Job is far from being completed
HOW very nice to see Fay Bittner's name at the end of a letter about Arnos Vale (The Post October 17). We had not heard from her since she left the committee early in 1995, and in spite of repeated attempts to contact her by the then membership secretary following her formal resignation at the AGM that year, sadly she did not keep in touch with APAC as we were called then and we have often wondered what became of her.
Although I joined APAC in 1987 as soon as it was founded, I cannot comment on the role of Peter Brain as founder chairman as I did not join the committee until 1989, and I don't recall ever having met him although he must have been at that now famous first open meeting.
However, I do know that he and Mary Wood (another founder committee member and now a Trustee of Arnos Vale) produced an excellent and valuable landscape management plan, which was much respected and referred to down the years.
Peter Harding was the chairman in 1989 until cemetery owner Tony Towner's behaviour forced him reluctantly to stand down. Les Owen took the chair in 1990 but suffered a stroke in 1992 and asked my late husband, Richard, to take over from him. Richard chaired and steered APAC to become the Friends of Arnos Vale and to enormously broaden the campaign to include not only the landscape but also Arnos Vale Cemetery as a whole. In those few early years no-one could have dreamt of such a radical change of ownership via Bristol City Council's CPO, or millions of pounds being hard won in order to restore this nearly-lost treasure so that visitors could once again enjoy a unique oasis of quiet and respect, just as they did in Victorian times.
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The current Friends' Committee recently made vigorous efforts to encourage the campaigners of the early years to come forward before our 25th Anniversary Celebrations and share their memories with us and I know there were many of them then. We were all sad that they had lost touch, but only a very few stayed the course, even as members only. In fact the membership became one of the greatest strengths of the campaign and grew steadily down the years. Had Ms Bittner come along to our celebratory day on 7 October, she would have seen that the very first APAC Newsletter was on display and available for visitors to take away with them, particularly as Peter Brain was its editor and she and Mary Wood wrote contributory articles. So you see, we have not forgotten those early times! Hopefully people will come forward and talk to Felicia Smith and take part in the Oral History Project (The Post – October 10, 2012).
Many people have made tremendous contributions in many ways towards saving the cemetery. None of them are ever forgotten or overlooked I can assure them. From our little old lady with her handbag, through setting up the Arnos Vale Conservation Area, Arthur Usher who must have walked hundreds of miles to save the cost of a stamp, the Arnos Vale Army keeping a vigil at the gates and organising the walk to the Council House and the lady who, for 11 long years, opened and closed the gates every single day, mostly on her own, and of course the superb support of The Post, they are all there to share the credit and know that they are part of a successful campaign.
Arnos Vale may have been saved, but it is certainly not safe and much work continues to raise sufficient funds to take it into a successful future, so the job is a long way from being over. Ms Bittner records her gratitude to Richard and myself for finishing the job they started. If only it had been that easy.
Joyce Smith MBE
Friends of Arnos Vale Cemetery