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Highgate Cemetery takeover bid

PUBLISHED: 14:16 23 July 2009 | UPDATED: 16:19 07 September 2010

THE death knell has sounded for the Friends of Highgate Cemetery as the fallout from the shock resignation of controversial chairwoman Jean Pateman continues, months after her departure. A total overhaul of the organisation which manages the famous cemete

THE death knell has sounded for the Friends of Highgate Cemetery as the fallout from the shock resignation of controversial chairwoman Jean Pateman continues, months after her departure.

A total overhaul of the organisation which manages the famous cemetery is being thrashed out and the 35-year-old Friends group will now merge with the two other charities responsible for the cemetery, the Highgate Cemetery Charity (HCC) and the Highgate Cemetery Trust. The idea is to create a brand new people-friendly organisation responsible for the historic site.

Talks are said to have been impossible before Mrs Pateman's resignation in May because she shunned the other two charities. Martin Morton, chairman of HCC, said: "We own the cemetery and we should have a very significant role in overseeing its management. But we have not been involved as much as we should have been because we were not allowed to be. The old regime was not helpful.

"We are looking forward to getting the whole thing sorted out. It has taken a long time to get to this point and it is early days but now we are moving forward."

Mrs Pateman had been chairwoman of the Friends for more than three decades before her sudden departure. She was at the centre of allegations of rudeness to visitors and threats against members who opposed her plans. There were further allegations of vote-rigging.

Highgate, home to the graves of Karl Marx and George Eliot, is one of the so-called Magnificent Seven cemeteries built in the 1800s to deal with overcrowding of the dead in London's parish churchyards and has become an attraction similar to that of Pere Lachaise in Paris.

Many of the Friends hope the re-organisation will see the dawn of a new day for the cemetery as one of Highgate's jewels.

Caroline Coombes, a Friend for 25 years, said: "Given the damage the Friends organisation has done to the cemetery and its reputation, the merger seems a good idea but only time will tell.

"I hope this will make the cemetery more visitor-friendly. You do not realise until you visit the rest of the Magnificent Seven how awful Highgate has become in presentation, atmosphere and the way it is run.

"The big worry now for the members is that because of this bad management the Friends group will disappear."

Another Friend, Sue Berdy, added: "What we have had in the past has been a disaster and we do not want to repeat the same mistakes. If they are going to disband the Friends it should be discussed with us."

A timescale for the new organisation has not yet been announced but talks between the three charities and the Charity Commission are taking place.

There are as yet no concrete details of the make-up of the new charity, except that it will include representatives of all three cemetery charities.

Susanna Wilkey


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