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'Fading stones need rescuing'

PUBLISHED: 15:27 17 July 2008 | UPDATED: 11:25 03 July 2010

Conservationists are said to be blocking moves to rescue old gravestones in Great Yarmouth's St Nicholas cemetery where once-ornate memorials are being eroded by seaside weather.

Conservationists are said to be blocking moves to rescue old gravestones in Great Yarmouth's St Nicholas cemetery where once-ornate memorials are being eroded by seaside weather.

Some of the once-striking reminders of lives lived are fading into anonymity with the weathering effects of sand and salt acting like a file on the faces of memorials.

Among them is a headstone to a child killed in the infamous suspension-bridge disaster. The tragedy is carved in relief but is today barely visible and totally missed by some who go to see it.

Canon Michael Woods said the vivid depiction which showed the bridge collapsing and children pouring into the water was being lost to the borough, along with two others which needed urgent restoration.

He said: “One child obviously had wealthy parents who had the foresight and generosity to erect the memorial and record the whole event. But over the years the headstone is being worn away by weather and it is becoming difficult to see, but we are not allowed to restore it. I would like to have it re-cut - what is the point of having a historic memorial that is no longer as it was in those days? There are three stones in all that are of particular concern but we have been told no, even though they are not over the bodies of the people they commemorate.”

Borough conservation officer Darren Barker said there was a group of seven chest stones and some individual ones that were listed by English Heritage. Among them are:

A stone commemorating David Bartleman who in 1781 nobly defended himself to his death against pirates.

A memorial to George Beloe, nine, who drowned in the suspension-bridge disaster of 1845 when people flocked to see a man being pulled along in a barrel by swans.

A 1834 grave to William Palmer with railings around it.

An early 18th-century limestone headstone with an angel and skull and illegible inscription.

Mr Barker said the erosion of headstones was a national problem addressed by English Heritage in its report Paradise Preserved. He said they advised against re-cutting as it removed original material and would need re-inscribing more quickly because newer surfaces tended to weather faster.

He said EH's policy was to preserve through photographs which could be displayed in the church. There were ways, he added, to slow down the process of decay but the general philosophy was to accept it was going to happen.

Senior conservation officer Stephen Earl said: “Historically they are incredibly important and tell an important story and we do not want to lose that information. It all adds to the benefit of highlighting Great Yarmouth as a historic town - it's not just about buildings, it's the people and events as well.”

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