Shout for volunteers to tidy up graveyard

LG 2240115 Chris Adam Smith has launched a call for volunteers to help clean a sorry and forgotten graveyard in Rustington. Photo by Derek Martin SUS-150126-095435001
LG 2240115 Chris Adam Smith has launched a call for volunteers to help clean a sorry and forgotten graveyard in Rustington. Photo by Derek Martin SUS-150126-095435001

THE Whispering Smith column concerning the seemingly forgotten cemetery on an industrial site in Rustington garnered a great deal of interest and comment on social media sites, especially from followers of Sue Shula’s excellent Rustington, Past and Present Facebook group.

My thanks to all for the varying and often conflicting comments, much of it anecdotal, from locals, some amusing and some quite sad. There were stories of early morning gatherings when bodies were removed and taken to Littlehampton Cemetery for reburial, tales of a mysterious lady sitting at the foot of a bed, cold chills experienced when walking past the plot even though the teller had no idea that it was once a cemetery, familiar stories often associated with living near to a burial ground of any kind.

Some things have become quite clear now. It is very likely many of the bodies were removed, without consultation of the living relatives other than a notice published in the West Sussex Gazette at some time in the early eighties.

The bodies were subsequently removed and interred elsewhere before building work commenced on the housing and industrial estate that now stands there.

It is also very likely that there are a dozen or so unidentifiable remains still interred beneath the remainder of the site, now a wasteland, and currently covered in car tyres, plastic bottles, dog poop bags and the brambles that have grown where the headstones and memorials once stood.

It is suspected the monuments were destroyed and carted away when the ground was first cleared with the intention of it being a memorial garden, and I believe there is a covenant to that effect from The Home Office in the care of Mary Taylor, Rustington historian and prime mover behind the ground’s restoration, at the Rustington Museum. But even the accepted facts can be challenged, and it was up to the those on whose watch this had again been raised to find the truth and to finally make this a lasting and cared for memorial garden and place of remembrance to the many villagers who were and still are interred beneath the detritus and the brambles.

After considerable and time-consuming research by the council officers, the current understanding is that the site was handed over to a subsidiary company following the completion of the estate and that the said company then went into liquidation leaving the site in, what can only be described as a no man’s land of legal mumbo jumbo, with the buck being passed from hand to hand. Such a shame as there are people, including relatives of those who are possibly interred there, hoping to bring about a conclusion that is acceptable to all and that is the construction and maintenance of a simple memorial garden..

Roger Green, the past editor of the Littlehampton Gazette, also covered the subject back in September 2006, in which he posed a series of questions regarding the muddled history of the overflow cemetery site.

Sadly, it’s unlikely those questions will ever be answered with any degree of certainty or that final responsibility for the site will be untangled. Currently, it has been agreed there would be no objection from The Crown Estate to the local authority maintaining the land. The problem there is that the council has just this week informed me that it had no funds for such an undertaking and that replacing the fencing alone would cost several thousands of pounds, posing the question, does it really need to be fenced? Could it not simply be cleared, grassed and left as an open space with a simple, locally-designed memorial? In any event, at a recent council meeting the two basic options were:- a) the council acquire the land and maintain it or, b), the council do nothing. Without funds to do the first, they chose the latter.

It would appear, should villagers want to pay their respects to the dead still buried there and to the memories of those souls already removed, it will have to be a voluntary-funded operation and, to this end, the council have made it clear it is happy to mentor any such group and steer them towards alternative funding. It tells me there is money to be had if there is the will to go get it…?