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You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone - especially when it’s hiding on your own doorstep.
On Easter Monday, local community group Save Southwark Woods is holding free tours of Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries in South London - two of the rarest jewels in Southwark’s crown.
SSW is fighting to save the cemeteries’ acres of beautiful woods and old graves from Southwark Council’s chainsaws and diggers.
Southwark is in the middle of the largest grave excavation and ‘reuse’ project in UK history, felling over 10 acres of woods to mound over or excavate every grave over 75 years old for resale as ‘new’ burial plots.
Scraping nature and history from the cemeteries - as though the past were never there.
Never before in British history has a local authority had the ability to dig up the graves of people who were buried in perpetuity. Now due to a change in law in 2007 and subject to legal permissions and public consultation, they can. And Southwark is going hell for leather to do it on the largest scale ever seen - despite a huge public outcry.
Southwark’s planning department received more than 1,600 individual objections to their plans. 10,000 people on public petitions are calling for the cemeteries to be declared nature reserves like Highgate and Nunhead Cemeteries.
Two acres of woods have already been felled in the Old Cemetery. 48,000 paupers’ graves, six Commonwealth war Graves and numerous private graves are now to be mounded over and sold off as ‘new’ burial plots.
Save Southwark Woods has been campaigning for over a year to save acres of woods, meadows and glades, and the graves of people who died in wars, in the Blitz, in peacetime, unknown or public figures.
Under the guise of ‘local burial for local people’ Southwark is preparing to create Super Cemeteries for London. Their Cemetery Strategy identified a huge opportunity to sell burial plots as London runs out of inner city cemetery space.
9 out of 13 inner London boroughs provide burial outside their boroughs. Many cemeteries are closed and protected as wildlife havens for natural benefits such as flood prevention, air quality and tranquility.
But it’s Year Zero in Council Leader Peter John’s Southwark - nature and history are to be replaced with sterile mown lawns and NCP Carpark style burial.
On Woodvale in the Old Cemetery an ancient hawthorn hedgerow and meadows were ripped out in 2013 for burial plots - covering over tens of thousands of paupers’ graves. These now get waterlogged in heavy rains and there is no privacy for the bereaved at the plots crammed in cheek by jowl.
Camberwell Old Cemetery was empty hillside when it opened in 1856. Now these cemeteries are in Zone 2 surrounded for miles by dense housing.
Residents on Ryedale sitting below the woods being cut down have already experienced flooding from Camberwell Old Cemetery.
Even Harriet Harman QC MP urged Southwark to stop, warning Southwark Council they might be operating outside the law. But Council Leader Peter John is ploughing ahead with his money-spinning Super Cemetery.
Come and visit the beautiful woods and old graves of the Camberwell Cemeteries that so inspired William Blake's poetry, before Southwark Council destroy them.
From the graves of Frederick John Horniman, founder of the Horniman Museum, two VCs and the First World War Memorial in the Old Cemetery, to two Salvation Army Generals and an East End gangster as well as the best view of London according to Sir John Betjeman from One Tree Hill in Camberwell New.
Wonderful ancient and veteran oaks and hawthorns, graves and memorials in the woods, glades and meadows throng with wildlife including bats, stag beetles, hedgehogs and owls.
There is still time to stop the destruction. 10 acres of woods and tens of thousands of graves are still to save.
Come and celebrate spring this Easter Monday - new life after death amongst the nature, the memorials and history of these beautiful South London havens.
Life After Death at the Camberwell Cemeteries
Free Tours Easter Monday 28th March
Camberwell Old Cemetery: 11am - 12pm - Meet 10.45am Forest Hill Road Gates
Camberwell New Cemetery: 1pm - 2pm - Meet 12.45pm Brenchley Gardens Gates
Info and reservation of free places: