The Brookside Memorial Garden needs your help, both physical help and donations.
In 1926, the churchyard at St Peter and St Paul Church in the village had become full and plans were put in place to find alternative land. In 1918, land north of Worthing Road owned by Mrs Urlin of The Grange was donated to the Church. I have established that between 1926 and 1952, 57 people are known to have been buried in the overflow graveyard on Brookside Avenue.
It was clear that, with the enlargement of the Littlehampton Cemetery and the opening of the crematorium in Worthing, the overflow graveyard was no longer required and clearly from the early 1960’s the land had been abandoned by the Church, and over the following years nature reclaimed the land.
The land was eventually deconsecrated by the Queen and then sold by the Church in December 1983 to a local developer, Hargraves, who built on the surrounding land but never transformed the “grave site” into a memorial garden. The condition of the sale stated that the developer was required “to level and grass the area and decently preserve the same in recognition that the land contains burials”. The conditions were never enforced by the Church; the memorial garden was never created and the land was subsequently transferred to a holding company, H G Homes Limited, which subsequently went into liquidation causing the land to pass from the Trustees in Bankruptcy to the “Crown”. Therefore, there is no liability on the Church, the developers – Hargreaves – or HG Homes Limited. The rest is history.
In 2015, I was approached by Mary Taylor BEM (Rustington’s historian) to take on the challenge to create the promised memorial garden to remember the 57 people buried in a forgotten graveyard lost under a blanket of brambles and rubbish. As some of you already know, I am the founder of the social media group “Rustington Past and Present” and my childhood home was in Brookside Avenue, the bungalows having been built in the early ’40s by my late Great Grandfather.
I held an “Open Public Meeting” in June 2015 so that the Community could learn more about the forgotten graveyard, having spent nearly a year obtaining information about the land, the people buried on the site, and whether I could take on the challenge bearing in mind I worked full time as a Conveyancer at the local Solicitors in the village. It was my childhood playground. I had personal knowledge of the area – so if anyone should take on the challenge it should be me.
In September 2015, the Brookside Memorial Garden Community Group was formed and with the help of a small dedicated group starting the task of making the promise of a memorial garden a reality.
I secured a grant of £7,800 from The Members Big Society Fund, with the help of the Rustington Partnership Community Group, to enable new fencing to be erected around the site to secure the land. No one would be prepared to assist unless it was secured. In May 2016, the new fencing was erected, and work could start on the “Historical stage” of the Project.
Over the next few years, the land has been cleared many times of a sea of brambles, mountains of rubbish and excess soil. There were many challenges along the way, like the issue with slow worms which closed the site down for a year, as they are a protected species. However, I battled through, seeking the help of the community and local businesses to move the project forward.
Then, in September 2017, the first headstones were discovered. It was just the start of uncovering the remaining graves that had not been damaged when the land was bulldozed by the developers back in the 80’s. It was a very slow and painful task making sure that nothing was missed or damaged, so no commercial diggers just some very dedicated volunteers who dug the land with hand tools, carefully digging around the gravestones and producing deep trenches to ensure that no area had been missed.
By the end of Summer 2018, using plans showing the graves visible in the 80’s provided by Mary Taylor and other information obtained from the Church, I was satisfied that we had uncovered all the graves and headstones that had not been destroyed.
On Saturday 3rd November 2018, I held a Special Event at the Samuel Wickens Centre, for members of the community and family relatives to visit the site and see the graves – I have to say it was a very emotional day, but all the hard work had been worth it to see the relatives’ faces.
2019 saw the start of the next phase of the Project – “The creation of the promised Memorial Garden”.
This meant the careful dismantling of all of the surviving graves, to preserve the uncovered headstones and any surrounds with messages. Those would form part of a memorial wall. The ground was then levelled so that the land could be landscaped.
Plans were drawn up to create a place where loved ones could go to pay their respects and the community could enjoy an, albeit small, “green space” in the middle of an industrial estate.
2019 was a whirlwind year. The local community, organisations and local businesses pulled together and by the summer the garden was taking shape.
The icing on the cake was the results of Britain in Bloom judging. I had been persuaded to enter the Garden in the annual competition and honestly did not think we would get anywhere but it did focus our attentions. Well, the Garden exceeded all our expectations and won a level 3 award “achieving” – it was a great honour to receive the award and another special award at the Rustington Community Awards. What a year – now all I need is the funds to create the paths and open the garden to the public.
Then Sadly Covid 19 hit the world and 2020 has been extremely difficult and I have not been able to progress with the Memorial Garden, just maintaining the Garden as best we can under the current restrictions. I just hope 2021 will bring a new beginning and the opening of the Garden to the public. Watch this space.
Founder of Rustington Past and Present
Chairman of Brookside Memorial Garden Community Group
Category: Open Space