Thursday, 18 August 2022

Council agrees to refurbish old cemetery chapel

THE chapel at Fair Mile Cemetery in Henley is to be refurbished at a cost of at least £34,000.

The town council, which owns the crumbling building, has agreed to pay for the work to prevent it becoming a danger to the public.

The chapel dates back to 1868 and is Grade II listed.

In a report to a council meeting last week, town clerk Janet Wheeler said: “The chapel is in a poor state of repair and the town council has a duty to begin refurbishment to stop the building becoming a wreck that could be harmful in the grounds of a public cemetery.

“A building fabric condition survey was carried out earlier this year by an industry professional. From this survey a specification was developed which was sent out to a selection of building companies.”

Three companies agreed to carry out the repairs with estimates ranging from just over £34,000 to almost £48,000.

The council agreed to accept the cheapest quotation on the recommendation of Mrs Wheeler and Gareth Bartle, the council’s parks services manager.

Deputy Mayor Will Hamilton said: “It shows we are investing in the infrastructure of the town.” Meanwhile, the council is continuing its review into how to improve the running of the cemetery.

In October, the council was forced to apologise after Janine Stevens complained about finding that her late husband Andrew’s coffin had been “squashed” in between two other graves.

After waiting four months for Mr Stevens’s body to be exhumed and reburied, Mrs Stevens went public with her complaint.

The council agreed to a new burial and to carry out a review of its procedures and maintenance of the cemetery.

Mrs Wheeler told last week’s meeting that clearance work at the cemetery had already started and that she and Mr Bartle had discussed with two companies what improvements they could make with the creation of burial plots and maintenance.

She said: “They have left a pile of booklets and information on the various services that they provide.

“I was hoping they would come back to me with some prices but they are both a bit shy at the moment. We will probably have to put a shopping list together.”

Mrs Wheeler said that any work would be sympathetic to the setting, adding: “We would like to retain the rural look.”

She said one company had suggested incorporating tiered landscaping or “steps” at the cemetery but she wasn’t sure whether the gradient was steep enough.  

Mrs Wheeler said one solution to plotting graves was to install a concrete beam underground.

“It would have shoes to take headstones,” she said. “We wouldn’t have to put in too many.

“The beauty of that is it would clear out any possibility of the graves going out of alignment or into the wrong plot.”

Mrs Wheeler said the council was also looking to employ its own gravedigger early next year.

Councillor Kellie Hinton said: “There is always room for improvement and our parks services team has worked hard for a number of years improving the area.

“We can’t be expected to have a permanent member of staff at the cemetery cutting grass.

“It may reduce costs if we involve the Gardening Buddies and Henley in Bloom.”

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