A few years ago I used to own a house with lead on the roof above the bay window. Three times we had the lead stolen; along with other thefts of the lead amongst the other owners of similar houses near by. This was obviously annoying, expensive (our insurance stopped covering it after the second theft) and inconvenient. Unfortunately the theft of metal has increased over the past year across the UK, including a sculpture by Barbara Hepworth, cables from our railways and plaques from war memorials.
However the thieves have sunk to new lows – they are stealing plaques, statues and other metal work from our cemeteries and graveyards. This story broke my heart about a grave in Mitcham cemetery – the theft of a bronze sculpture costing thousands. This man died suddenly at the age of 35 and the memorial was erected by his wife and parents. I can’t imagine what this must have felt like for the family – regardless of what you personally feel about the outlay of £10,000 as a memorial to a loved one – to visit his grave and find the sculpture gone would break your heart and anger you beyond belief. Apparently the statue would probably fetch around £1,000 scrap.
In September there was a mass theft of bronze plaques in Beckenham Crematorium and Cemetery – around 80 were stolen.
I don’t understand what is wrong with these people – I know that we are in a recession and ‘times are hard’ – however – are times really so hard that people have to resort to this?
Sometimes I have internal arguments with myself; that really the living need to be cared for, have money spent on them etc. After all I’m a humanist, a socialist, a vegetarian (not sure how much that counts in my argument but I thought I’d throw it in there for good measure) and when I die I want to be buried in a cardboard, biodegradable coffin and have a tree planted on top. On the other hand there is my love of cemeteries; the historical and social significance, the tranquility, the calm I feel when I am in them. They are outdoor art galleries. They are now frequently becoming wildlife conservation areas. So I counter-argue against myself that what are we without our history? What are we without our art? What are we without our wildlife (I guess the last argument falls within my original stance of providing for the living not the dead – but I think you might be following my argument?). A society doesn’t have a culture worth saving if there is no respect for its own history and its own art (in my humble opinion).
So the cemeteries need saving from these vandals and thieves. There needs to be education about why these areas are important, why they need preserving and why they should be enjoyed and not desecrated. I try to do my own little bit – at first when my pupils find out that I photograph cemeteries they’re a bit taken aback. After a while, they ask questions. They want to know why. They discuss their own experiences of being in cemeteries or graveyards (usually as dares etc.) and then I start to explain why I am fascinated by them. Why I spend (or spent) so much time in them and why they’re important to us as a society. Most of the time they understand and start to respect them more. I hope. I really believe that education really is the way forward.
Right – enough of my ranting – back to editing.
I’d love to know your opinions on this matter – what do you think? Should we be worrying about cemeteries when our public buildings are falling apart? When money is tight? When our schools, hospitals, roads etc. are ‘in crisis’? When children are living in poverty? It’s an issue I really battle with so talk to me!
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