Thursday, 19 September 2019

Church appeals for money to fix wobbly gravestones

Church appeals for money to fix wobbly gravestones

FAMILIES are being asked to pay to have the gravestones of their loved ones repaired because they are “unsafe”.

Almost 90 memorials in the graveyard of St Peter and St Paul’s Church in Shiplake failed the “topple test”.

The health and safety test is carried out to ensure they are not in danger of falling over and injuring a visitor or passer-by.

Most of the stones were laid on the ground immediately because they were not safe while the remainder had red and white tape attached to indicate they need work urgently or they will also be laid down.

Some of the gravestones are less than 25 years old but the cement attaching the headstone to the base has cracked or perished.

Repairs will cost just over £200 per stone but Shiplake Parochial Church Council says it cannot afford to do the work and it doesn’t have contact details for relatives.

Monumental masons E T Sheppard, of Reading Road, Henley, carried out the test on all the gravestones last year and found 89 that failed.

Rev Robert Thewsey, rector of the Shiplake benefice, said: “It is the responsibility of the relatives of the families who have had their monuments identified to ensure that theirs is safe.

“It’s all about health and safety. When people, particularly the elderly, come to their loved one’s grave to put flowers on it they lean on the headstone.

“We’re just trying to cover ourselves and make sure we’re not liable if something happens. It’s just so dangerous. I’m afraid it’s something we have to do.”

Rev Thewsey said most people had understood why the stones had been laid down, confirming they had been wobbly for years.

“There’s only one family that’s been very upset and they thought we should have tried contacting them.

“How does the PCC tell the relatives? We can’t keep their information now and people don’t tell us when they have moved anyway.”

The stones will be repaired by sinking a reinforced foundation into the ground and then inserting steel rods through the stone and base and into the ground.

The rector said: “We have already had six graves repaired and more are being done.

“We would be extremely grateful if the general public, when visiting the graveyard, could inform me of contact details for any monuments that are affected, so that I can write to the families individually to inform them of what is required.

“This will still leave a significant number of monuments that will require to be made safe so the council is asking if anybody would like to sponsor a monument for repair as its funds are insufficient.

“The council already restored 16 pre-1800 monuments last year at a considerable cost, recognising that the church grounds would be detrimentally affected with numerous stones being laid down. If you look around it looks like a tornado has gone through.”

He said another £3,000 had been earmarked for repairing more historic graves but two of these alone would cost more than £500 each.

Rev Thewsey added: “I think it’s really regrettable because it’s such a beautiful graveyard and we probably have four or five people a day who wander through or pay their respects to their loved ones.”

Vici Cranfield, office manager at ET Sheppard, said: “The reason this has all come about is that there have been deaths caused by gravestones falling on people.

“It has caused huge upset all over the country but some of the monuments in some churchyards are massive structures and are dangerous. I certainly wouldn’t want a family member to have a grave on top of them.

“It is hugely distressing if you turn up at the churchyard and see your family member’s gravestone lying on the ground but once people understand the reason then they are very accommodating.

“Shiplake has a pretty large churchyard and there were a lot of stones that were deemed unsafe. When they are all repaired it will be much better and a lot of them are being cleaned at the same time. It will look nice and it will be safer for everybody.”

The topple test is expected to be carried out in the graveyards of the other two churches in the benefice, All Saints’ in Dunsden and St Margaret’s in Harpsden-cum-Bolney, in March.

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