In a previous post, I outlined some key dimensions to the contemporary commemorative practices I’ve observed at Pentrebychan Crematorium, Wrexham. Opened in 1966, there are some stark contrasts in the landscape design and commemorative practices allowed and managed at Pentrebychan from those that can be seen at other crematoria and their gardens of remembrance. In the aforementioned earlier post, I compared Pentrebychan to those practices and environments for commemorating the cremated dead I’ve seen at Blacon Crematorium. I have recently been back to Pentrebychan twice: once with my daughter, once with my MA Archaeology of Death and Memory students. Together, they prompt me to note some other distinctive dimensions to the gardens of remembrance at Pentrebychan.
As I’ve previously mentioned, the crematorium is situated over a demolished country house of the 17th- early 20th-century. When it was pulled down in 1963, it made way for the crematorium building. Thus, the crematorium adopted the grounds including a dovecote, drive, and lawns which from the crematoria. Meanwhile, a walled garden, lawn with ha-ha, fishponds and stream-side woodlands were reused as gardens of remembrance. These were augmented by a wisteria walk beside the car park. Together they afford an historic backdrop for cremation ceremonies and ash-scattering with mature trees, borders and lawns, as well as still and flowing water features.
A further distinctive point about Pentrebychan is the absence of permanent textual memorialisation: none is allowed within the grounds, although stone and plastic flower-holders have been tolerated. As a rule, however, there are no discernible ‘future spaces’. Instead, the ashes of the dead are dispersed into collective spheres, focusing on brick and wooden flower-holders, while trees and borders provide further collective foci.
I have 5 additional features to comment on.
First, a further distinctive aspect of the crematorium is that the 8th-century linear earthwork – Offa’s Dyke – survives as a discernible dividing feature of the crematorium and its landscape. Ashes are not scattered on the Dyke, but one crosses it to walk down to the lawns, pond and stream from the crematorium. Do mourners and visitors know they are looking at Offa’s Dyke? Or is it just a garden bank to most people? Either way, the intersection of the Dyke with the memorialisation of the contemporary dead is a further indication of inherited landscape deployed to commemorate the contemporary cremated dead.
Second, there has been a slight compromise on the text-less environment of late with the addition of a memorial wall. This has allowed a modest textual dimension to the otherwise text-less landscape. The prominence of floral (predominantly daffodils) and Welsh dragon motifs (in red and white) deserve note. Because these are facing out toward the car park, text does not intervene on the existing space which remains text-free.
Third, I want to point out a distinctive temporal aspect of how the grounds are managed. Flowers and other offerings are regularly cleared from the lawns – this is commonplace as elsewhere. They are allowed a longer duration upon brick and wooden flower-holders. Yet, when I went recently, I noticed a distinctive practice prompted by an exceptional rebuilding work. The walled garden’s brick flower-bins are being repaired this late-winter/early spring, and I was struck by the way that flowers and flower-holders that had to be moved were gathered together for families to collect by the entrance to the walled garden. This created a distinctive and prominent collective floral memorial to the dead, many plastic and stone memorials, lanterns and pots being the only material elements affording linkages between the living and the dead within this largely text-free environment.
A fourth feature I thought deserving of note was aesthetic and again seasonal. I’m interested in how ash creates a distinctive relationship with the green of the lawns at crematoria. However, in February, upon an earlier visit, I noticed how the ash-scattering interacted with the snowdrops, affording a distinctive seasonal juxtaposed fields of white against green.
Fifth and finally, it seems that by the pond, individual trees and bushes are being allowed to be planted in close proximity, allowing a more personalised relationship with the gardens to those allowed elsewhere. While still text-light and collective, this appears to be a further concession to the desire for specific personalised plots with gardens of remembrance allowed and fostered elsewhere.
In summary, while Pentrebychan remains different in its commemorative material cultures and environments, there is a subtle shift in recent years towards more personalised textual and arboreal/vegetal remembrance. Furthermore, more careful, regular and seasonal visits help me to appreciate further relationships between ash-scattering and commemoration in the gardens.