Heritage Values

Why Cemeteries Matter?

The value of cemeteries

Gardeners like cemeteries because of the rare bulbs and old-fashioned “heritage” roses found lurking among the monuments. Historians like them for the critical scraps of biographical information, or references to accidental deaths and local epidemics. Botanists love the patches of rare native species or plant associations they protect.

Artists and photographers love the association of fine arts and wild nature, the detailed sculpture against the unclipped hedge. Bird-watchers, family historians, book-readers, and landscape architects all want to visit cemeteries for their own selfish ends.

Most importantly, cemeteries are an integral part of the local area and tell a great deal about its past history. Unlike most other histories, they record the lives of all of the past community, rich and poor alike and they reflect every period in equal detail. By showing how the area grew, they show its place in national development.

How cemeteries reflect their community

Cemeteries vary to reflect the local community far more than people imagine.

The choice of indigenous or European trees generally reflects what is growing in the main street and Central Park. The number (and age) of celtic crosses relates to whether (and when) the area was a focus of Irish immigration. A group of larger monuments may represent a period of high wool prices, or the town’s mining heyday; a group of children’s graves, a long-forgotten epidemic. The biblical texts on many old graves reflects the prevalent mood of optimism, pessimism, or simple stoic resignation.

Other aspects may be rather less obvious. Sometimes, a large number of unmarked graves represents economic depression, elsewhere a transient population. A large cemetery with few graves may indicate a mining venture that failed, or it may result from a new bridge that gave the town access to a prettier cemetery. A large number of marble headstones may represent prosperity or it may reflect the period when a marble pit operated nearby.

The landscaping of a cemetery, like the area allocated, often is related more to the expectations of the early settlers than to subsequent history. Layout may also show the strength of divisions within society. In some country cemeteries the different denominational Sections are hard to distinguish, but in other areas there are picket fences and treelines, and burials in opposite corners to prevent fraternisation, even in death.

Please use the link bar on the right to read more information on how cemeteries represent a community and its history.