Taranaki Cathedral graveyard clean up complete

Taranaki Cathedral Church of St Mary parishioner John Pickering has just completed a three year graveyard clean up.
Fairfax NZ

Taranaki Cathedral Church of St Mary parishioner John Pickering has just completed a three year graveyard clean up.

An all-inclusive churchyard spruce-up has come to an end.

On Tuesday, the iron gate encircling the last headstone to undergo its makeover in the three-year project had its final coat of CRC applied by Taranaki Cathedral Church of St Mary parishioner John Pickering.

The New Plymouth man said it was the first time in 100 years that the 89 gravestones laid out in the cathedral's cemetery had been restored.

In 2011, when St Mary's became a cathedral, Pickering, alongside a team of volunteers, threw himself into mending a select few of the crumbling headstones.

"Their memorials were  broken and lying flat on the ground," he said.

However, before long he became inspired to continue on through the burial grounds, which officially closed in 1861, to tidy up the remaining graves

Entombed in the churchyard are some of city's most significant figures and because of the church's abundant history it has now become a popular attraction for tourists, he said.

"They've all got wonderful histories that deserve respect."

Pickering said the complete restoration cost about $27,000.

The church could not afford to meet the costs and so the keen genealogist embarked upon some extensive research to track down the descendants of the deceased in the hope that they would contribute towards the cost of the repairs.

"At times it was tricky because not everybody had had children."

About $15,000 of the project was funded by relatives, the New Plymouth District Council heritage trust contributed $5000 and the rest was received from various other donations.

It has been a long three years for Pickering, who said the undertaking had caused him to develop vibration syndrome in his fingers, but it has also been an extremely rewarding experience he said.

Of the decrepit gravestones Pickering recalled the most challenging of all was that of well-known lawyer, Robert Hughes.

"The gates were completely rusted out and they were six inches below soil level."

Each grave site took an average of 50 hours to repair and a lot of the marble headstones had to be reinforced with stainless steel.

Pickering is now looking forward to penning the memorials of the churchyard's residents but first he has one more task he has to complete.

"My wife says I need to clean up the garage first," he said.

 - Stuff.co.nz

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