Lack of space to bury Norwich’s dead means city cemetery graves could be recycled

Earlham Cemetery, where the city council is planning to have natural burials, using existing graves.

Earlham Cemetery, where the city council is planning to have natural burials, using existing graves.

Dwindling space for Norwich to bury its dead means people could be laid to rest in graves which already contain other people’s remains, council bosses have revealed.

But those who do opt to bury their loved ones in such graves will be able to get a cut-price deal for grave space, depending on how many people are already buried there.

Bosses at Norwich City Council have been grappling with the problem of the lack of space at Earlham Cemetery in Bowthorpe for years.

So they have come up with plans which would see older sections of the cemetery used for what are known as natural burials – where human remains are buried in biodegradable coffins or containers in an area which creates or preserves a habitat for wildlife.

As part of the plan, council officers have embarked on a survey to figure out just how many so-called “common graves”, which are graves which have not been purchased, are in the cemetery.

They also want to establish how much space there is in those common graves which the council, as burial authority, could sell so other people’s remains can be placed in them.They cite the example of a common grave dug to nine feet, which has only two burials in it. That would still have space for another two burials, the council says, so could be sold.

The purchaser will also get the right to put up a memorial on the grave, so long as it is environmentally friendly and is appropriate in the existing landscape of Victorian memorials.

A spokeswoman for the council said: “The majority of the graves under consideration will be between 100 and 150 years old. Although the burial registers will contain details of who is buried in each grave there will not be any record of the next of kin as they are common graves - they were never purchased, so no ownership records would have been recorded and the graves belong to the council.”

However, because some of the graves do have memorials, albeit unauthorised ones on them, the council will use the names from those to issue a formal notice before any common graves with memorials are re-opened, to give any living descendents the chance to come forward.

The council spokeswoman said: “At this point they can accept the use of the remaining space, or they can purchase the grave and therefore remove it from the natural burial programme.”

The council has stressed that previously interred remains will not be disturbed - it is only the unused space in graves which will be used.

But those who do go down the natural burial route could be in for a bit of a bargain when it comes to the cost. Grave space is ‘sold’ with an exclusive right of burial which is often referred to as a grant.

Grants, issued for 50 years, currently cost £860 for a new grave which can accommodate up to four burials. But the price will be reduced depending on how much space remains in the grave.

So, if three spaces remain, people will pay 75pc of the fee, 50pc if two spaces remain and 25pc if just one space remains.

The council is working on a management plan for the natural burial area, but a spokeswoman said the area would not “be left to go wild”, but managed with an “appropriate level of intervention”.

The Norwich Evening News has previously reported how the city council, which also owns Rosary Cemetery in Thorpe Hamlet, is testing some 40,000 gravestones amid health and safety fears.

Signs are being put on memorials which are deemed dangerous by the city council, while unsafe gravestones are being cordoned off or laid flat on the ground.

Gravestones with a problem are being inspected by rocking them by hand, before using a ‘topple-test’ where a force of 25kg would be put against the stone.

Owners of dangerous graves are being written to, asking them to find a mason to repair the memorial.

Within the city’s boundary, gravestones at 35 closed cemeteries and churchyards are also being inspected.

• What do you think of the city council’s plans? Write to Norwich Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email

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