C D: a Scandalous Burial?
by Adrian Bean
In the autumn of 1994 there was much debate in the pages of the “Bedfordshire on Sunday” newspaper about whether an unusual burial should be allowed at Foster Hill Road Cemetery. Depending on your point of view, the now defunct paper had a reputation either for fearlessly exposing scandals or for itself being just a trouble-maker, and in this case it did an excellent job of highlighting a conundrum that produced strong feelings on both sides of the argument.
Would it be right for C.D. to be buried in the same place as many thousands of Bedfordians since 1855? Would it be illegal? Would it be immoral? Who should decide?
C.D wasn’t guilty of any crime, and had probably given as much joy to the world as most of the people already buried there. He wasn’t evil, just sometimes a bit standoffish and seemingly ungrateful when others offered him help, food and shelter. But he was well loved by the people who knew him, and as he had spent much of the previous ten years wandering about at the cemetery this would be the best place for him to be remembered.
At that time, the cemetery was still open and there were staff there every day until it closed in 1995. When a small Jack Russell started to patrol the cemetery he became popular with staff and visitors alike. He seemed to be a stray or perhaps neglected by his owner, and regularly turned up at the office at 1.30 and 4.30 to be fed, but other than that he preferred to wander about and sleep rough outside. Knowing this, many people living locally brought him food and made a fuss of him, though generally he was wary of humans. Staff tried to take him home, to look after him, thinking that perhaps his owner had died but C.D would have none of that. This lifestyle lasted for ten years, until he died of cancer.
The overwhelming opinion in the “Letters to the Editor” was that he should be buried somewhere at his “home” although a few people maintained that an animal should not be buried in consecrated ground. The official view was that regulations meant such a burial should not be allowed.
In fact, you might be pleased to know that at the time of this correspondence going on, C.D. had already been buried in a suitable place at the cemetery. His grave is still marked, with a modest memorial, a bird-table and flowers. Admittedly they are plastic flowers, but that’s more than many graves have on them.
It isn’t unusual for pet owners, especially dog owners, to be so close to their companion that they treat them as a best friend or as a family member. Loyalty between the two can be a lasting and mutually beneficial blessing. The best known example of this is probably “Greyfriars Bobby,” a dog who every day for 14 years sat at the grave of his Edinburgh owner until Bobby himself died in 1872. He was buried in a churchyard, not far from his owner, and Edinburgh has a fine statue of him.
In ancient Egypt, cats were mummified and buried with reverence, probably because they were considered deities. There was an informal cemetery for pets in Hyde Park between 1881 and 1903, and a small army of headstones mark the resting place of some 300 pets there. Since 1887 there have been “royal” dogs buried at Sandringham House, and many of the Queen’s pets have been buried in the “Corgi Graveyard.” They have individual headstones.
Closer to home, any visit to the lovely Swiss Garden at Shuttleworth should include seeing the place where over the years the family pets have been buried, including fourteen dogs complete with headstones.
And C.D? Well, he didn’t have quite the same pedigree as some, but he was given the proper respect by those who knew him in 1994.
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