Colin R. Fenn 2014

Friends of West Norwood Cemetery, UK

Alas, poor Yorick! The exhumations and reburial of the Baywater burialground of St George’s Hanover Square

This presentation reviews the politics and processes that were followed when the parish burial ground of St George’s Hanover at Bayswater was cleared in the winter of 1969. The story has been revealed through the investigation a single 6’6 x 2’6 burial plot at West Norwood Cemetery that holds thousands of remains exhumed and transported there for cremation and reburial there. The Bayswater ground operated for nearly a century before being closed in 1852, and was the last resting place of many notable Georgians, including authors Laurence Sterne, Ann Radcliffe and the artist Paul Sandby. Its clearance and reconstruction illustrates the post-war tensions between the needs of the living for good housing, the burden of maintaining a churchyard and falling income from a church seeking to maintain high standards. Its speculative sale was approached through a post-war lens of opportunism that held little value in history and traditional responsibilities, and that was prepared to take its challenge of historic burial laws to Parliament. Influence at the highest level was marshalled to approve the profitable sale, consequently weakening the presumed permanence of burials that had long been a tenet of the Anglican Church and enshrined in law. The process revealed almost no consideration of the historic burials. Its shadow lay over many closed burial grounds for decades, which might be sold in anticipation of receiving similar treatment when seeking permission for development.


The Cemetery Research Group runs two events a year: in May and in November. Follow the links and send in an abstract