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East London churchyard so overgrown daughter can’t scatter her dad’s ashes on her brother’s grave

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A grieving daughter says she can’t get to her late brother’s grave to scatter her father’s ashes on it because it’s disappeared beneath a choking blanket of ivy and weeds.

Valerie Stringer, 60, has had her fair share of tragedy over the years.

When she was just a child, her parents Arthur and Doreen had to bury her brother Geoffrey aged just 11 at St Mary Magdalene churchyard in East Ham after he was diagnosed with leukaemia.

In those days the beautiful local church was a fitting resting place for him.

Then eight years ago her mum died and Val and her family scattered her ashes on her brother’s grave at the churchyard.

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Parishioners have to fight their way to the graves to tend them

But when her dad sadly passed away four years ago, his request for his ashes to be scattered there could not be granted as the state of the churchyard is so terrible Val can’t even find her brother’s grave.

Pictures show the nine-and-a-half acre site which is looked after by Newham Council choked up with weeds and ivy.

Neighbours say there’s also a massive problem with vandals and rough sleepers invading the churchyard and Val claims when she went down there she found people sleeping in tents.

“It’s totally disgusting that they don’t do anything about it,” she says. “When you get to the graves at the back it’s all in a terrible state.

“When mum and dad lost a son it was an awful moment in their life so not to be able to see the grave now is awful.

“None of my family really want my dad’s ashes to go there because of the state of it but I want to do it because it’s what he wanted.

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Valerie’s brother Geoffrey who died at the age of 11 and is buried somewhere in the churchyard

“I just want him to be there.”

Parishioners at the church – which is one of London’s oldest – are furious at the council for letting the graves get so overgrown and say many loved ones are in a similar situation to Val.

The Grade-I-listed St Mary Magdalene Church in East Ham dates back to the early 12th Century and has some of the rarest examples of 13th Century Christian wall art anywhere in the UK.

It’s also packed with medieval tombs of barons and knights and the graveyard outside holds victims of the Titanic as well as graves of World War One heroes.

Yet the churchyard was given to Newham Council on a lease in the 1980s and now the congregation say its been left to decay.

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Some of the graves are so overgrown you can’t even see them

The churchyard which is also a nature reserve has reportedly become a magnet for vandals who have set fire around the ancient church damaging the stonework.

Lead has been stolen from the roof as well as metal from cables and lightening conductors.

Church member Nigel McCollum told My London: “Last week they used wire cutters to steal brand new lightening conductors.

“It’s a tragedy. The council took it over on the condition they could look after it and people could access the graves.

“When the former churchwarden saw it he was aghast. he said it was supposed to be a managed site.

“This was the birthplace of East Ham. It was founded by Cistercian monks and it’s an absolutely beautiful place and should be a pleasure to walk around.”

More than 60 war graves at the site include those of William George Bates, a rifleman with the London Regiment (London Rifle Brigade), who was wounded at Gommecourt in July 1916 and was a prisoner of war before being repatriated to the UK and dying soon after.

A war memorial had to be created at the church to remember them by when the graves became unrecognisable.

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The graveyards have been left completely overgrown

Other rare things at the church include an Anchorite cell for a monk who literally lived inside the church wall.

It had a hatch on one side where the monk collected food and another where he could see what was going on inside the church.

In 1921 when builders were putting in outside drains for the first time they came across a skeleton in a lead-lined coffin. If it had been a member of the congregation it would have been buried in the churchyard, so it’s thought it was of someone who once lived in the tiny cell.

Among the graves at the church is one from 1933, making the death of “East Ham’s first school master” John Skipsey. He opened the town’s High Street School in 1875.

Others bear the names of Edward James William Rogers, 31, a storekeeper on the Titanic and his cousin Edward Henry Bagley, 33, a First Class Steward on on the vessel. Both men were born in the East Ham area, and were living in Woolwich when they died.

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The incredibly rare 13th century tombs and memorials inside the church

Nigel says the place is so overgrown that even rare wildlife like bats which used to use managed bat boxes on the site no longer come near.

He’s started an online petition calling for the council to bring security guards to the site to stop people breaking in and setting the fires.

Nigel has even written to his MP Stephen Timms to try to get something done.

You can find the petition online here.

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A Newham Council spokesperson said in response to questions from My London: “East Ham Nature Reserve is an important green space that is much appreciated and used by the community.

“It is locked each night as part of security measures that take place across our parks and of course we are concerned about any reported anti-social behaviour.

“We will be keeping a close watching brief on this over the summer and our community safety team will work with the St Mary Magdalene Church, and local police to monitor the situation and take further action as necessary.

“Anyone witnessing anti-social behaviour or any incident that concerns you at the nature reserve should call 101, or 999 in an emergency.”

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https://www.mylondon.news/news/nostalgia/east-london-churchyard-overgrown-daughter-21063131