Minster misery over desecration and destruction in churchyard

Mindless vandalism: the scene outside Croydon Minster yesterday morning

The congregation of Croydon Minster arrived for yesterday’s morning service to discover widespread and wanton destruction of gravestones in the churchyard alongside the building.

Gravestones which had survived the terrible fire which had destroyed much of the medieval church building, or even the worst bombings of the Blitz in World War II, now lay shattered in many pieces, beyond any hope of repair or restoration.

At least 20 headstones had been smashed, the graves desecrated, some which date back nearly 300 years.

The senseless vandalism appears to have been carried out over at least three successive nights.

On three occasions, from last Wednesday (April 12) to Friday (April 14), stones had been pushed over, broken into pieces and the debris left lying around.

David Morgan, iC’s Minster correspondent, said, “Church officials were at a loss as to understand why anyone would destroy gravestones in this way.”

Destroyed: the gravestone to ‘honestman’ John Kennedy, from 1804, is among 20 to have been smashed

The trail of damage is to be removed once representatives of the Diocese have been to the scene as well as the Croydon police, whose task is to discover those responsible.

There has been a church on the site of Croydon Minster for more than one thousand years, going back to Anglo-Saxon times.

What was until recently known as Croydon Parish Church has a long and close association with the Archbishops of Canterbury, who until the late 19th Century spent much of the year living in a nearby palace.

Today, according to Morgan, “The stones which were damaged were moved into their current positions in the late 1950s, when the churchyard was redesigned and the St John’s Memorial Garden created. All the gravestones were relocated at that time, including the war memorial.

“Some stones were laid flat to create paths, while others were stood upright near to the church to create a screen wall. Many of these upright stones were from older burials and date back to the 17th Century.”

Among the stones which have been destroyed was one for John Kennedy, a former quartermaster of “Her Majesty’s Waggon Train” during the Napoleonic Wars who died in 1804. He was described on the headstone as “an honest man”.

Another stone which has been destroyed was that of Alexander Cutting, who died in 1746. The carvings on his gravestone were typical of that era.

Destroyed: the gravestone of Alexander Cutting, from 1746

Steward Baker, a resident of the Great Almshouse, now known as the Whitgift Almshouse, died in 1796. His stone has been pushed out of the earth, cracking the sandstone base.

The Minster is currently awaiting the redevelopment of the area around the church.

This is to be a part of borough-wide improvements planned by the council. The stones that were smashed were to be used in the new scheme.

If anyone has any information about who carried out the destruction, please contact the Metropolitan Police by phoning 101.

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7 Responses to Minster misery over desecration and destruction in churchyard

  1. Andrew Frazer says:

    Why not start a money raising scheme to pay a reward for reporting the individuals concerned? This is just a further sad reflection on Croydon descent into a deprived part of London!!

  2. What are Croydon Police doing about this?

  3. Lewis White says:

    The enduring problem of Croydon Minster is that, unlike other big churches in old towns– like Salisbury or Winchester Cathedral, Bath abbey and many more, it is not at the heart of the town, but on the edge. People can’t just “drop in” off the busy streets of the centre, they have to trek laf a mile down Crown Hill to get there. Few ever make that journey.

    If they do ever reach there, the beautiful Minster stands alone in an oddly vacant sort of non-place, at a dead end car park right by a busy main road..

    Once upon a time, sited by the crystalline springs of the River Wandle headwaters, but later on, in Victorian times, marooned in the untrendy bottom end of town, of Dickensian urban squalor, and , some 50 years ago, edged by the dual carriage way of Roman way, a modern river of traffic and pollution.

    Most of these other big churches have a cathedral close, or grounds surrounded by high railings that are closed at night–such as the Borough market frontage of Southwark Cathedral- to keep the building and garden safe and secure from vandalism and other a.s.b. of the kind that the above Inside Croydon article sadly reports.

    If only the Minster were surrounded, not by a design vacuum, but by an enclosed garden and housing, probably closed off at night, like Belgian examples.

    It is a dead space, with individual nice elements nearby, such as historic and character buildings like Reeves, a former pub, and some alms houses.

    The gardens to the South side of the Minster, with some trees and grass, are, in reality, a no-go area for most people, especially after dark.It hosts rough sleepers, who as individuals need a safe space at night, but is this appropriate for the location?

    Do they have a toilet?. I don’t think so. Does drug dealing go on there?. Yes, I am pretty sure of it. Does the vibe put the general public off ? It does put me off, particularly from walking though after dusk.

    Would it not be better to enclose all, or a large section of the gardens, with a very high ornamental railing, and shut it at dusk?

    Could St Mungos take it over as a project? It would give the gardens a real purpose.

    Near the Shard, they or another similar charity like Thames Reach, look after a garden very like this, near to but not round a church

    This would not adversely affect the Minster’s own ministry to local homeless people

    The current vacuum of design and lack of real use in the area around the Minster, is in need of an urban design project, involving new uses for buildings, and the open spaces, not only landscape improvements, albeit that good landscape design is essential.

    But at the very least, in my view, based on observation, serious consideration needs to be given to fencing off at least the third of the gardens nearest to the Minster, at night. To protect the building.

    The area is not naturally policed at night by passers by. Many town centre churches are…… eg St Martins near Traflagar Square. But, as noted above, this is a backwater, used by very few as a link between Old Town and the old Epsom Road area of Old Town/ Waddon.

    In olden times of the 20th century, did the local Metropolitan bobbies patrol this area on foot by night ? Undoubtedly.

    Bring back Sergeant Dixon of Dock Green

  4. James Seabrook says:

    This all points to a degradation of society so deep that it will take a miracle to bring it back to normality. I really hope that miracle happens. But in the meantime I’m afraid that Croydon looks doomed, owing at least in part to the continual running down of this potentially great town.

    When people have so little to do in their lives and get off on smashing gravestones there’s something very wrong with our society. There is potential for so much good to be done in the world and it really saddens me that we’re in this mess.

  5. Shaharee says:

    Follow the money is the first rule in any criminal investigation. Who has a financial interest in this historical site being destroyed? Paid some lunatic a few hundred pounds to go around there with a sledge hammer?

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