Buried in details

 Southwark doesn’t take a long-term view of its cemeteries and crematoria.

Southwark residents pay standard fee but non residents pay significantly more. But many Southwark residents and neighbouring borough residents live close to the border. We should have reciprocal arrangement with neighbouring boroughs to allow use of each others facilities at borough resident costs. This would give more options for Southwark residents to be buried or cremated closer to family etc and vice versa. It would also remove perverse situations where people across the road from a facility get charged significantly more than a family living several miles away but on the right side of the artificial borough boundaries.

Partnering with a body, such as Kemeal Manor, which has cemetery and crematoria capacity in outer SE London/NW Kent where many Southwark residents children have migrated away from Southwark would be useful and give Southwark extended families more options. Equally such graves would be cheaper as the land is less valuable and it would help conserve burial space within Southwark.

Saturday’s burials and cremations are apparently difficult to arrange with Southwark.


Private cemeteries typically hold 25% of burial fees to maintain cemeteries into perpetuity i.e. endowed. Southwark solely funds maintenance from current burial revenues. Hence Nunhead cemetery, where many of my family are buried, is an overgrown wilderness.

Lots of infill is available in Southwark cemeteries. So actual capacity is significantly higher than currently reported.

Plot ownership – ideally this should occur when the funeral director is paid a la City of London. Currently families can be passed cemetery plot ownership having not paid the funeral director fees.

Muslim believers must be buried as indeed must some others faiths. So crucial we keep our cemetery capacity.

But we do need to increase the future number of burials Southwark can host. One method is to lift out a coffin, dig the hole deeper and then re-place the original coffin back down ‘lift&drop’. A new coffin can then be placed in the old coffin’s original position. Limiting this to graves over 100 years old alone would largely solve cemetery space – potentially we could reuse much of Nunhead cemetery which with an endowment policy in place would see a permanent improvement to Nunhead maintenance (NB. some of my relatives are buried there).

For the Camberwell cemetery where builders rubble etc problems have been experienced we should create vaulting which some cultures particularly favour and allows many more internments for the area available. This would require significant capital hence the attraction of external investment. 


Considerable funds have been spent on this site within the last year eighteen months but at no point have funeral directors been seriously consulted ie. the principal users representatives.

In the 1970’s around 14 cremations took place each day but now circa 4 a day anecdotally. So huge capacity available if run properly. Currently crematoria doesn’t flow maximising privacy for families and helping more cremations taking place per day reducing the price that needs to be charged. Talking to others and attending some cremations other crematoria have ½ hour slots and the buildings designed for cremation parties to flow through the crematoria.


We have no need to use Honor Oak Recreation site for more cemetery places. We should sell it to Lewisham with a covenant that it wont be used for anything other than sports and recreation. Lewisham then have to fund its maintenance and it is located in Lewisham.

One proviso is perhaps moving the fence 2m to allow a strip of several hundred burials.


–     Ensure 25% of burial fees placed into long term maintenance endowment fund.

–     Form user group of funeral directors to ensure their regular feedback include the relevant cabinet member and relevant shadow cabinet member.

–     Lease our facilities on long leases e.g. 25 or 50 years so that the necessary capital funding can take place but include requirement for each cemetery and crematoria to achieve green flag status and public access. Include pricing requirements about inner long average pricing.

–     Seek partnerships for cemetery and crematoria capacity outside Southwark to be booked via Southwark e.g Kemeal Manor or similar that could have a Southwark section.

–     Start lift and shift policy for graves over 100 years old.

–     Promote cremation to help burial space go further.

 What do you think – tell me – james.barber@southwark.gov.uk

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