Gaelle Jolly 2012

University of Bath, UK

The management of historic cemeteries by friends’ groups

Many historic cemeteries have only escaped from clearance or dereliction because of campaigns and direct management by friends’ groups. Despite a growing interest in cemeteries among conservation professionals in recent years, the involvement of local groups remains crucial, particularly for cemeteries of local rather than national interest. There has however been little examination of the factors behind the involvement of friends’ groups and the resulting impact of their work on cemetery character. Historic cemeteries are rich in meaning and local value, but they are also potentially problematic spaces due to their ‘liminal’ status. Urban cemeteries in particular may be seen to threaten order through both the presence of death amongst the living and the presence of nature within the city. This paper will suggest that strategies for dealing with this liminal quality are expressed through the development of narratives about the cemeteries and their role within the locality. In turn the stories privileged through this process impact on the management and presentation of the sites. Based on initial research into three early Victorian cemeteries in Oxford, this paper will show how the interpretation of the history and contemporary value of cemeteries by local groups are ultimately expressed in their character and presentation. It will be argued that the reliance on volunteer groups makes local contexts particularly important in determining the future conservation of historic cemeteries.


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