sure he was from The Council. That kind of man is always from The Council.

He was explaining why The Council tore down a beautiful and alive neighborhood and put something new, and definitely not better, in it’s place. I watched for a few minutes. Okay, less than a minute. I had to turn it off as it was too painful.

The Council dude seemed ignorant.

Mark Twain noted that “an ignorant person is some who doesn’t know what you just learned.” Now we know that those slummy houses were beautiful and chaotic neighbourhoods are the ones worth living in. At least I hope we do.

There is forest in southern Southwark.

Southwark is the neighboring Council to Greenwich. A wood grows above the abandoned graves in Camberwell Old Cementery. Southern Southwark is burial ground for burials with our three cemeteries. All are owned by The Council. Why The Council has to own cemeteries is another question, but they do. The Council owns maybe half of all the homes in the borough, too.

Something happened in the last few years. Burials had fallen out of fashion in favour of cremations. Lately, the people of Southwark decided they wanted their loved ones buried. Maybe there was a fancy funeral on Eastenders and now the middling and lower classes want burials, too. [Update 9 June 2012: I have been told that burials in Southwark’s cemeteries are “static” by Cllr. Victoria Mills.]

The Council is planing to cut down the trees above 3300 graves in Camberwell Old Cemetery, add a metre of dirt and bury maybe 3300 more dead. Do the maths: 3300 times 3 feet wide by 7 feet long, and the space in-between and you are talking about a lot of trees and a lot of wood. A wood where my kids picked berries and learned to read by looking at fallen tombstones.

[googlemaps https://maps.google.co.uk/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=se22&sll=53.800651,-4.064941&sspn=7.543144,13.666992&t=h&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=London+SE22,+United+Kingdom&ll=51.450744,-0.062485&spn=0.004012,0.006437&z=16&output=embed&w=300&h=300]

The only way The Council can get revenue for its cemeteries is by burying the newly dead. And The Council makes the middling and the lower classes happy by providing affordable places to bury their dead. Win-win. The Council is voting on it on 22nd June.

Perhaps in twenty years the BBC will make a documentary on the destruction of the wood. They will bring The Council dude to the scene of the crime and show him photos of the wonderful forest in the middle of London and compare it with the ugly ignored graves of the recently dead. [BTW: You would be surprised how quickly people forget to visit their loved ones.]

The Council dude will shrug.

“We did what we thought was best for the people of Southwark” Or “We did what the people of Southwark asked us to do.” “It was always meant to be a cemetery.” Or the ever popular: “We did a consultation.”

And I won’t be able to watch that programme, either. It’ll be too painful. But at least I will have some satisfaction in saying “I wasn’t ignorant.”

[Hypocrisy Alert: I buried my mother in a cemetery in an ‘inner city” suburb on Staten Island”.]


Listen to Lewis Schaffer on the Radio Nunhead American Radio with Lewis Schaffer every Monday evening at 10:30PM on www.resonancefm.com and 104.4fm London. Or listen to the show’s podcasts at bit.ly/NunheadAmericanRadio

See Lewis Schaffer live every Tuesday and Wednesday at the Source Below. Free admission. Reserve at bit.ly/londonfreeshow

14 thoughts on “Will we regret cutting down the new forests of Southwark?

  1. That programme was a heart breaker. As I said on twitter, I called The Council Man in his very big house, with it’s very big garden a VERY bad word, what I couldn’t fit on Twitter it was in front of my DAD! and he agreed.

  2. I went along to the meeting at Honor Oak Rec last September and was pleased to see that there are plenty of local people fighting any plans to use that area for burial space.

    Personally, I’d like to see what little green space we have left in London made available for use by the living and not the dead but there is a shortage of burial space and Southwark needs to come up with a solution.

    All kinds of solutions have been suggested (none of them a long-term answer, it should be noted), including the use of all or part of Honor Oak Rec, buying land outside of the borough and using up remaining space in existing cemeteries – including Nunhead, though I’m sure that would meet with plenty of opposition.

    Sadly, I think the use of Camberwell Old Cemetery will be considered by Southwark to be one of the least controversial options. Without doubt it will be regrettable to lose the woodland area, though I’ve a feeling the council will argue we’re well catered for with Nunhead Cemetery, One Tree Hill and Dulwich/Sydenham Hill woods nearby.

    That said, the ‘agitation’ that prevented access restrictions to One Tree Hill proves that this part of London has a history of standing up for its open space so it might not be a foregone conclusion yet.

    1. Thank you for your comment.

      The one solution to the burial problem is raising the cost for a Southwark burial and lowering the cost of cremation. Why does anyone have the right to be buried in their home borough at a certain price?

      There is an aphorism [?] “It is neither supply nor demand that dictates markets but price” The council is giving away the burials way too cheaply and Southwark’s environment suffers.

      Agitate to save our green spaces!

      1. Agitate indeed! If it were up to me, there would only be cremation so I really do share your views. I’m just trying to prepare myself for the decision Southwark will make, though that doesn’t mean I’ll be happy with it – or that I’ll accept it without making my views known to them.

    2. Hi Lewis, just found you mate 🙂 (I’m English) 🙂 You can’t help your nationality 😉 No seriously I like this and posted it on my twitter..oh and I live in Nunhead, for last 20 years

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *