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Help Save Harborne Cemetery of Birmingham, England

By Andrea Barnes, October 3, 2000

I would first like to point out that I am not singling Harborne cemetery out as the only culprit. I am sure that there are much worse examples of vandalism and "cemetery clearance". But as I have an interest in the history of Harborne and my relatives are buried there, I am making it the focus of my campaign.

Harborne is an ancient parish, mentoned in the Domesday Book in 1086. The church as we know it today was rebuilt in 1867, but the tower dates from the fifteenth century. Although, now part of Birmingham, Harborne was part of rural Staffordshire until 1891. It still retains it's village atmosphere.

I moved away from Birmingham ten years ago. I recently visited Harborne cemetery to find the grave of my great grandparents (buried there in 1934 and 1954). Although my mother went to the spot that she remembered visiting in her youth, we could not locate the grave. We did, however, notice that the graveyard had been subjected to vandalism and actually witnessed the Sunday afternoon revellers, returning from the pub, kicking the gravestones and throwing cans and bottles. On closer inspection, we noticed a discarded mattress, several bags of rubbish and syringes. We also noticed that the surrounding houses seemed to have been built very close and that the old path was overgrown.

I wrote to the vicar and asked him if he knew what had happened to the grave of my relatives. He replied that only the end piece of the grave was visible and that some of the stone had been removed in the "partial clearance" of he 1960's(my great grandmother had only been buried in 1954) or subjected to vandalism or both. He suggested that I could replace the headstone. I then noticed some correspondence between Michael Bruff and Karen Palmer on the Warwickshire message board. They were discussing the state of Harborne Cemetery. Michael informed me that the "partial clearance" had provided space for the church car park. I wrote to them with my experiences and decided that we should start some campaign to stop this destruction of our heritage.

I do not want to single out Harborne as the only culprit. When the church agreed to bury these people, surely they had a moral obligation to let them rest in peace. Especially in the inner cities, we have many examples of fine old churchyards that are being destroyed by vandalism, pollution and the church. The people collating memorial inscriptions have a race against time. Soon we will have lost an important part of our heritage and no one seems to be responsible.

I am awaiting a reply to my letter to the vicar of harborne. I have received an overwhelming amount of letters of support already. Our campaign is gaining momentum. Will any one with relatives buried in Harborne cemetery, or who have an interest in preserving the old victorian graveyards of Birmingham, please support us in our efforts to stop the destruction of the graves by vandalism and church "clearance"? You can e-mail me at andrea.barnes@tesco.net

- Andrea Barnes
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