Benches 160 - 176: Louth Cemetery

I've been here before, of course. The cemetery is bracketed by Bench 6 and Bench 57. I'm at the latter now; I've come up Linden Walk and have paused by the bench at the little car parking area at the entrance to the cemetery. It's a warm Saturday lunchtime, and I'm already regretting having put a hoodie on.

A fella's painting the fence. He's got an orange tabard on. COMMUNITY PAYBACK is stencilled across his shoulders. I leave him to his penance, and go in.

Louth's cemetery is a typical out-of-town mid-Victorian innovation. Here's a top tip if you're ever reading or watching some duff horror and you want to get pernickety: if it's got a church in it, it's a graveyard. If it hasn't, it's a cemetery. The terms aren't quite interchangeable, though both deal in dead, friend.

When the cemetery opened in 1855, according to Cait Green's The Streets of Louth, the street name of what's now Linden Walk changed from Green Lane (and Bull Piece Lane) to Cemetery Road. "Linden Walk" is an early 20th century updating. Presumably, the novelty had long worn off for the residents. I'm not sure what a linden tree looks like; I'd hope there's at least one hereabouts. The cemetery cost the equivalent of a quarter of a million pounds. Green states that there's evidence of sixth-century burial activity on the site. We seem to come back to the right places for our dead. We know where we should go.

When the cemetery opened, there were separate provisions made for facilities for Nonconformists and Anglicans (the former were allowed to be interred here a few months earlier than the latter, from March 1855). There are two mortuary chapels; originally one for each denomination. Let not the Church of England mingle with the tambourine-fondlers.

One of the chapel buildings is now an orthodox church (somewhat challenging the definitions I gave above. Standards have slipped, that's my contention), dedicated to St Aethelheard, an eighth century cleric and archbishop of Canterbury with local connections. That's thirteen hundred years in the past. A chap who lived here the thick end of one and a half thousand years ago is still being remembered in the same place that he once lived and worked. It's a different order of recognition than YouTube fame isn't it?, Here's the church's website. Services are in English, they say, with music "mainly in the Russian tradition". If one's curiosity hasn't spiked already, it should with words like that.

Visitors are welcome; one day I'll pop along.

Even the crazing on the sign is lovely. A top-down view of an imaginary city's road network .

The other chapel was long-rumoured to be the store for the town's Christmas decorations, despite the "Cemetery Chapel" sign outside. However, there's a page on the Town Council website that puts the lie to that particular festive fancy. There's some other information about the cemetery there too, including a PowerPoint presentation showcasing recent improvements, if you're so minded.

There's an odd pre-fabricated toilet block to the right of the first chapel. It was scary to have to use it as a kid and it's not improved much with age. There's bleak history here. Nothing personal to me, but nevertheless. These are queasinesses that go beyond the ordinary revulsion of wet smelly public loos.

I'm glad I don't need to patronise the facilities. In fairness, there's a recent exterior paint-job. The concrete puts on a good show. There's no need to investigate though. Some childhood ghosts don't need to be laid to rest.

We're at the top of the hill. The cemetery drops away to the left down London Road on its far side and Linden Walk on this side, down to the sports pitches by the old council tip to the south. Look eastwards and you can see the sea.

After Louth, it's flood plain all the way to the coast out at Mablethorpe and Sutton-on-Sea. Wind turbines wave on the horizon like happy mechanical sunflowers. I'm always bemused by those who complain about renewables harvesting. These beasts are austere and beautiful and necessary.

Many of the monuments hereabouts are grandiose Victorian edifices; lichen-weeping angels, granite emulations of Cleopatra's Needle. Here and there, raised casket plots are fenced-in by iron railings. Crosses have succumbed to the Newtonian inevitability of top-heavy design.

The first bench is a straightforward MDF affair, but one of the remembrance plaques that it bears is particularly friendly and chirpy. Who wouldn't want to be remembered like that?

The second is a low cast-iron trestle weatherproofed in the green of an oft-washed and well-loved summer dress. It looks old enough to be original to the cemetery's opening.

Another of the old trestle benches sits in the Garden of Remembrance area, along with a couple more modern affairs. The Garden, where ashes are interred, is by the cemetery superintendent's hut. There's no sign of Hamish - who works here - though.

I cross the original entrance and carry on. The cemetery's main entry point was under a brick arch with an appropriately Gothic house, intended for the superintendent, rising above. But time and lack of maintenance has taken its toll. This way is now shut for health and safety reasons. The house is uninhabitable. A single lurid cone stands sentinel in the middle of the road.

The cemetery thins out here. Much culling of redundant headstones has taken place, and there's space anew for fresh burials. Demand's not what it was though. Cremations account for something like 90% of UK funeral arrangements; the evidence is all around me with the paucity of recent activity.

There's a row of benches at the half-way point that marks the cemetery's extension down the hill. An avenue of tall mature trees provides some well-needed shade. Hoodie off. Swig of water. Another orange tabard in the distance; a lawnmower being pushed between grave markers.

My parents are here. Dad's grave is still raised; the earth hasn't yet settled, though grass seeds have provoked some fresh life on the turf that overlays the burial spot. Mum's next door, all tidy, as ever. It'll be a few months yet before the earth is ready to accept a headstone.

Another nitpicker's point. Those moments in TV dramas and the like when there's a funeral scene and there's a headstone already onsite? Nonsense, for a dozen practical reasons, whatever the utility the image might have for storytelling shorthand.

I know about these things somewhat. I worked with Dad in the monumental masonry trade for a year and a bit. Mostly cleaning headstones, painting the lettering, applying gild to the incised letters. One of my brothers put in the thick end of a decade. Dad himself racked up thirty-five years in. His specialism was letter-cutting. Not the chisel-by-hand stuff and not the sand-blasted through a stencil work that's the norm now. Dad operated a machine, an immense, industrial, diamond-tipped version of those toys you used to get that replicated handwriting. Diamonds through granite to capture memory. That's as close to permanence as any of us get.

I've worked on some of the stones around here. As a family, we've done dozens, if not hundreds. There's one more yet to attend to.

In good order I say some cheerios for the time being, and then get a shift on.

Along the avenue to the London Road end of the tree-lined lane. A long row of the remaindered headstones, embraced with ivy. There's a track hidden behind them that's grooved with the occasional running of vehicles. The cemetery equivalent of what theme park insiders call "utilidors", the secret underground networks that mean you never see costumed characters and clean-up crews until you're supposed to.

Down the hill. The cemetery has a one-way system these days. In through the lower London Road entrance by the sports fields beyond, out onto Linden Walk. A hatchback has pulled up, the rear door open. A couple fussing about, graveside. Elsewhere a cluster of orange tabards are on a break. Fags and small cans; Red Bull, or off-brand approximations. A bloke sits in the driver's seat of a van. Presumably he's their gangmaster for the day.

I count coup, bench-wise. I don't go so far as to lean off my horse and touch the felled victim with the tip of my bow like a John Ford movie Apache, but I at least keep count. Skirting the human activity of the community service mob, I head back up the hill. A stop-off at a noticeboard where there's a map of the grounds tacked with now-rusted pins to the backplate.

Further along, there's a sign that might just qualify as a found poem. A couple more benches; the count is now up to seventeen by my reckoning. Many of them have plates attached with reminiscences and dedications.

Some are there just in case. I think I like them best.

I go back the way I came. The fella doing the painting has put his brush inside a carrier bag and is cupping his phone so he can read a text despite the insistence of the sun. Looks like he's done his duty for the day. A swapped glance.

"Afternoon," he says.

"Afternoon," I reply. It's two-ish.

Out onto Linden Walk. Which direction? Left is quickest, but I go right instead, because it's been a while since I went that way.


The Google Street View is from May 2011 and shows the main London Road entrance still open for business. Scroll the image up for the full Gothic effect of the building.

And here's the map to date.

Eamonn Griffin

Field notes for a personal geography of a Lincolnshire market town. You can find me here on Twitter: @eamonngriffin and also here:

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I enjoyed that! I've been here to 'officiate' - now you've enlightened me - in a very nicely enlightening & lightening way! Thanks
2015-08-04, kate

Thanks Kate!
2015-08-04, Eamonn Griffin

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