‘Dignity in death’ appeal for 1,000 at old cemetery

Mel Diack and George Hardman with the plan of 1,000 graves at Calderstones old cemetery
Mel Diack and George Hardman with the plan of 1,000 graves at Calderstones old cemetery

Relatives of long-dead Calderstones Hospital patients are being urged to help respect their memory in the face of redevelopment plans.

Families from as far away as the USA and Australia have been appalled at the state of the neglected and overgrown hospital cemetery in Mitton Road, Whalley.

Now campaigner Mel Diack, who lives in Mitton Road, has appealed for all surviving relatives of patients to get in touch, with the aim of forming a pressure group provisionally named “Friends of Calderstones Cemetery”.

The cemetery was sold by the NHS and the gravestones removed several years ago, and Ribble Valley Borough Council has granted planning permission to a private developer to build a new crematorium and car park on the site.

“The council has put conditions protectiing trees and bats, but nothing to protect the dignity of the 1,000 patients who are buried there,” said Mr Diack.

Before any redevelopment of an old cemetery can go ahead, the Disused Burial Grounds Amendment Act of 1981 demands that permission must first be sought from the Ministry of Justice.

The Ministry of Justice has replied to a concerned relative – Mrs Sandra McArdle in Australia – that it is solely the applicant’s responsibility to apply, but no request for Calderstones has yet been received.

Ribble Valley Council’s chief planning officer, Mr Marshall Scott, has admitted in a letter to a concerned relative – that the council has no power to compel an applicant to apply.

Mr Diack said: “We’re worried that the developers may just crash ahead and concrete over some graves before anyone can stop them.”

Mr Diack’s neighbour Mr George Hardman, aged 82, who was a maintenance engineer at the hospital for more than 30 years, painstakingly mapped out every grave on the site using pegs and meaures after the headtsones were removed, because visiting relatives could not find where the graves were. He has also tidied up some graves for visiting relatives.

He said: “The cemetery used to be immaculately kept by the garden staff. Then after it was sold it just became a mess of decay.”

Mr Diack added: “Before any development goes ahead, those remains need to be removed from the graves and re-buried with dignity, at the developer’s expense.

“A Friends of Calderstones Cemetery group would be able to put pressure on to ensure those 1,000 people are treated with dignity. I’m prepared to be a point of contact for relatives to get it started.”

He said any relative could contact him on 01252 823012 or by email on melrose.diack@btinternet.com