This Thursday’s post is graciously contributed by designer and friend of the Cemetery Club, Stephen Roberts.
If I may, I’d like to throw a kink in the regular posting to explore a different kind of cemetery, one of a more impromptu nature. It’s only natural when talking of improvised cemeteries to conjure up lurid images of the dead piled high in unmarked, mass-graves constructed of wartime necessity, but in this case the cadavers in question are not ones of fallen people, but instead of broken skateboards.
A regular pedestrian, making routes through the quirks of my home town of London, I always take a moment to peer over the railings of Hungerford bridge’s south-side platform – affectionately dubbed the ‘Skateboard Graveyard’. I recently visited the graveyard with Sheldon to see, strewn below, the remnants of skateboards who have met their end, not a stone’s throw away at Southbank Centre’s skate park.
If you’ve ever known/been a skater you’ll understand just how much devotion skaters feel for their craft, and how much time they spend with their beloved boards under their feet - too often, flying from underneath them, as is the case with my own failed attempts at remaining vertical on one. I like to think that the use of ‘graveyard’ (as opposed to ‘cemetery’) serves to appropriate some sort of spiritual significance, elevating the idea of the Southbank Skate Park to a status akin to a church, worthy of its place within the minds of proponents of the skating subculture.
The undercroft which houses the park was inherited in the 70s by London’s skating community. It emerged before the Southbank Centre’s redevelopment and existed as a sort of industrial wasteland, laid claim to by those oppressed by the authorities of urban planning – namely: skaters and the homeless. Its 40 years as a skating mainstay on London’s riverside can be felt in the time-faded graffiti which decorates the walls of its church, and also in the weathering of its memorial gravestones – if you’ll pardon the contrived metaphor!
The Skateboard Graveyard’s history plausibly began in 1999 with the brutal murder of Timothy Baxter, a 24 year old university graduate and skater who was killed in in a vicious attack on the bridge by 6 teenagers. It is known that his board was thrown from the bridge shortly before he himself was. This seems however to be a widely forgotten attack and it is unknown as to whether his board (if it did indeed land on the platform) was followed by others as tributes from fellow boarders. It is certainly a graveyard with rich local history, sociocultural importance, and like many others, has even seen it’s fair share of desecration.
Obituaries of the individual boards (yes, you read correctly!) can be mourned and contributed online via a site which is designed to ‘commemorate the “lives” and “deaths” of the skateboards and is designed to change and adapt as the graveyard does’.
I write about this graveyard not only to remember an outlier within the very definition of a cemetery, but also because at this point in time, its future is at a turning point. The ongoing gentrification of the south-bank strip has resulted in a proposal to relocate the skate park away from the current site. This evocative proposal has been met with strong opposition from many regular users of the space, and just days ago has inspired rallying and petitioning to save it in its current form.
It does at first glance seem a deep irony that this culturally important landmark would be destroyed only to be replaced by the Festival Wing – the proposed entrance to the renovated cultural events and arts institution. However, the Southbank Centre’s director Mike McCart highlights the importance of commercialising this particularly valuable location to generate funds for the centre’s future developments, necessitating its relocation.
Should the proposal come to fruition it is possible that boarders will no longer process their loved ones to their final resting place at Hungerford Bridge and the Skateboard Graveyard may cease to exist as we know it. If you’re out and about in London, spare a trip to the Skateboard Graveyard for it may not be there much longer!