Around this small Yorkshire area the famous old adage goes something like; ‘nowts certain cept death and taxes’. Walking between the two villages that make up the Parish of South Kirkby and Moorthorpe local residents are reminded of this by the rolling landscape of Moorthorpe Cemetery, along with its centrally located small chapel, imposing Moorthorpe Lodge as the gatehouse and small utility buildings. The neighbouring church of St Joseph’s, itself in recent times having been restored to its former glory, complete the view to any visitors to the cemetery from the Barnsley Road entrance.
According to the Moorthorpe Cemetery website the cemetery is administered by the South Kirkby, North & South Elmsall Joint Burial Committee and is jointly owned by the Parishes of Upton, South Elmsall and South Kirkby, which in itself is something of a lazy statement that is a throwback to the early 1900’s and which omits the settlement of Moorthorpe from its place as part of the South Kirkby and Moorthorpe Parish. As a resident of Moorthorpe this type of casual forgetfulness today always angers me, as though Moorthorpe may be a smaller neighbour of South Kirkby the residents of the village deserve to be represented properly by our own Parish council. But i digress… On the 5th of October 1904 a Parish meeting was held and the Burials Act was adopted. In 1907 a meeting of the burial board highlighted the central role that the chapel and cemetery played in the local community in a number of ways. Whilst representatives from South and North Elmsall wished to discuss the matter of non-conformist and Roman Catholic use of the facilities the representatives from South Kirkby instead wanted to discuss the more pressing matter that they wanted ‘South Kirkby’ to come first in the list of Parish names! The position of caretaker was highly sought after, with over 50 applicants, with Mr Tune being appointed as the first on the 2nd of April 1907. The first burial took place on the 4th of September that year, with the sad burial of one year old Cecil Arthur, son of Albert Purchon. On the 10th of September prices were fixed, with a plot chosen by relatives (for perpetuity) being two guineas, a plot chosen by the board (for perpetuity) being one guinea 15/- and an ordinary grave being 7/6d.
At the centre of this magnificent burial ground sits the small red brick chapel, which is contemporary with the Lodge and other buildings, completed when the cemetery was opened around 1907. The chapel, not used for burial services since the 1950’s, has been used as something of a glorified shed for some years, which has always made me personally uneasy whenever i see the workers in their Wakefield Metropolitan District Council uniforms, loading up agricultural machinery into what was once a place where local families paid their respects to their dead. Surely there is a more respectful way this chapel could be used? For example, this area has a rich heritage, one which a small museum or heritage centre would certainly be able to properly display. Or why not open up the chapel as a non-religious or multi-faith place where residents can hold wakes, services and perhaps a cafe and remembrance centre? With this building we could easily honour and remember the lives of our local ancestors, pay a fitting tribute to them and forever remember the sacrifices they made for our own existence. In it’s hundred years plus lifetime this little chapel has witnessed two world wars, with the war dead resting there including a little known female war hero. Private Sarah Tye of the Voluntary Aid Detachment, St John’s Ambulance Brigade (No W/661841), died Thursday 24 August 1944, aged just 34. Private Tye was the daughter of Harry and Emily Tye of (New) King Street, South Elmsall. She lay at rest in section K, grave 239. And during the century the chapel has also witnessed countless loss of life to the coal mining industry that once supported this proud community, many of which are buried here. Is this really the best way we can find to remember and recognise these people, a dilapidated chapel being used as a shed?
That aside, what really saddened me this week as i walked through the cemetery was the fact that the fabric of the building is clearly being damaged by not just the elements but by poor handling at the hands of either the Parish or District councils (or both). Surely as custodians of our heritage they should be able to handle such matters with a little more consideration and compassion? Only in 2007, on the centenary of the cemetery, the manager John Brown told the local Hemsworth and South Elmsall Express that “we have one or two burials a week and we often have to open up graves to allow grandparents and grandchildren to be buried together. It’s not unusual for people who have moved away from the area to request to be buried here, because they want to be next to family. It has a strong bond with the community. Today it has a nice atmosphere and is kept neat and tidy. People still visit relatives who were buried here in the early 1900s.” So why is the chapel being allowed to fall into disrepair and for ugly, poor quality fixes to be taking place?
And lets not forget here the small fact of taxes… The people of these Parishes pay the most council tax per household than anywhere else within the entire Wakefield District, due to the large Parish tax on top of the District taxes. Our Parish councils charge us, in some of the most proud but deprived areas of the United Kingdom, a hefty fee for their own existence, yet they are allowing the very fabric of our heritage to crumble away in front of our eyes. For example, residents of the South Kirkby and Moorthorpe Parish pay a combined annual council tax bill of £1190.85 (band A) to £3572.54 (band E) compared to just £986.59 (band A) to £2959.77 (band E) in Pontefract and Wakefield. Using 2016/17 figures this resulted in South Kirkby and Moorthorpe Parish Council benefitting from an annual precept of £842,000.00, South Elmsall Parish Council from £323,000.00 and Upton and North Elmsall Parish Council from £236,339.00 which are astonishing figures which residents of Pontefract and Wakefield don’t have to support. Yet only in recent years the residents of Pontefract can point to the large-scale restoration of Pontefract Castle and the current ongoing work at Pontefract Museum as examples where Wakefield Metropolitan District Council have successfully sought external funding to help with such projects, without the need of a Parish council. So why do areas of the district such as ours keep being left behind? Is this the fault of the District council or a problem of maintaining Parish councils who simply don’t have the people within their ranks to properly oversee such matters as heritage?
Local residents only need to point to the recent demolition of the iconic fire station on Barnsley Road as evidence of poor decision making in the name of progress. Yes it is superb that we are attracting multinational employers to our area such as Lidl, on that specific site, but we also need to balance that with the preservation of buildings which mean more than mere bricks and mortar. The current demise of buildings such as the Moorthorpe Hotel, where soup kitchens and tents once aided stricken mining families, and the conversion of the Chequers Inn, which once was the place where inquests and auctions for the area took place are proof that our heritage is being wiped away with no real regard for what that heritage means by those elected to make such decisions. Do our elected (and more often than not co-opted) leaders really understand the importance of heritage? Or are they terrified of the implications of actually preserving and understanding it? Only across the road from the Lodge entrance to the cemetery is the former Miners’ Institute, which is being terribly mismanaged due to a complete lack of understanding of its importance by the planning committee at Wakefield Metropolitan District Council. That building witnessed everything from speeches and visits by leading suffragettes of the day to the funeral of a local Labour man so loved that thousands of miners lined the route past the cemetery to witness and carry his coffin, it is a time capsule and should have been locally listed decades ago. But the passion and knowledge of such matters needs to come with the leadership of our local councillors, buildings are more than just bricks and mortar. Buildings tell stories. For example, a chapel at the centre of a community is obviously central to that story, that narrative and these interwoven tales of our ancestors which have been witnessed by that building are lost with it when it is gone. We clear away the buildings of our past and we are left with no ties to it, no ways to reflect on it and celebrate it. Because regardless of anything it’s our shared past, our shared heritage. Architecturally too these buildings built on the cusp of the 1900’s that appear bland and uninteresting have merit in their own right. They reflect a boom in population, the opening and expansion of collieries, brick yards, stone masons and more. The very fabric of them is important to the past of these communities and needs better understanding by those who tear them down and give permissions to destroy them recklessly.
I would like the local Parish councils to better explore ways in which we can preserve and maintain at least some of our local heritage before it is lost forever. The popularity of Facebook groups where members into the thousands share images of our iconic (and often long lost) buildings proves beyond any doubt that there is a passion for our own collective past in this community. Local and even national listing of buildings is an option, as is the creation of conservation areas. Under The Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 it is possible for buildings to be given protection via national listing, though a local listing would be more likely. The National Planning and Policy Framework (NPPF) provides a framework which allows local bodies to work with their local authority to create a plan for conservation which reflects the local populations wishes. This framework allows for the creation of a local list of heritage assets which can be carefully monitored and protected from demolition via the use of an Article 4 Direction by the local authority. By doing so the local authority can remove the demolition rights of a non nationally designated building under part 11 of The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015. Within this framework at present Wakefield Metropolitan District Council has developed Policy D19 (Development Affecting Buildings of Local Interest) and as such maintains a list of buildings of local interest, to which i suggest it would be wise to add the chapel and a number of other important buildings in the area. This list of buildings includes buildings of local community interest, individual buildings or groups of buildings that contribute to the character or identity of an area, and buildings which are examples of important work by local architects or builders. This policy was adopted as part of the Local Development Framework in 2009. Putting pressure on owners of buildings to properly maintain them is also key, though when the very Parish and District councils who have that responsibility (such as in this example at Moorthorpe Cemetery) fail to properly care for such buildings that becomes difficult.
So, there you have it. Just one of a handful of buildings within our community that are not being properly protected, loved and cherished by those who have the power, money and elected office to do so. Why? I would relish the opportunity to champion such moves from within the Parish council and the Yorkshire Party certainly does give me the voice to do so from outside elected office. Will those elected to represent us within our community join me in this challenge?