Pensioner cleaning up overgrown graveyard told to stop by council

A 74-year-old man who has spent three years cleaning up forgotten graves has been told to stop by the council.

George Lesley, 74, has spent three years cleaning up forgotten graves and has been told to stop by the council. - Credit: Archant / George Lesley

A man who has been lovingly clearing up forgotten graves for three years has been told by the council to stop.

Kind-hearted George Lesley, 74, from Dereham Road, gets up as early as 4am to tidy burial sites in Earlham Cemetery.

In 2019 he noticed a number of derelict graves which were completely grown over while out picking berries.

Mr Lesley said: "There was a path being blocked by a blackberry bush and behind it I thought I saw part of a grave.

George Lesley has been clearing up the graves since 2019.

George Lesley has been clearing up the graves since 2019. - Credit: George Lesley

"So I trimmed it back and sure enough there it was. It went from there really.

"I've tidied up close to 20 graves - all in the same area.

"I don't really like touching people's graves but I think the people buried there deserve to be looked after in some way, so I don't mind doing it.

George Lesley now tries to maintain the graves the best he can after cleaning them up.

George Lesley now tries to maintain the graves the best he can after cleaning them up. - Credit: George Lesley

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"I make sure everything is safe for any wildlife to come through and I'm careful to do it so the blackberries can keep growing."

Yet despite his efforts, a Norwich City Council spokeswoman has told him to stop.

Mr Lesley added: "I'm just making the graves a little bit nicer.

"It is a cemetery but it's looking more like a woodland."

George Lesley, 74 from Dereham Road, has been cleaning a number of graves since 2019.

George Lesley, 74 from Dereham Road, has been cleaning a number of graves since 2019. - Credit: Francis Redwood / Archant

The former postman and milkman also slammed the council for not doing more to keep the site in suitable shape.

He said: "There's only so much I can do."

The graves in Earlham Cemetery were overgrowing with blackberry bushes.

The graves in Earlham Cemetery were overgrowing with blackberry bushes. - Credit: George Lesley

A spokeswoman for Norwich City Council said: "Along with all council-run cemeteries, Earlham Cemetery has a grounds maintenance and conservation programme.

"We’ve worked alongside organisations including the Friends of Earlham Cemetery on this programme.

"We carry out work to maintain the safety of the nearly 40,000 memorials within our cemeteries.

"While we understand the good-hearted motives behind this man’s efforts, we have to actively discourage anyone other than our contractors carrying out maintenance work at the cemeteries.

George Lesley gets to Earlham Cemetery from 4am to clean up the area.

George Lesley gets to Earlham Cemetery from 4am to clean up the area. - Credit: George Lesley

"It could be dangerous and may be damaging to important flora and fauna habitats while compromising the safety of the memorials.

"If anyone would like to safely get involved with the cemetery, they can contact www.friendsofearlhamcemetery.co.uk."

Mr Lesley said he will continue to look after the forgotten graves as best he can.