Good afternoon and thank you for inviting me to speak at this celebration of the Brompton Cemetery Conservation Project.
Particular thanks to Wesley Kerr and Halima Khanom from Royal Parks.
Wesley contacted me initially about speaking today and those of you who know Wesley will know, his boundless enthusiasm makes him a difficult person to say no to.
I got to know Wesley when I was General Manager of Kensal Green Cemetery and Wesley was Chairman of the London Committee of the Heritage Lottery Fund. Our paths have crossed many times since and we have become firm friends. I am a great admirer of his infectious enthusiasm and I must confess, he makes me laugh!
I am very pleased that my mother, Joan Snashfold is able to join us today, the 3 x great Neice of Robert Fortune. My daughter Melissa Snashfold is also with us giving us 3 generations of the Fortune family present.
My affinity with Brompton Cemetery began in 2010. I was attending Chelsea Football Stadium next door, for a corporate event and took the opportunity to visit the grave of my 4 x great Uncle, the renowned plant hunter, Robert Fortune. I called into the office and was given the grave details and a map. Having worked in Cemeteries for almost 40 years, I didn’t expect to have a problem locating the grave. After a short while, the member of staff from the office came and found me and kindly showed me the Fortune family grave. It was in a very poor state, with a flat limestone slab and inscription which was no longer legible.
I decided that this was not a fitting monument to the man that introduced more plants into Britain than any other Botanist including White Wisteria, Winter flowering Jasmin, the Fan Palm, and most famously, the tea which we drink today.
The many plants and shrubs named “Fortunia” are named in the memory of your famous Brompton Cemetery resident.
I contacted the office and found out the restrictions on a replacement stone as the grave is in a conservation part of the cemetery, obtained a quotation from a Monumental Mason, contacted other family members about raising the necessary funds and spoke to Arthur Tait, the Chair of the Friends of Brompton Cemetery who was supportive of the initiative and kindly agreed to administer the fund.
Before long we had raised the money necessary and ordered the new stone and inscription. I then arranged a dedication service for the new stone followed by reception in the Cemetery chapel. The new stone was unveiled by the oldest surviving member of the family, Jimmy Fortune, the great great Nephew of Robert Fortune who was 90 years young at the time.
In my professional life, I have worked in Cemeteries since 1981 and spent 12 years at Kensal Green Cemetery, the oldest of the “Magnificent 7” Cemeteries in London where I served in various capacities until 2015.
As a keen advocate of Cemeteries, I am happy to support the initiative of the Conservation project at Brompton Cemetery, the improvement work since I first came here in 2010 is plain for all to see and the Royal Parks are to be congratulated for the success that we see today.
Cemeteries are an extremely important part of a community, they are a source of recreation, historic information, important green spaces particularly within crowded cities, places of heritage and bio diversity. Places of sanctity, remembrance and quiet reflection.
Part of the conservation initiative has been the creation of what I like to think of as the Fortune garden, containing many plants that Fortune introduced to the Country. I was pleased to make a contribution to this scheme as I believe in and support what Royal Parks are doing with Brompton Cemetery.
Thank you for listening to me and please enjoy your day.