Closed churchyards and memorial safety
Where a Church of England churchyard is closed to further burials in accordance with an Order in Council under the Burial Act 1853, responsibility for maintenance may at the request of the church be transferred to the relevant local authority.
The transfer is compulsory, not dependent on the condition of the churchyard in question, and not dependent on the local authority's ability to meet the additional maintenance costs. Transfers take place under Section 215 of Local Government Act 1972.
Ownership of closed churchyards remains with the church of England and any significant change to the churchyard, for example laying flat an unsafe box tomb, requires a Faculty i.e. authorisation from the Diocesan Registry
Although new graves cannot be dug in closed churchyards it is possible in some circumstances for existing graves to be reopened for a burial. For example where a person is buried at double depth in a grave and some years later after the churchyard is closed it is wished to bury a descendant in the same grave. Burials of ashes may be permitted in closed churchyards according to local practice.
Wiltshire council is responsible for maintaining over thirty closed churchyards. These are maintained to amenity standard, which means that during the growing season grass will be cut every three or four weeks, weather permitting. The cuttings are left not collected.
Churches may supplement standard maintenance to further enhance the appearance of a churchyard provided that any work undertaken does not result in damage or raise health and safety concerns.
Closed churchyards maintained by Wiltshire Council receive annual risk assessments and periodic inspections including those by qualified Memorial Safety Inspectors.
Wiltshire council has a responsibility to ensure closed churchyards under its control are as safe as possible for visitors. As part of a five year programme to inspect the stability of memorials, qualified inspectors examine memorials in closed churchyards.
If a memorial fails the safety test it may need to be laid down. This will be done in a respectful manner and a sign, asking the grave owner to contact Wiltshire council, will be attached to the memorial.
Memorials showing signs of instability will have concern notices attached.
Please do not attempt to touch or tamper with any dangerous memorial in a closed churchyard.
Enquiries regarding closed churchyards and Memorial Safety may be addressed to:
Burial & Cemetery Team
Telephone: 0300 456 0100