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Flaybrick: New plans for Victorian cemetery

A partnership between Wirral Council and Historic England is bringing fresh hope for the future of Flaybrick Memorial Gardens, one of England’s most important Victorian garden cemeteries.

The council, with £8,000 of grant funding from Historic England, has appointed leading conservation architects Purcell with Southern Green to prepare a Conservation Management Plan for the cemetery.

The specialists were appointed this January, and will work with the Friends of Flaybrick and the wider community to look at the present-day needs of the entire cemetery, from trees to landscape design to graves. Their work may even reveal hidden stories about the multi-layered history of the cemetery.

Armed with this management plan, which will be completed by the summer, Wirral Council and partners will be able to make informed decisions about Flaybrick’s future and secure its removal from the Heritage at Risk Register.

Flaybrick has a special place in the hearts of local people. Opened in 1864 to the designs of Edward Kemp, Superintendent of Birkenhead Park, it is the final resting place of over 100,000 people from the Wirral area and beyond, including Kemp himself. The cemetery’s significance is recognised by its Grade II* listing on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.

The cemetery’s centrepiece is the pair of unusual linked Anglican and Non-conformist Chapels, built on a grand scale by Liverpool architects Lucy & Littler. Burials at Flaybrick stopped in 1975. The Roman Catholic Chapel was demolished, and the surviving chapels became disused and fell into disrepair. By the 1980s their roofs and central spire had been removed for safety. They were fenced off and a target for vandalism. Flaybrick was added to the Heritage at Risk Register in 2011. The Register lists all heritage sites which are vulnerable and in danger.

Urgent repairs to the derelict cemetery chapels started in autumn and are continuing apace, with scaffolding slated to come down this spring. Conservation specialists Grosvenor Construction have been on site since summer, overseen by leading conservation architects Purcell.

High on the scaffold, with views out to the Mersey, they have been working tirelessly to stabilise the chapel walls to prevent collapse and repairing stonework and carvings which have been hidden for over 30 years.

Fallen masonry is being preserved in the hope that the stones may eventually be reused. The work, costing £325,000, is being jointly funded by Wirral Council and Historic England.

Cllr Jerry Williams, Wirral’s Heritage Champion said: “We believe that Flaybrick is one of the finest locations of funerary architecture in Britain. We are working with Historic England to make the chapels safe once again, which we feel will go a long way to improving public perception and appreciation of this important location.

“We are going to be working with the community, the Friends of Flaybrick Memorial Gardens and Historic England on a Conservation Management Plan that will help to preserve Flaybrick for the future.”

Historic England’s Principal Heritage at Risk Adviser Charles Smith said: “We are delighted to be supporting Wirral Council in delivering this repair project to the Victorian cemetery chapels, and producing the Conservation Management Plan. Flaybrick Memorial Gardens has an important place within the local community but also helps tell the story of this area’s history. We look forward to working with both the Council and the Friends of Flaybrick to improve its long-term management and are aiming towards getting it removed from the Heritage at Risk Register.”