WESTMILL WOODLAND BURIAL GROUND

November Blog

What a fascinating Wednesday I had this week.  I was invited to take part in a seminar Remembering the Dead – very appropriately on Remembrance Day. This was at the Bristol Museum as part of an events programme supporting their recently opening exhibition – Death-the human experience.  http://www.bristolmuseums.org.uk/bristol-museum-and-art-gallery/whats-on/death-human-experience/

I shared a platform with a geographer, town planner, historian and an organiser of an online memorial site.  We talked about how to make urban cemeteries multi-use spaces, the advantages and pitfalls of facebook and other online memorial sites, the history of mourning and the influence of the Victorians on that, the new ways in which we memorialise away from the actual place of burial and of course, how we do things at Westmill.  

What was very exciting to me was the age of the audience.  The majority were around thirty which makes a change in my experience from the average age of people attending events related to death.  Very refreshing.  Another reason it was such a lively afternoon was I think the effect of visiting the exhibition first after an introduction from Dr Avril Meddrell and the curator Lisa Graves.  It is wonderfully designed, very atmospheric. You enter a rather Gothic curtained area with information embedded into the florid wallpaper and objects displayed under Victorian style domes and then find yourself in a mortuary opening the drawers to learn more.  Along the way a wonderful range of objects have been garnered from the Museum’s collection to illustrate cross-cultural as well as historical themes.   A multi-media approach means a wide range of expertise is available and interesting questions are raised.  And it is fun! – children were peering excitedly into empty coffins, people were commenting on the shiny red shoes someone has been buried in.  I was fascinated by the beautiful upright tree trunk coffin made by the Aboriginal people of Australia for housing their ancestors’ bones.   Finally, at the end there is a reflection area for people to sit quietly and consider what feelings and ideas have emerged from going around the exhibition. 

10,000 people have visited since it opened two weeks ago despite nervousness in the planning stage that it would not attract the public. This just demonstrates that there is enormous interest out there in this subject and outreach like this is invaluable.  If you are anywhere near Bristol go and see it. On until March 13th.