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John Clarke

Historian of Brookwood Cemetery

Letter to the “Woking Advertiser”

Following the publication of the news that Woking Borough Council had taken control of Brookwood Cemetery, as reported in the “Woking Advertiser” dated 12 December 2014, I wrote a letter to the newspaper. I am reproducing my comments here as the newspaper has now removed all the published comments relating to this story.

“To the Editor,

“The news that Brookwood Cemetery has been acquired by Woking Borough Council should assure the future of this historic burial ground for future generations. However the acquisition is unlikely to prove the simple and straightforward process your article implies.

“Firstly, the Council has decided to keep the whole transaction confidential. The most recent valuation, by Savills, was £1.2 million. Given the lack of openness, may we assume a similar figure was used to purchase the shares in Brookwood Park Limited and Brookwood Cemetery Limited, the companies now replaced by “Woking Necropolis and Mausoleum Ltd”? Local council taxpayers should seek greater transparency since they may end up underwriting ongoing costs.

“Secondly, I agree with the comments posted by Mike Hawk that the Council should advertise or put out to tender positions in the new company for the day to day operation of the cemetery. After all, the former owner reduced staffing at the cemetery from 14 to 4 subsequent to her taking over the property in November 2012. Clearly new staffing must be a priority for the Council if it is to act as a cemetery manager for the local community.

“Thirdly, English Heritage's involvement in the management of the site may be a difficult one. Assuming the £6m pot of money for the next five years or so is largely funded by them, I suspect even this sum will be quickly swallowed up by the scale and cost of works involved.

“Fourthly, I trust the Council has done its homework as to the ongoing claims against the cemetery. I am aware that the Guney family and a number of external contractors have outstanding financial claims which I assume are inherited by the new company. These claims will have to be settled either in “confidence” or in court. It should also be noted that the Guney family retains 38 acres of the cemetery along with the so-called “outside interests” of the non-cemetery estate of the old London Necropolis Company.

“Lastly I dispute the assertion that Brookwood has been in decline since 1914. In fact the London Necropolis Company was developing and improving the cemetery into the 1950s through the military cemeteries, the Glades of Remembrance, and its plans to operate a crematorium on-site. Furthermore your own newspaper paid tribute to the work of the Guney family during its period of ownership in your Leader comment published in October 2012 beginning, “One of the most successful and lengthy eras of Brookwood Cemetery looks like it is coming to a close ...”.

[This leader comment was published in the Surrey Advertiser in October 2012 and is reproduced in full below:  


“One of the most successful and lengthy eras of Brookwood Cemetery looks like it is coming to a close. The Guney family has been ordered to hand over ownership of the huge site to Diane Holliday, Ramadan Guney’s former partner, after a bitter legal battle in the High Court.

“The family has said it was a devastating blow that all their hard work would be lost. The vision of the future under the Guney family could have included a museum for visitors and further work to catalogue all the graves. Huge improvements to Brookwood Cemetery have already been made and further restoration work is in the pipeline. For the first time in 12 years the company was making a healthy profit. The cemetery has people from all different communities buried in it. More than 1,000 people signed a petition to rally around the Guney’s plight. But the High Court ruling this week goes against what those supporters wanted.

“With the change of ownership there is a threat of part of the area being sold off for redevelopment while the passion shown by the Guney family is unlikely to be replicated.

“Forcing Brookwood Cemetery to change hands rather than sorting out the dispute with a financial settlement seems a strange decision by the judges, especially given their desire to create a clean break.” ]