Hobkirk Cemetery dispute anything but dead and buried

Clair Ramage and Donald Wilson at Hobkirk Cemetery.
Clair Ramage and Donald Wilson at Hobkirk Cemetery.

An angry Borderer has vowed to be cremated rather than interred beside his ancestors as a protest at the removal of free burial rights in his home village.

Until 2014, most villagers at Hobkirk, near Hawick, were granted free use of a burial ground there because of what was believed to be a long-standing right bestowed on them almost a century earlier.

However, that changed in 2014 after a review by Scottish Borders Council concluded there was no legal documentation to support the continuation of that practice.

Since then, villagers have had to pay for their burials.

That’s a bone of contention for residents including Donald Wilson, and he’s now attempting to get that decision overturned.

Mr Wilson, 66, is currently trying to unearth documents proving villagers are entitled to be buried free of charge.

He had hoped to be buried beside his mother, grandmother and grandfather, but now he says he is prepared to be cremated instead as a stand against the introduction of fees.

He said: “My mother’s there, my grandmother’s there, my grandfather’s there, my uncles are there.

“In 2014, they brought in this rule. Up until that point, anyone in Hobkirk could be buried for free, more or less.

“When I applied in 2016, it was £900-odd, and now it’s up to £1,100 or £1,200. It’s gone from zero to that.

“All my predecessors are buried down there, and I refuse to pay this, but they say to just pay it unless you can prove otherwise.

“I’ll just get cremated instead if that’s the case. I feel that strongly about it.”

Mr Wilson admits that his case against the charges needs more legal proofbut he has pledged not to give up his fight.

He added: “I have got a document to say that it was gifted to the people in 1923 from the then deceased owner of Wolfelee Estate.

“We have never been able to prove that is legally binding and it is going to cost money to get it validated by a solicitor, and we haven’t had much backing.

“The problem we have got is that some of the people in the area have got the rights free to be buried already, pre-2014, and they’re a little bit bothered about me stirring up a hornet’s nest and the rights getting withdrawn from them.

“There’s an old lady in the village – she’s about 86 or 87 – and she thought she was going to get buried down there free and they have forced her to pay that amount of money and she’s most upset about it.

“A lot of people are just paying up and hoping for the best.

“I’m not finished with this. I have somebody on the case trying to make inquiries to see if they can get a hold of the old will to testify that it is actually passed down.

“I have documents to say it was given to them in 1923. It was given to the council, but they are doing it quite cleverly. They are not selling the ground – they’re selling the right to be buried. It’s quite clever how they’re doing it.”

A council spokesperson said: “The council reviewed its approach to charging for the purchase of burial plots in 2014. As part of the review, Hobkirk was recognised as having been providing burial grounds without a charge.

“The premise on which the ground was being given free was researched, including scrutinising titles, historical records and council-held files.

“What was established was that there was no legal basis on which the ground was being provided free of charge and that the council was entitled to charge for the purchase of burial plots within Hobkirk.

“Charging was implemented at the start of the 2015-16 financial year and the rates are reviewed and updated annually as part of the budget-setting process.

“We informed some local councillors and funeral directors of the reviewed Hobkirk charges, which were included, along with all other fees and charges, in the council’s overall budget communications at the time.”

Hawick and Denholm councillor Clair Ramage is supporting Mr Wilson and other villagers and hopes some detective work can resolve the issue.

She said: “I met Mr Donald Wilson at Hobkirk Community Council, and he has been trying really hard to trace the documents that will prove the ownership of the cemetery but with no luck so far.

“When I was first elected, and attended my first Hobkirk Community Council meeting, Mr Wilson brought up his concerns over the council charging for burial plots at Hobkirk as the extended graveyard had been left to the people of the community.

“He highlighted that some of the villagers had managed to get their burial plots for free but that now elderly people in the community were concerned that they could not afford a burial plot.

“The change in burial services and a review of these services was held in 2014. The council is the burial authority and, as such, is permitted to charge for burials.

“This cemetery ground was gifted to the community by Ralph Palliser Millbanke Hudson, from Wolfelee, who died in 1920, but since Mr Wilson can find no paperwork, it is difficult to prove.

“We are hoping that, with some detective work, we can solve the ownership of this ground.”