Woodvale Cemetery: Blessed with new technology and a beauty that will fascinate anybody who visits

Woodvale, a Grade II site, is a fine example of an early High Victorian public cemetery
Woodvale, a Grade II site, is a fine example of an early High Victorian public cemetery

The Lewes Road Cemeteries are an expansive green oasis near the mid-point of our city.

The Lewes Road Cemeteries with their impressive mixture of downland and woodland are an expansive green oasis near the mid-point of our city. Woodvale, a Grade II Garden of Special Historic Interest, is also a fine example of an early High Victorian public cemetery.

Just last week we learned the environment in Woodvale will be improving, thanks to modern technology – a fact that may, perhaps, go largely unnoticed by visitors attending funeral services.

In Woodvale’s North Chapel, the Right Reverend Richard Jackson – the recently-ordained Suffragan Bishop of Lewes - officiated at a community ceremony of blessing for new cremators installed in Brighton and Hove City Council’s crematorium.

The ceremony marked the culmination of a £1.5 million, nine-month modernisation project.

More efficient cremators - with state-of-the-art filtration, to reduce emissions of mercury and other pollutants - have been installed; they can also retain and recycle waste heat, use less power, leading to a reduced carbon footprint, and an anticipated £42,000 a year reduction in running costs.

Improvement in air quality will be welcomed by local community groups and other visitors. But they are more likely to notice the variety of birdsong that can be heard in the picnic garden. a few metres from the Vogue gyratory system.

The beautiful paths of the central valley contains most of the 11 listed buildings and monuments that have brought art into nature; more local visitors when tours are on offer.

Brighton Urban Wildlife’s Group’s free leaflet Wildlife of The Extra-Mural and Woodvale Cemeteries was published 20 years ago. It is, however, still an excellent reference for visitors; the Round Hill Society now highlights interesting graves in its newsletter; and Triangle Community Group organises walking tours for their members and guests.

The cemeteries also have a fictional life, for Peter James’s army of fans of his police procedural novels. These are the cemeteries, mortuary, and coroner’s office that are regularly visited by Detective Roy Grace.

BBC Radio Four’s Open Country sent Matt Baker to visit the grave of Thomas Hughes QC, novelist, utopian socialist, and author of Tom Brown’s Schooldays.

Unlike Thomas Hughes - or Tom MS Highflyer (see box right) - most of the graves in the Lewes Road cemeteries relate to local families and local stories.

And many more will come to be told throughout the remembrance of World War I here in Brighton and Hove.

Maire McQueeney is the author of Brighton and Hove City Council’s Walker’s Guide to The Lewes Road Cemeteries; she is a volunteer Health Walks leader. Her World War I tours of The Lewes Road Cemeteries will begin in October 2014.