Mourners visiting a cemetery near York say they were confronted with what looked like a 'scene of devastation' after finding 87 gravestones lying flat on the ground.

Shocked visitors to Haxby and Wigginton Cemetery have spoken of their "heartbreak" after a cemetery committee ‘topple test’ resulted in the drastic action.

And families with loved ones buried in the cemetery say they were not given sufficient notice.

However, Haxby and Wigginton Cemetery Committee said the gravestones had been laid flat as part of its "statutory health and safety requirement of running a cemetery" as they were unsafe.

Gates to the cemetery in Oaken Grove in Haxby had a notice warning of the ‘mandatory exercise’ attached - dated October 9 and written on Haxby Town Council headed paper.

The Northern Echo: The notice on the cemetery gatesThe notice on the cemetery gates (Image: Staff)

The notice says that all upright headstones had been subjected to an independent ‘topple test’ to see if they were safe.

Some headstones had failed the test, it said, and would need to be laid flat. The notice added that the work was being done on October 11.


Tracey Smith lost her brother James, aged 21, in 1992, and his stone was one of those affected.

She said: “It’s like an act of vandalism.

“This has caused a lot of heartbreak and upset within the community as this has not been communicated with people who have not been given time to rectify issues.”

The Northern Echo: Haxby and Wigginton CemeteryHaxby and Wigginton Cemetery (Image: Staff)

A spokesperson for Haxby Town Council said: “There have been several meetings of the Haxby and Wigginton Cemetery Committee since November, the last of those was a few weeks ago when it was agreed to carry out its responsibility in testing the memorial stones which was carried out by a qualified stone mason.

“This does not mean they have not been tested in between this period but this was hand wobble testing at site visits by members.”

A Ministry of Justice document from 2014 which advises burial authorities on managing the safety of burial ground memorials recommends the tests and also the more detailed inspections.

But Kirsty Richmond said she should have been given earlier warning about the tests and would have wanted to witness the test to her father's gravestone.

The Wigginton resident said: “My dad’s was one of those which in our family’s opinion was not loose or leaning, we always check when we go.

“The option of repair has been taken away.”

A statement from Haxby and Wigginton Cemetery Committee said: "Visitors will notice that a number of gravestones have been laid flat in the cemetery.

“The committee are not vandalising the cemetery, of which they have been accused, but rather meeting a statutory health and safety requirement of running a cemetery.

“Where a gravestone is loose and no longer safely fixed to the ground we are required to lay it down flat on the ground, as advised by a qualified stonemason, to ensure the safety of visitors to the cemetery.

“A gravestone's maintenance is the responsibility of the family who purchase the grave at the time and all those for whom we have information, acknowledging that some information we hold may not be up to date as no new details have been provided to us, will be contacted asking them to repair their graves.”