Calderstones Cemetery was sold off by the health authority in 2000, since when for many years there were only a handful of people raising concerns about the graveyard containing the remains of nearly 1200 people – all of whom had lived at Calderstones. At the heart of any opposition were a few local people, with support from a small number of relatives of those interred.
From the autumn of 2017, more voices were added to those which had campaigned tirelessly over the years. The campaign quickly grew into a coalition of people comprising people with learning difficulties (members of the North West Regional Forum of Self Advocates), some of whom lived in Calderstones, relatives of former residents, neighbours and members of the local community, former institutional staff as well as others who have a strong interest in the rights of people with learning difficulties.
During 2018 and 2019, the story of the cemetery took many twists and turns as campaigners and the owners struggled to assert their respective legal, ethical and political viewpoints.
Writing on the Calderstones Cemetery website, Dennis Buckley, Chair of the Friends of Calderstones Cemetery, provides a potted account of these years:
“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 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 deconsecration of the Cemetery. That application was challenged and contested by the Friends of Calderstones Cemetery and other interested parties. However, the Archdeacon later withdrew his application on the basis of the evidence 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 deconsecration 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 May 2020, the cemetery remains in private hands and its long term future is still be decided.
There are links to websites, videos and articles about the Calderstones Cemetery Campaign. Please click here.