THE work of a group of dedicated volunteers to restore Prudhoe’s oldest cemetery to its former glory has been recognised.

Prudhoe and District Local History Society won the award for best new project at last month’s Love Northumberland awards for its work to restore Prudhoe’s St Mary Magdalene Cemetery on the West Road.

The group, along with local volunteers, has been visiting the cemetery at least twice a week since March, weeding, clearing pathways, and even tracing family members of the deceased.

The cemetery was consecrated and opened in October 1870. It was the town’s main burial site, along with the Catholic Cemetery on Moor Road which opened in 1885, throughout the late Victorian period.

After the new Prudhoe cemetery opened at Edgewell in 1903, only those who had already bought plots or had pre-existing family graves there were buried in the old cemetery.

The aim, the group said, was to make the cemetery an open public space.

“It was like a jungle before; you couldn’t see the headstones,” explained Eddie Graham, a member of Prudhoe and District Local History Society.

Eddie’s wife, Dorothy Graham, a lollipop lady at the local school, had told him about her struggle to see traffic coming down the road because of the overgrown trees.

“I thought it was such a shame the place was an eyesore and a bit of an insult to the people buried here,” he said.

“I thought it must have been very frustrating for the families who couldn’t come to see the graves of their forefathers.

“I was introduced to Len, who had been trying to get some work done to sort this out for a long time.”

Len Franchetti, of the history society, said that the idea was discussed by the group around September last year and hands-on work began in March.

Now the hard work is beginning to bear fruit.

Headstones, laid down for safety reasons when the cemetery began to fall into disrepair, are being lifted back to their rightful places.

Footpaths have been re-instated and resurfacing has taked place, but the group said it still had a long way to go before it reached its ultimate goal.

It hoped to install seating and information boards and work with children and staff at Prudhoe West Academy next door to make it a place for the whole community.

Ray Moore, a Prudhoe resident with a keen interest in local history, has been doing research as the headstones are lifted, and discovered some interesting facts.

He found that around 3,000 people are buried in the graveyard, although only 500 to 600 of these are named on a headstone.

The first person believed to have been buried in the cemetery was a 15 month old boy in 1871.

While the latest burial recorded on a headstone was in August, 1955.

On top of his work volunteering in the cemetery, Len has been tracing family trees and tracking down surviving family members – some as far afield as Australia.

The group is encouraging anyone with a few spare hours a week to help with their efforts.

Volunteers can visit the site on a Wednesday or Friday morning, to talk to the team, or take a look at the exhibition in Prudhoe Library.

The £250 awarded from Love Northumberland will be used for resources to continue its work.