'Blue sky thinking' is needed to save the twin chapels at Dewsbury Cemetery

A retired town planner who secured £100,000 in European funding for Dewsbury Minster in the 1990s says some “blue sky thinking” is needed to save the twin chapels at Dewsbury Cemetery.

By Martin Shaw
Friday, 3rd September 2021, 7:00 am
Dewsbury Cemetery
Dewsbury Cemetery

The two listed buildings in the cemetery entrance have fallen into decline and decay. One of the chapels has been supported by scaffolding since the roof collapsed during storms in 2014.

The buildings are owned by Kirklees Council, which says the restoration of the buildings isn’t a priority.

Last week the Victorian Society warned that the chapels were in danger of being lost forever and urged the council to “act quickly and save these buildings before they collapse entirely”.

The boarded up twin chapels at Dewsbury Cemetery

Kenn Winter, a retired member of the Royal Town Planning Institute, worked for Kirklees Council’s regeneration team and believes the chapels could be saved – if the council has the will.

Mr Winter was the man responsible for turning Dewsbury Parish Church into a heritage destination.

His research re-discovered the church’s Saxon past, making it a “mother church” – resulting in minster status.

By rebranding the church as Dewsbury Minster, Mr Winter was able to lead a successful bid for £100,000 from the European Regional Development Fund.

Christine Leeman and Simon Roadnight, of the New Friends of Dewsbury Cemetery

“If we could do that with something like Dewsbury Parish Church, there’s no reason why we can’t do something similar for the twin chapels,” said Mr Winter.

“What we need is some blue sky thinking. I certainly don’t believe the chapels are a write-off.”

Mr Winter said that the twin chapels at Heckmondwike Cemetery and also at Edgerton Cemetery in Huddersfield – also owned by Kirklees Council – were also in a neglected state.

Part of the problem, he said, was that the chapels weren’t the responsibility of the council service which runs the cemeteries. Instead, they were classed as “corporate assets”.

Angel's Corner at Dewsbury Cemetery

Dewsbury Cemetery was opened in 1860. The original 15 acres of land was bought from the church after a meeting at Dewsbury Parish Church in 1857 which decided that a burial board be established and a cemetery created.

Mr Winter said, given the cemetery’s close ties to Dewsbury Minster, that could strengthen any bid for outside funding.

He pointed to the example of the chapels at Batley Cemetery which were restored as community buildings at a cost of £1million in 2002.

Though the buildings have failed to find a long-term use, Mr Winter says the restoration shows what is possible for Dewsbury – if a sustainable future can be found.

“Even if one of the two chapels is restored, that would give a bit of impetus,” he said.

“The church diocese has a lot of expertise in applying for grants and fundraising or maybe the council has a member of staff with a background in seeking external funding who could be seconded to look at these chapels for 12 months.

"It’s hard fundraising for lost causes but with it having been done at Batley – even though it may now be mothballed – there is something to show a prospective funder and you are halfway there.”

Volunteers have transformed the cemetery and raised its profile over the last seven years.

Members of the New Friends of Dewsbury Cemetery have worked tirelessly to improve the look of the cemetery – and show the community that people care.

The cemetery had been vandalised, overgrown and neglected and was used as a dumping ground for old mattresses, TVs and even an old American-style fridge freezer.

The group, led by chairman Geoff Greensmith, secretary Simon Roadnight and treasurer Christine Leeman, raised £11,500 to create a memorial to the 107 soldiers buried in the cemetery.

Called “Not Just a Name”, the unveiling of the memorial in 2017 put the cemetery on the map again and since then there has been lots of hard graft to clean up the cemetery.

The latest work has seen the restoration of Angel’s Corner, the burial section for babies. It had previously been neglected but it’s now bright, blooming and well-kept. An angel statue has also been put in place.

Earlier this year a lot of work was carried out, free of charge, by a local headstones and memorials company. Bird boxes have also been put up in trees to encourage wildlife back into the cemetery.

Christine said: “We’ve done a lot of work and there’s been a lot of weeding and planting and this year alone we’ve spent just short of £1,000 on bushes and shrubs.

“People have started taking more pride in the cemetery now and because they can see it’s being looked after, we don’t get as much rubbish.

“I feel we have got the cemetery to where we wanted it to be when we started seven years ago.”