Rectory Lane Cemetery, Berkhamsted

Rectory Lane Cemetery, Berkhamsted

What has been achieved?

The  project has been delivered!  Over the three years between 2017 and 2020, in spite of the impact of some appalling weather conditions during the landscaping work and then working restrictions due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the Cemetery has been transformed – from a dead space to a living place.

‘What you’ve helped deliver at Rectory Lane Cemetery is a very special place indeed for our community. My own experience over recent weeks, and what I observed again today, was all sorts of people – from the youngest to the oldest and all in between – passing through and taking the opportunity to connect with the beautiful surroundings as well as each other. A perfect combination of inspiration and reflection. Just right for our time.’

Visitor quote

We have been shortlisted in the RIBAJ 2021 MacEwen competition which rewards ‘architecture for the common good.’  The judges were impressed with the ‘intelligent’ and ‘subtle’ spatial interventions. ‘It turns around a space that normally feels daunting,’ said judge Beth Bourrelly of BDP.

MacEwen highlighted the importance of the cemetery as model public space: ‘Local spaces have become really important in the last year. There are 30,000 struggling cemeteries and there’s significance in seeing the potential of a cemetery, especially now we need to claw back all the public space we can.’

When we started

A decaying overgrown grave in 2013

When we started, the Cemetery was an overgrown, unloved area which had:

  • 3 acres of neglected scrub
  • A boarded-up Sexton’s Hut
  • 540 metres of failing boundary walls
  • 1,000 damaged and decaying Memorials
  • Rusting gates and leaning gate piers
  • A crumbling Memorial Arch
  • Unattractive seating
  • Over 200 neglected trees
 

Initial work

A conservation team lifting the restored Seat of Remembrance into place in 2016

Between 2014 and September 2017 we:

  • Held regular Sunday work parties
  • Removed destructive trees and saplings
  • Recorded and cleaned gravestones and monuments
  • Restored the Seat of Remembrance (with its lovely sculpted dogs)
  • Began the “adopt a grave” scheme
  • Initiated community consultations
  • Held a seating design competition
  • Ran Heritage Open Days events which attracted hundreds of new visitors
  • Conducted guided tours
 
Our open days have attracted hundreds of new visitors
  • Published trail booklets to highlight the history of the site, the lives of some of those buried there and the symbolism of the graves
  • Consulted with monumental conservation experts with regard to the state of all the monuments
  • Conducted surveys of the trees, flora and fauna on the site
  • Enhanced the site’s ecology, improving habitats for birds, insects and animals and introducing a more sensitive mowing rotation
  • Installed a beehive

This was made possible through the work of our volunteers and supported through grants, donations, Waitrose and Tesco community schemes and initial funding from the Heritage Lottery and Big Lottery Funds.

 

Transforming the Cemetery

Repairing the leaning gate piers

The award of the main Delivery Grant of £907,600 in September 2017 has funded an ambitious three-year programme of conservation, landscaping and community engagement.

Monument conservation specialists were brought in to:

  • Rebuild and strengthened the walls,
  • Straighten and repair the leaning Memorial Arch and gate piers
 
Before and after: several memorials that had been broken or toppled were restored by conservation specialists
  • Restore the iron gates and railings
  • Reinstate 19 key memorials

In addition to the selected graves, a further 40 memorials have been restored, some commissioned by relatives.

 
We worked with monument conservation specialists to restore the cemetery and with experienced landscapers to create new features
  • Our landscape architect designed a number of improvements which were implemented by a professional landscaping team including: a contemporary Garden of Remembrance; welcoming entrances; accessible paths and steps; an events area for performances and group activities; steps and handrails to the upper cemetery
 
The Read in Peace seat
  • Specially designed seats were installed in each of the three ‘zones’, including the sculptured Read In Peace seat with its integrated bookshelf 
  • The infrastructure was improved with disabled parking, cycle racks, bins and a facility for volunteers 
  • Electricity and water was brought onto the site
 
Visitors can search for burials on a cemetery map
  • Interpretation has been developed to help people enjoy their visits, whether for leisure or to trace relatives, including a searchable map and database of burials and telling the story of the Cemetery in the refurbished Sexton’s Hut
 
Visitors can learn about keeping bees
  • Our Community Engagement Officer and volunteer team have delivered an ambitious programme of events, from storytelling, theatre and guided tours in role to bee information sessions, school local history sessions and creative writing workshops
 

And now

Enjoying the Memory Circle seat in the lower cemetery
  • Onsite events and activies are currently suspended due to the Coronavirus pandemic but will recommence as soon as allowed
  • Meanwhile it is always open and visitors are enjoying the space for themselves

 

 

‘I am in awe of all the work that has already been done. I can’t imagine walking onto this site in the state that it was in when they started this project and actually being able to see the possibilities of it, and you’ve just done such a brilliant job.  I’m standing here now in the remembrance area, and it’s peaceful. It’s so appropriate but so modern,  but mixed up with all these wonderful memorials. It’s just stunning.’

Visitor quote

 

For more information please contact

photo of Kate Campbell

 Kate Campbell

Community Engagement Officer
      07866 024254  
photo of James Moir

 James Moir

Convenor and Project Manager during the works
   07545 786 372