ITV got it wrong - cemetery tours are not in poor taste

Sacha Coward, 31.10.2019
Telling the stories of the dead can bring the past back to life
At Halloween, museums and heritage sites throughout the land are desperately trying to bring out their most ghoulish, dark and creepy collections. Cemeteries and graveyards, on the other hand, suddenly take on a new role as a backdrop for Instagram selfies but otherwise remain as dark and secretive as ever.

We know that there is a real appeal in wondering through a dark cemetery by torchlight at this time of year which is partly why my fellow tour guide Sheldon Goodman has run his tours of Tower Hamlets Cemetery year on year to such great success.

This year we were contacted by ITV who were interested in featuring our tour as a segment. We were pretty chuffed to have our hard work recognised. Well, until they dropped us last minute because they decided what we do was in "poor taste" and that we were making money off the dead...

Let me be clear. Sheldon and I take our roles as custodians of the dead with a real sense of responsibility. Both of us endeavour to research the stories we tell with as much historical accuracy, integrity and humanity as we can muster. Our goal is to bring a long-gone East London back to life and use the hook of Halloween to get people to care about their local cemeteries as being more than a spooky background. To be told that what we do is somehow offensive is misguided. To say that we shouldn’t be paid for the research and graft we put in is absurd.

Earlier this week we took two large groups through the cemetery with extra gusto. Afterwards we both mentioned to each other that there was an added desire to show how much we love our craft and to prove that what we do is worthwhile.

What Sheldon and I do is not a creepy sideshow, it makes people feel real emotions about the people who rest there. If the hook of All Hallows Eve gets people to come to us then so be it.

Sacha Coward is a freelance museum and heritage professional


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01.11.2019, 12:56
This attitude to the tours is sadly nothing new. I had a similar experience with a Guardian journalist a few years ago who described anyone who went on tours or found cemeteries interesting as ‘big fat goths’.

All are welcome to attend and we make no limit as to who can come along:’be you curious as to what cemeteries are or if you think it’s a load of tripe and want to see what the fuss is about. They are a brilliant environment to address so many things such as historical amnesia to the more terrible aspects of our history, as much as a chance to celebrate and remember good folk who are long gone. It’s a shame that a news outlet could be so close minded.
31.10.2019, 14:27
Perhaps inviting them to a future tour, alongside paying visitors, so that they can see what you do and how people respond, would be a good step?

Then they should understand how carefully developed tours help to connect people with local history, reveal surprising tales of human commonality, and also provide funds to preserve graveyards so that they don't wholly decline and become forgotten at best, or locations of crime and ill-repute at worst.