Urgent action called for vandalized cemetery and protruding limb | London
Its beautiful Grade II * listed monuments were erected in memory of leading members of the Greek community in 19th century London, but the graves at West Norwood Cemetery are now in a state of extreme neglect – with a recently decaying coffin photographed covered with a thick layer of pigeon droppings, with a protruding limb.
Lambeth council, which compulsorily bought the cemetery more than 50 years ago, recently removed security to save money and campaigners are calling for urgent action to protect listed monuments from ruin.
Professor Bob Flanagan, a University of London scholar and chairman of Friends of West Norwood Cemetery (FoWNC), told The Guardian this was no way to deal with the dead. “It’s disrespectful and shocking,” he said.
“It is also a danger to the health and safety of people walking through the cemetery. In some cases, the coffins are exposed and there may be accidents with people falling into rotten vaults. “
The South London Cemetery includes the Hellenic Necropolis, some of which Grade II * monuments are on the List of Endangered Heritage of Historic England.
Dr Victoria Solomonidis-Hunter, Greek-British associate lecturer at University College London, said she was taken aback by both the beauty of the monuments and their “heartbreaking state of disrepair”.
She said: “One of the most beautiful monuments is that of the Vagliano Brothers, who – among other major works – funded the National Library of Greece at the end of the 19th century. The monument is a copy of the Tower of the Winds [erected in Athens about 100-50BC]. It is in dire need of restoration. The pigeon droppings inside are 70 cm high. “
In March, she was shocked to learn that the monument had been vandalized, having already suffered the theft of its original door, and that the hard panel covering the entrance had been shattered, leaving the two coffins in plain view. “One of them was open, due to rotting, with a protruding limb,” she said.
Although a stonemason working nearby boarded the monument, it was the third vandalism at the compound in a matter of days.
Solomonidis-Hunter, a former cultural attaché at the Greek Embassy in London, responded to the cause by becoming a director of FoWNC: “Unfortunately, if nothing is done, we fear this wave of vandalism will continue.”
Flanagan said the Vagliano monument was “a total mess”. “Lambeth council does not seem to have the means to act. They pulled the security guard off the weekend, without consultation, to save money. This means that monuments are at greater risk. “
Work is about to begin on the cemetery, following a £ 4.6million grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and an additional £ 2.1million from Lambeth Council and FoWNC.
But campaigners are shocked that historic graves have been overlooked for so long and there are concerns about the scope of funds, as repairs to Grade II * listed St Stephens Chapel alone are expected to cost more. of £ 1million and only three of the Hellenic monuments are earmarked for restoration.
The Vagliano mausoleum is not one of them. The repair alone would cost around £ 60,000. Panayis Vagliano, a Greek merchant and shipowner, built it for his brother, Marinos, who was buried there in 1896, and Panayi was also buried there in 1902.
Norwood South Metropolitan Cemetery, founded in 1837, was purchased by the London Borough of Lambeth in 1966 and renamed West Norwood Cemetery. Historic England notes that it “contains an exceptional collection of 19th and early 20th century funerary monuments.” The cemetery contains the family grave of Mary Zambaco, the lover of artist Edward Burne-Jones.
While a Lambeth Council source observed that the general rule in most cemeteries is that the upkeep of individual memorials is the responsibility of the grave owners, an official spokesperson said: “West Norwood Cemetery is a historic and precious asset and the council has invested heavily in maintaining and improving it for the benefit of the entire borough. We are embarking on a multi-million pound restoration project next month, which will include a significant investment in the Hellenic precinct. “