When Calderstones Hospital was built in 1915 it had its own private 3-acre cemetery, one third of which was to become the Queen Mary's Military Hospital cemetery in which 33 service personnel are buried. The remaining two thirds of the site is the Calderstones Hospital cemetery, in which at least 1172 former patients and staff members are buried or have had their ashes interred. It is this larger section of the overall Cemetery, which the Friends of Calderstones Cemetery are seeking to protect.
The adjoining Queen Mary's Military Hospital cemetery is completely separate and managed by the Commonwealth Graves Commission. It is conspicuously well maintained and cared for, which is all the more poignant when it cannot be accessed without passing through the abandoned and overgrown field in which, with all their gravestones removed, are hidden the 1172 bodies of the Hospital patients, all of whom died after the service personnel, and for some, nearly 70 years later
The Friends of Calderstones Cemetery were formed in 2006 with the objective of trying to protect and safeguard the graves of the former patients and staff of the Calderstones Hospital who had been buried or had their ashes interred in the Hospital's own cemetery, officially between 1920 and 1989 but possibly also a little later
From 1920 until 2000 the cemetery was managed and maintained as part of the Calderstones Hospital estate. Gardeners were employed to maintain all the hospital grounds, including the cemetery which was well cared for. The gardeners were also involved as grave diggers in the burial and interment of the deceased, and it is believed that the Head Gardener created his own map identifying the location of all the graves, including the 211 urns in the Garden of Remembrance. Other maps have been found but not the Head Gardener's. Around 1968, the then Head Gardener, (Roger Hirst) and his gardeners erected and inscribed most of the 600 gravestones in the cemetery. The stone, which was sourced by the Hospital, was Portland stone, chosen to match that used by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for the 33 service personnel in the adjoining QMMH cemetery.
Since the sale of the Cemetery in 2000, it has been sold, purchased and managed by a series of different owners and companies. We believe that at the time of the sale in 2000 it was the expressed intention of the NHS to safeguard the graves and the cemetery's long term future.
Unfortunately, very shortly after its sale, all 600 plus gravestones were removed, supposedly for Health and Safety reasons. The same owners who oversaw the removal of the gravestones planned to open a "new" private cemetery. This was officially opened in the summer of 2002, but according to the local press, by November 2004 the cemetery was believed to have been purchased by a "mystery buyer"
Little is known about the management of the Cemetery between 2005 and 2007 but it is believed to have been owned by two or three separate property and investment companies. The Friends initial involvement in 2006 was to try and provide some very basic and limited maintenance which would allow graves to remain identified and accessible for relatives and friends of the deceased to visit.
Sometime in late 2008, the then owners, a property company, made the first application for planning permission to construct a crematorium on the site. Since that time, a further 11 planning applications and variations have been submitted from a variety of owners and, despite objections, full planning permission for the construction of a crematorium has been given by the Ribble Valley Borough Council.
In late 2017, contractors working for the then owners of the cemetery, Buildings of Remembrance International Ltd, and or, All Faiths Remembrance Parks Ltd, moved onto the cemetery and began preliminary construction work.
In January 2018, it was discovered that the whole cemetery site, including The Queen Mary's Military Hospital section, was consecrated ground, having been consecrated by the Bishop of Burnley in 1916. As such, no construction work could proceed without the Bishop of Blackburn, in whose diocese the cemetery is located, agreeing to remove the consecrated status of the Cemetery.
All construction work ceased, but not before what is believed to have been significant damage and the possible destruction of some urns containing human remains that were interred in the Garden of Remembrance.
In April 2018, following his discussions with the owners, the Archdeacon of Blackburn issued a public notice outlining his plans to apply to the Bishop for the partial de-consecration of the Cemetery. That application was challenged and contested by the Friends and other interested parties. However, the Archdeacon later withdrew his application on the basis of the evidence of the true location of the Garden of Remembrance, which the Friends had provided.
Then, in March 2019, again following discussions with the owners, the Archdeacon issued a second public notice outlining his plans to apply to the Bishop for the partial de-consecration of the Cemetery. On this occasion his application was not withdrawn, but it was challenged by the Friends as well as by a much wider public and political representation.
In July 2019, the Bishop of Blackburn made his decision and the Friends were delighted to hear that the consecrated status of the Cemetery was to be retained.
In August and December of 2018 and in March 2019, the Friends opposed plans and variations of plans in relation to the proposed construction of the crematorium. These objections were submitted to the Ribble Valley Borough Council, but none was successful, mainly because of the Council's consistent insistence that the presence of the 1172 bodies, their history and location, are not "material considerations" under planning law.
The Friends have tried to persuade the Council to take a different view, but concluded that we had two genuinely held, but contradictory views on the issue, which further discussion was unlikely to change. In the circumstances we agreed to refer the matter to the Ombudsman for his consideration.
In January 2020 the Ombudsman decided not to investigate the complaint, on the grounds that as the Bishop had upheld the consecrated status of the cemetery, the crematorium could not be built and therefore in November 2019, at the time of the Friends' application, the Friends had not suffered an injustice. Further, the Ombudsman would not challenge what a Council deemed to be a material consideration, only a court of law could do so. A copy of the Ombudsman's response can be found in the RVBC section
The Calderstones Hospital site
This very early aerial photo of the Calderstones site highlights the size of the Institution with its sturdy blocks of accommodation and attached airing courts. During the First World War, a railway line from Barrow ran directly into the Hospital facilitating the transfer of injured service personnel.
The cemetery which is on the other side of Mitton Road to the Hospital, can be seen in the top right hand corner of the photo, behind the white buildings.
A helpful timeline
As part of his 2018 exhibition about the history of Calderstones and Brockhall Hospitals, Dr Nigel Ingham prepared the attached timeline of newspaper articles relating to the Cemetery. The notes are reproduced as they were prepared. They present a very clear and comprehensive record of events between 2000 and 2015 which will be helpful to anyone trying to understand what has happened to the Cemetery since its sale by the NHS in October 2000