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Colin Clark

Colin Clark: 19.5.36 – 11.6.15

Tireless campaigner and volunteer custodian of the cemetery

Colin’s contribution to Undercliffe Cemetery has been unique in its depth and breadth. He acted in a variety of capacities, initially campaigning to save it in the 1980s, then becoming chief custodian, caring for the site on a day-to-day basis, and finally co-authoring its history for posterity, illustrated with archive material collected during a quarter of a century of involvement.

As a prominent member of the Friends of Undercliffe Cemetery, Colin helped to persuade Bradford Council to compulsorily purchase the site, removing it from the hands of a local property developer who had acquired it from the Bradford Cemetery Company which had gone into liquidation in the 1970s, then proceeded to systematically demolish all the buildings for the value of the stone. By the mid-1980s when Bradford Council assumed ownership, the 26-acre site was in a parlous state. A new Board of Trustees was formed to administer and restore the cemetery. Colin became a key member and had an increasing influence on planning for a new future for the cemetery due to his extensive knowledge of the site and its history. But Colin was also a very practical man and maintained a vital and consistent presence ‘on the ground’.

Now that the cemetery is such an attractive green space and is a nationally-recognised heritage site, it is hard to envisage its derelict state when first inherited by the Council in the mid-1980s. We often see ‘before and after’ room or house makeovers on TV, but the transformation of a 26-acre burial site with over 25,000 graves, most with grave ‘furniture’ making grass cutting and maintenance difficult, was a huge challenge. A comparison of the photos of the Cemetery in the 1980s and more contemporary shots provide evidence of the scale of what has been achieved. A three-year Manpower Services Commission project undertook much of the early restoration work. However, when the scheme was abruptly withdrawn two years into the project, much was left only partially completed. Areas of the cemetery were littered with the detritus of the abandoned building works.

Aftermath of the abandoned MSC scheme. Colin’s photo from ‘In Loving Memory: The Story of Undercliffe Cemetery’, Clark & Davison, 2004.

At this point Colin came into his own as unofficial site manager and co-ordinator of a team of volunteers. He became the driving force behind the completion of the unfinished areas of the project, including the car parks and the Lodge, while continuing to operate a maintenance schedule in the most prominent areas of the site. The dedication of the group of volunteers who worked with him reflects the esteem in which Colin was held and the way in which he was able to inspire others. Meanwhile the cemetery had become a family affair as Colin’s wife, Ann, took over as Registrar, organising burials and doing searches for those looking for family members buried at Undercliffe.

The restoration work at the cemetery attracted national attention, and a beaming Colin collected the ‘It’s My City’ Award on national TV as joint winner of the tourism/heritage section of the competition in 1989. Other awards followed, and after the completion of the work on the re-building of the Lodge, a civic ceremony was held in commemoration. This finally provided a permanent meeting place for Trustees, and a base for the open days, tours and talks that were now being developed.

Colin with the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress at the official opening of the Lodge, 1991, from ‘In Loving Memory: The Story of Undercliffe Cemetery’, Clark & Davison, 2004.

Colin was also very much part of the drive to educate others about the cemetery and promote visits, the grave-tidying service and burials. Having spent the day with the volunteers doing maintenance work, he would venture out again in the evening with his slide projector, speaking to local groups about the history of the cemetery. His interest culminated in a collaboration with Reuben Davison to produce ‘In Loving Memory: The Story of Undercliffe Cemetery’, published in 2004. The book is liberally illustrated with photos, articles and artefacts from his extensive collection, providing a fascinating visual and written history of the cemetery to that point. Colin also hosted visits from film and TV crews anxious to capitalise on the atmospheric and photogenic nature of the site. He also ensured that the cemetery was promoted as part of the tourist trail in Bradford, providing leaflets and information to tourist offices and museums.

It was, therefore, a significant moment in the cemetery’s history when Colin announced his intention to ‘retire’ in 2006. He had made the well-being of the cemetery his life’s work, sometimes, perhaps, compromising his own health. He had rarely taken a break from his voluntary activities, and Ann was also ready to be relieved of her Registrar’s duties. A ceremony was held in City Hall in December 2008, to recognise the Trustees’, and the City’s, gratitude to Colin for his absolute dedication to Undercliffe Cemetery over so many years. His achievements were also honoured at a national level when Colin and Ann received an invitation to a Palace Garden Party.

When Colin sadly passed away in 2015, the Trustees were determined to mark his exceptional contribution with a more permanent commemoration in the cemetery itself. And so it is that as you enter from the Undercliffe Lane entrance, you will see a rugged stone near to the Lodge with a simple inscription to one of the true heroes of Undercliffe Cemetery. Thank you for all you did, Colin.

Jacqui Ambler, April 2021

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