Monday, 10 October 2011

Destruction of Greenwich headstones

This one's an absolute shocker.

A series of headstones in Greenwich have been deliberately destroyed by the Friends of St. Alfege Park, with the assistance of Community Payback probationery workers. The London Probation Tust says that the annihilation of the centuries old monuments was carried out at the request of the Friends, who were only stopped after the council learned of the work and immediately issued a legal notice prohibiting any further destruction. Historian Horation Blood has claimed that "The Friends of St Alfege Park appear to have succeeded where the rioters failed." This is despite that fact that Greenwich Council is legally obliged to ensure headstones are protected within a “closed church yard.” The full story, which originally broke on September 23rd, is available at

A statement was released by Suzanne Miller and Johanna Taylor on behalf of the Friends on September 29th in response to the outrage caused by such vandalism:

There has been much public outrage at the recent destruction of gravestones in St Alfege Park. The Friends of the Park greatly regret our part in this distressing occurrence. While writing this statement we have been unable to contact the Chair of the Friends group, who had been working with a Community Payback team on a project in that area. He is out of the country and is due back on Thursday, 29 September.In the Chair’s absence, the Friends have sought to investigate events and we believe the following to be an accurate account.

In the process of tidying a neglected area of the park, the Community Payback team were asked to remove nettles and other plants that had invaded the ground and adjoining gravestones along a short stretch of perimeter wall at the east end of the park. The Friends have been working in that area to establish one of 2012 community gardening areas in London for the year 2012, with the help of grants from Greenwich Pride and Capital Growth. The site was agreed on in consultation with Parks and Open Spaces.

We believe that the intention was to move any stones that had to be disturbed to a storage area in front of the Old Mortuary building, and that when some were damaged by attempts to remove the plants it proved impossible to carry them and they were broken up. In the event, and for reasons we do not know, they were all broken up.

We greatly regret this, and we hope to work with the Council and local community to look at appropriate ways to reuse the broken stones, for example, by creating a memorial garden. Although each of these 25 or 30 stones is a part of the history of Greenwich, well over 400 similar gravestones are similarly propped against the parks perimeter walls. We consider that they are all important and of great local interest, though many of those remaining are also illegible and crumbling and they no longer mark actual graves, having been moved from their original positions decades ago.

We hope that Greenwich residents will remember how hard the Friends have worked in the park since the group of local volunteers was set up in 2009, including introducing nest-boxes and regular feeding for small birds, planting more than 100 trees and bushes, taking part in the RSPB big garden birdwatch, introducing new picnic tables, installing new name plaques, holding regular working mornings and running various events including Parksfest 2010 and 2011 and will understand that we, too, are distressed at what has happened.

The chairman of the Friends, Tim Delap, has now since apologised, saying:

As Chair person of the Friends of St Alfege Park, I deeply regret and apologise personally and on behalf of the Friends for the damage caused to gravestones in St Alfege Park during work carried out at our request for our community garden project. The Friends are now urgently reorganising their work and management processes to ensure that we safeguard the infrastructure of the Park, including the memorials, in all our future activities.

Makes you wonder - with Friends like these, who needs enemies?

(With thanks to @CeliaHeritage via Twitter)



  1. Were any names recorded from these headstones? My died at 3 Vicarage Terrace and I have looked at the remaining stones for her name, but with no success.

  2. The online catalogue of the Society of Genealogists shows the SoG holds a transcription of the Monumental Inscriptions from the churchyard of Greenwich St Alphage. The catalogue doesn't say when the transcription was published but is has quite an early accession number. Details of how to visit the library or request a search to be made in the item can be found on the SoG website

    Else Churchill