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Sharpe churchyard practice leaves diocese perplexed

13 June 2014


IN A storyline that the late author Tom Sharpe would have relished, his ashes have been buried in an unorthodox ceremony on a windswept Northumberland hillside.

His interment in the cemetery of St Aidan's, a 12th-century church at Throckrington, north of Hexham, took place without the knowledge of the Rector, the Revd Michael Slade, or Newcastle diocesan officials. "This has caused tremendous concern among the parishioners," Mr Slade said.

Mr Sharpe's close companion, Señora Montserrat Verdaguer i Clavera, arrived on Tuesday of last week with a Spanish TV crew and the writer's funeral urn. Scooping out a hole with her hands, she placed the ashes alongside a bottle of whisky, a Cuban cigar, and the pen he used to write many of his bestsellers.

Then, on the grass, she put a picture of a young Sharpe with his father, the Revd George Sharpe, a Unitarian minister, taken when they lived in Throckrington in the 1940s. She also left a copy of his book The Throwback, which is set, in part, in Northumberland.

In a brief eulogy, she said: "In this ancient church in Northumberland, in which your father was buried, you will remain for eternity. In the middle of nowhere, in an empty place, surrounded by grass and sheep. Tom Sharpe, rest in peace for ever."

She marked the site with a card saying: "He made people laugh."

But church officials are concerned about the legality of her actions. "I would like to contact this lady so I can regularise the situation and reach a satisfactory conclusion," Mr Slade said. "If she had approached us, we would have considered it."

Not only did she not have permission, he said: the burial site potentially impinged on another grave, and there were fears that the partially buried urn would fall prey to foxes. Also, Mr Sharpe's father is not buried in the graveyard.

"We are not insulted, just disappointed," he said. "It is unfortunate. The diocese is as perplexed as we are."

The diocesan spokesman, Martin Sheppard, said: "The Archdeacon of Lindisfarne is talking to the Registrar, and he is talking to the Chancellor, and they hope to come up with some sort of a solution."

Mr Sharpe, the creator of the satirical dark humour of Blott on the Landscape and Wilt, died in June last year, aged 85, in Llanfranc, on the Costa Brava, where he shared a home with Señora Clavera. She said that his dying wish was to be buried in Throckrington.

The only other person present was Charlie Harrison, a local man who met Mr Sharpe when he visited the village 25 years ago. "Tom loved this area," he said. "He would come back at every opportunity, and had friends round this area. He was a wonderful guy, but I used to say he was a bit crazy. He had some funny ideas. He would have loved this."

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