West Norwood Cemetery historical and legal background

Background to the South Metropolitan Cemetery (West Norwood) database

  1. In August 1993, the council petitioned the Consistory Court of the Diocese of Southwark for a Confirmatory Faculty for the works it had previously carried out in the consecrated parts of the cemetery, pursuant to its then 'lawn conversion scheme'. It also petitioned the Court for a management scheme under Section 10 of the Open Spaces Act 1906. At the same time, the Archdeacon of Lambeth made an application to the Court for a Restoration Order under the provisions of the Care of Churches and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1991. On 8 September 1993, the Archdeacon petitioned for a Faculty authorising Lambeth to restore the cemetery to the condition it was in immediately prior to the carrying out of the "lawn conversion" policy which had been carried out without a Faculty.

  2. The hearing lasted four days and the Chancellor gave his judgment on 8 March 1994. Among the Chancellor's findings were: (a) Lambeth's Petition for a Confirmatory Faculty will be granted, subject to conditions, (b) The Archdeacon's Petition for a Restoration Order fails, save in respect of four listed tombs, (c) The Archdeacon will be granted a conditional Faculty to Restore, (d) Lambeth's Petition for a scheme for the consecrated part of the cemetery under section 11(5) of the Open Spaces Act 1906 will be granted, subject to the submission and approval of a draft by the Court. The scheme will follow in general terms the council's own Management Strategy. It will contain:

    (i) provisions which ensure the maintenance and restoration, when it becomes necessary, of the listed buildings, (ii) provisions which ensure the participation of English Heritage and of the Amenity Societies in an advisory and consultative capacity, (iii) provisions for a management committee to be nominated jointly by Lambeth and the Diocese through the Archdeacon, (iv) regulations for ensuring that the security and permanence of Christian burial is respected, (v) regulations which deal with the conservation and enhancement of the consecrated part of the cemetery and of the listed buildings and their curtilage in so far as that curtilage corresponds with the consecrated part of the cemetery.

  3. However, the Chancellor did not agree to grant a Confirmatory Faculty in respect of the re-use of burial space where burials had already taken place. He said that a Faculty cannot override an individual's statutory or proprietary rights, that the rights which individuals and families have acquired under the South Metropolitan Cemetery Act of 1836 remain with those families, and, the re-use of burial space which has taken place within the consecrated areas of the cemetery clearly was, and remains, wholly illegal. That position was not altered by the Compulsory Purchase Order of 1965 nor by the Conveyance to the Council of 2 December 1965. The council accepted that the Confirmatory Faculty that it sought could not include the re-use of burial space, and that the re-use was wholly illegal given the position in terms of the law as it at present exists.

  4. Following this judgment there followed lengthy discussions between the parties. A further Consistory Court hearing took place on 4 November 1996 to finally agree the terms and conditions of the proposed Scheme of Management. All outstanding matters were agreed at this hearing and a further hearing was held on 3 February 1997 where the Chancellor approved the terms of the Faculty to Restore and the Confirmatory Faculty, and of the South Metropolitan Cemetery (West Norwood Cemetery) Scheme of Management 1997 ("The Scheme of Management").

  5. The Confirmatory Faculty was signed by the Registrar on 21 March 1997 and authorised the council (subject to conditions):

    (1) to carry out the works in the consecrated part of West Norwood Cemetery which it carried out between 2 December 1965 and 8 March 1994, and

    (2) to exercise the powers of management set forth in section 10 of the Open Spaces Act 1906.

  6. The Confirmatory Faculty expressly states:

    (1) Nothing in this Faculty or Licence shall be taken to authorise the disturbance of any remains or to prejudice the rights of any person having any interest in any of the grave spaces in West Norwood Cemetery (whether under the South Metropolitan Cemetery Act 1836 or otherwise).

    (2) None of the powers of management set forth in section 10 of the Open Spaces Act 1906 shall be exercised by the council except in accordance with a Scheme of Management to be approved by the Court.

  7. Under the Scheme, a "Scheme of Management" Committee has been established, which consists of nominees from both the council and the Archdeacon. In addition, an Advisory Group has been set up, consisting of nominees from various interest groups, including the Archdeacon, the council, the Friends of West Norwood Cemetery, English Heritage, the Greek Orthodox Church and regular visitors. These bodies each meet in public four times a year and further details can be obtained from Democratic Services, London Borough of Lambeth, Town Hall, Brixton Hill, London SW2 1RW (telephone: 020 7926 0028; fax: 020 7926 2755).

  8. On 3 February 1997, the Court issued a Practice Direction - the introductory paragraph of which states: "As a result of the implementation of the Scheme of Management, it will in future be necessary for any person wishing to introduce a monument into the consecrated part of the cemetery to obtain a Faculty for the purpose from the Consistory Court."

  9. A number of petitions were submitted by persons who had purchased, in good faith, plots in the consecrated part of the cemetery which were a re-use of plots originally sold in perpetuity by the private cemetery company in the 19th century. These petitions sought permission to erect memorials on the re-used graves in order to commemorate those interred after the re-sale of the plots in question. These petitions became the subject of a further hearing in the Consistory Court on 13 April 2000, as a result of which this website was established.

    Having invited all interested parties to propose a practical solution to the problem presented by these petitions, the Court ordered, amongst other things, that the petitions to erect memorials would only be granted if the petitioners first gave an undertaking to the Court that: ".. In the event of subsisting antecedent rights under the Act of [1836] in the plots affected by the said Faculties to the satisfaction of the Court, they will not oppose applications by or on behalf of persons entitled to such rights to remove memorials from the said plots."

  10. If any person, having examined the particulars of the original grants of rights of interment set out in the database, discovers that a relative of theirs is interred in a re-used plot pursuant to the original grant of rights by the South Metropolitan Cemetery Company, and they wish to find out more, they should write, with details, to:

    The Borough Solicitor, Lambeth Town Hall, Brixton Hill, London, SW2 1RW (telephone: 020 7926 2351; fax: 020 7926 2361) or

    The Registrar & Legal Secretary, Diocese of Southwark, Diocesan Registry, The Old Deanery, Dean's Court, London, EC4V 5AA (telephone: 020 7593 5110; fax: 020 7248 3221).

  11. In the event that any person is able to establish subsisting antecedent rights to a re-used plot, and a resolution cannot be agreed to the satisfaction of all concerned, the matter will have to be considered by the Court. Persons who may have an interest should seek independent legal advice as necessary.

If you have queries on the operation of the cemetery database, email bereavementservices@lambeth.gov.uk. For other enquiries, including genealogical enquiries, go to the burial and cremation records page.