Historic chapels in Kilburn have been sitting in disarray for over ten years awaiting overdue restoration work, leaving locals fed up at the council’s inaction.
The 19th century chapels in Paddington Old Cemetery have been fenced off and covered in scaffolding since Brent Council began surface repair work in 2020.
The Grade II listed buildings are on the ‘at risk’ register of Historic England, a public body which preserves historic buildings, parks and ancient monuments.
The chapels were granted a fund for urgent maintenance in 2020 by Historic England.
Brent Council began repairs to the walls, roofs and rain pipes, but discovered the chapels were in worse condition than expected.
Deeper restoration work to the rag-stone walls and slated roofs would be needed, potentially costing millions of pounds.
Andrew Lowe, chair of Friends of Paddington Old Cemetery, is an architect who has lived in the area for 24 years and opened his own architecture firm in 2009.
He said: “The stone work is in poorer condition than they thought.
“It is partly that the building is made out of rag-stone that naturally deteriorates over time.
“We as an organisation have been badgering the council to do something about it, we’ve tried to make them aware of their obligations.
“It is not a building that they can sell off.”
The 24-acre cemetery is cherished by locals for its biodiversity and as a dog walking spot.
Dawn Reidy has visited and cared for the cemetery’s wildlife for over 23 years.
She said: “It’s one of the last untouched places left in Kilburn.
“Any other bit of greenery has more or less been built on, they’ve taken all that away.
“This is a little hidden gem you only knew about, if you knew about it.”
The cemetery is the famed resting place of Michael Bond, author of the Paddington Bear books, and Princess Omdutel Aurau Begum, who arrived in England from India in 1856 and is one of its earliest gravestones.
A sign on the fencing around the chapels states that work will take place in ‘Summer 2021’ to secure roof coping stones and kneeler stones.
Neither the phone number nor email address displayed for queries are reachable.
Lowe said: “It’s going to mean looking at Lottery-type funding to help with it, and the council would also put in a chunk of money themselves to get it going.
“We are working with them at the moment to try and get this underway.”
Reidy said: “It’s like they decide something isn’t worth the money and they won’t even go into a discussion about it.”
“It takes a hell of a lot of bashing your head against a wall before you’ll find someone in the council that shows an interest.
“As soon as you find someone you’re working alongside them for maybe a year and then they leave or move position and then you’re starting all over again.”
The two Gothic-style chapels are connected by carriage-porches and a central bellcote and were designed by Thomas Little, a Victorian architect, also responsible for one of London’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries.
The twin chapels hold special historical and architectural interest for their unusual design.
The western chapel is for Anglican worship while the eastern is nonconformist, in keeping with the cemetery’s position as one of London’s earliest civic cemeteries since its establishment in 1855.
Reidy and her sister Carmel live nearby and their parents are buried in the cemetery.
The pair say they have been fighting for the cemetery for years.
Reidy said: “The chapels need to be saved and the council could have addressed that years ago when things were a hell of a lot cheaper and they didn’t.”
Brent Council stated they are working closely with the Friends of Paddington Cemetery group and Heritage London to identify funding opportunities.
Councillor Krupa Sheth, Cabinet Member for Infrastructure, said: “We are maintaining the buildings but funding will allow for larger repairs and for there to be full use going forwards.”