And so the field trip-rich investigations of the second-year Contemporary Past group finally reach Chester crematorium and its adjacent cemetery at Blacon. In contrast to Rhosllanerchrugog cemetery, here we were looking at an English city’s urban disposal facility.
I’ve previously discussed visits to the crematorium and its garden of remembrance here, so I want to here focus on the complex themes we addressed for the remainder of the cemetery space.
In heavy rain, we explored the diversity of modern mortuary commemoration in terms of the materials, shapes and ornamentation of, as well as the texts on, gravestones. We also considered how each gravestone could contain reference to multiple individuals, and each grave could receive subsequent inhumation burials and the interment of ashes.
Among the inhumation graves, we discussed in particular the material culture and forms of child graves: including coloured fencing, elaborate gravestones featuring teddy bears and Disney characters, and a host of toys and ornaments placed on the grave itself.
With the students, I addressed how cremation affords options of disposal, not only in and around the garden of remembrance, but in the cemetery too. These included miniature versions of the traditional grave-plot with small-sized headstones.
Another option for the cremated dead is the planting of a memorial tree. As well as their form and ephemeralia, we considered how these integrated into the cemetery organisation, filling gaps between inhumation graves and between inhumation graves and paths.
Religious minorities are also catered for ast Blacon, and have a distinctive burial space; here is the true-east facing Muslim burial section.
In addition to the child graves amidst other inhumation burials, there is also a dedicated child burial ground. It is discretely hedgedm with a semi-circular path with memorial ‘gravestones’ bearing the names of multiple children. These focus on a dolphin sculpture. Off from this are two separate enclosed burial grounds containing small plots of child graves, each with a small white gravestone and with a host of ephemeral offerings: toys, windmills and garden ornaments.
We also addressed the material components of the management of the cemetery space, including the rubbish bins, the taps, and spaces dedicated to the placement of large wheelie bins. Regarding the bins, we noticed one with the council logo, another with a private company’s logo: presumably this reveals the contracting out of the management of the cemetery.
There are also two plots of Commonwealth War Graves, mostly RAF and Canadian Air Force, as well as Polish graves.
A final feature we observed at the far NW end of the cemetery – a zone of unmarked graves. Here, modest retrospective memorials have been placed – flower-holders and floral offerings, at the graves of those that never received a formal headstone…
In summary, combined with the visit to Rhosllanerchrugog cemetery, this field trip gave the students a solid introduction to the complexities of design, management and use of an urban crematorium and cemetery, showing its evolution since the early 20th century to the present day, as well as exploring the spaces set aside for the future dead of the next half-century at least.