It is a peaceful resting place for 350,000 souls – an historic graveyard which now serves as a nature reserve.
But plans are afoot to dig up the ancient graves at Tower Hamlets Cemetery – and reopen it as a 21st century burial site.
Officially it would be known as a “multi-faith” cemetery but it is likely that it would principally answer calls for a Muslim graveyard in the largely-Asian East London borough.
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The local newspaper has been bombarded with letters from historians and nature lovers declaring: “There is no way we’ll allow them to dig up our ancestors.”
But the Labour-controlled council’s environment spokesman Abdal Ullah appeared to be in no doubt about the feasibility of the plan when he said: “To preserve the respect and dignity for everyone, I think most of the graves would have to be cleared out and we’d start afresh.”
He said a corner of the cemetery would be reserved for Muslims who are buried in shrouds at a depth of 6ft and on their side facing Mecca.
By law, any graves more than 75 years old can be removed.
At the cemetery yesterday, liaison officer Ken Greenway – the only paid member of staff tending the 33-acre site – said he was astonished that anyone would even contemplate such a move.
“I’m against it and I have to stand up for that because of the huge value of this site today,” he added.
“It’s a beautiful haven for wildlife and people.”
The City of London and Tower Hamlets Cemetery was opened in 1841 by an Act of Parliament.
During the Second World War it was bombed five times and some headstones still bear the marks of shrapnel hits.
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Other markers have gone altogether, torn down when the graveyard was deconsecrated as a Church of England cemetery by another Act of Parliament in 1966 when it was deemed to be full.
The intention was to create an open space for the public, which led to two bomb-damaged chapels being demolished and a swathe of graves cleared.
In 1986 ownership passed from the Greater London Council to Tower Hamlets and in 1990 the Friends of the Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park was set up.
Seven years ago the park became the borough’s first nature reserve and it is now tended by 1,600 volunteers.
It is home to 27 species of butterfly, a rare bumble bee, woodpeckers, sparrowhawks and the elusive firecrest.
Some 8,000 schoolchildren visit every year for outdoor nature lessons.
Professor David Bellamy, who is patron of the Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, said: “Tower Hamlets Cemetery is still a place of peace and reflection as it has been since it was saved from becoming just another part of East London’s urban sprawl.
“Now in its new guise as a local nature reserve and green lung, people of every colour, creed and kind share their humanity with that of other living things.
“I can only pray that the wisdom of all faiths can together discover the right way ahead for this very special part of East London’s heritage.”
Last night the council was insisting there were no plans to re-open the park as a cemetery.
“It is a popular and historic nature park and if there were any proposalsto alter the look or the functionality, there would be a full consultation with interested parties,” said a spokesman.
However the council admitted it had been looking at “options” for burial sites.
And Lib Dem group leader Stephanie Eaton said she had received a letter from the council chief executive admitting the park was one of the options being considered