8 AM 10 June 2012 Nunhead Heights

There was a consultation over the past year on what do to with Southwark’s cemeteries. They are running out of space for burials, the Council told us. It’s an emergency.

[To read the first article in the series “Will we regret cutting down the new forests of Southwark?” click here.]

The Southwark Council announced they were considering using the sports fields at Honor Oak Recreation Ground to bury dead. “Virgin Land,” they called it, I believe, since dead people weren’t buried there and there weren’t any trees that needed planning permission to remove. Very easy solution.

Most of the people using the Rec are from neighboring Lewisham, the Council pointed out. The land is on the other side of One Tree Hill and not easily accessible by either East Dulwich or Nunhead people – and only some use it.  And the pitches are on Camberwell New Cemetery grounds – the land was bought for the purpose of burying bodies – and the Council had done local people a favour by letting residents play on it for the last 50 years. Time’s up.

“Please, Sir. Not the Rec.” The people pleaded. “How is England going to win the World Cup without places for our children to play?” You beg for your little bowl of gruel when you’re starving.

“Let’s see what we can do” the nice Council man says nicely. “Maybe if the Southwark-siders in Nunhead and East Dulwich let us reuse 3300 old graves in the Camberwell Old Cemetery? We’ll only remove the ‘scrub’ and a few trees above the graves – not all. We’ll take out the ‘bad’ trees and put in ‘higher quality’ trees. The soil is ‘contaminated’ anyway. ” [All dialogue is made up but that sounds about right to me.]

No one screamed at the Council people:

“Are you out of your frigging minds? You have no intention of using the land where our children play to bury dead bodies. You’re playing politics.” Maybe it is an English thing – seeming hoodwinked but knowing better.

I didn’t hear  “This must be a ploy. A red herring. No Council wants to be known as selling off a playing field, it’s Thatcherite and that won’t get you elected in Southwark.”

No one said: “The Council must want to get money from Lewisham Council for the Rec’s upkeep. Or maybe they want to get the residents to go for removing 3300 plots of trees, bushes, flowers, bird’s homes by presenting a far worse alternative.”

If the council actually considered taking away a playing field than that would be worse than playing any kind of political game. It would be morally repugnant. Politicians often – insert the benign word for ‘lie’ – but if they think the dead are more important than our children, whoa, that’s not good.

On the 22nd of June the Council will probably get the permission to strip the foliage from above 3300 abandoned graves.  It is probably what they wanted in the first place.

A lovely wood, with birds and flowers and seventy-five-year-old trees, will be destroyed. It is wrong to rip up a forest in London in 2012.

Camberwell Old Cemetery Wood is a place of outstanding beauty in the middle of London. Look at how people now travel from all over London to see the overgrown graves of Nunhead Cemetery – wouldn’t they visit a protected Camberwell Old Cemetery, too?

In twenty years, when and if they do programme on the loss of Camberwell Old Cemetery Wood – like the kind they did on Deptford’s destruction  – the Council people will be able to look into the camera and state

“We had a consultation and the local people wanted it that way.”


Please let me know if this is rubbish or brilliant, right or wrong, or something else. Leave a comment.

Another article about our cemeteries. “The Delightfully Dead Nunhead Cemetery is Buried Alive”


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

3 thoughts on “How Camberwell Old Cemetery Wood was lost.

  1. I must say that I’d never really thought of the potential loss of Honor Oak Rec as a diversionary tactic on the part of Southwark council, though that’s not to say I consider it out of the question.

    Whatever the Future Burials Strategy turns out to be, it looks likely that we’ll lose some of the recreational space we ought to be preserving, though this sacrifice won’t, according to one estimate I’ve seen, provide an answer to the burial problem for more than three or four decades.

    Even if we accept that those choosing burial have 75 years in their plot, surely the use of Camberwell Old Cemetery isn’t going to provide an answer to the burial problem for very long – and that’s what’s most concerning about the options detailed in the consultation.

    There needs to be a long-term solution or we’re going to be deciding what we have to sacrifice next before we know it.

    All of these points and many more will have been submitted during the consultation by those who were aware of what’s been going on and returned a completed form to Southwark council. I’d like to think that lots of people would have taken the time to do this but I’ve a feeling that many people were completely oblivious to it all, not necessarily because they don’t care.

    I know from past experience that council plans and consultations don’t often get put in front of you – you have to be on the lookout for them, which makes them very easy to miss.

    This brings me back to the point I made on your previous post: more people need to hear about these issues. Even if the facts aren’t correct (I’m not sure what is or isn’t true but I’ve seen your Twitter exchanges with the councillors), drawing attention to the debate is hugely important.

    As with elections, the turnout probably won’t be as great as we’d like it to be, but at least there is an opportunity for as many people as possible to have their say before any proposals become a done deal. Then, if Southwark says ‘the local people wanted it that way’, we can feel a little bit more confident that there is some truth in that.

  2. for the council to sacrifice children’s playing fields and scarce woods for the burial of the soon to be ignored dead is amoral. horrible, horrible, horrible. raise the prices on burial and and make individuals have to pay the REAL price for an inner london burial.

    1. It is horrible – there’s no denying that. Seems like what’s currently on offer is a relatively short-term fix that won’t necessarily protect even Honor Oak Rec beyond 2040. What we really need is a plan that will last well into the future and might include increasing fees significantly and buying land outside of the borough.

Leave a Reply

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