THERE was an outcry this week as headstones in the grounds of Ripon Cathedral were laid flat for reasons of health and safety.
Contractors began work on Tuesday morning, using an excavator to uproot headstones, some of them more than 100 years old.
The work has drawn an angry response from residents whose homes overlook the graveyard with one neighbour describing it as a 'knee-jerk reaction'.
Claire Slee, of High St Agnesgate, said: "When I was at school, and an archaeology student at university, we used gravestones and their inscriptions as a record of local history – is this all to be lost?
"I do realise that there have been incidents in the past, and whilst these were very sad and tragic events for all involved, I firmly believe they were accidents.
"In today's society we are increasingly led to believe that every little single thing that happens is someone's fault or responsibility, whereas some things are simply accidents."
Miss Slee added: "The flattening of the headstones is a knee-jerk reaction to something that might happen, although with my knowledge of the graveyard I really wouldn't have described any of the headstones that were uprooted as dangerous or unstable at all. If they were, why waste the money hiring a JCB and operators?"
Another resident said: "There is so much heritage in this country and it's being ruined.
"This country is becoming the laughing stock of the world because people just sit back and let things happen."
But cathedral administrator, Canon Ian Horsford stressed that the headstones had been laid down face up with 'decorum and dignity' and said the lifting equipment was needed to protect contractors carrying out the work
"There are some gravestones which are extremely dangerous and with the slightest push will kill or injure someone," he said.
"We feel on the grounds of health and safety those headstones which are in imminent danger of falling down are being laid flat.
"We are going to do a survey on all the headstones to see which will become unsafe and will contact relatives through the local press to ask their permission."
Canon Horsford added the decision to carry out the work was made by the cathedral and the cost will be met by cathedral funds.
"It's very sad but not uncommon. We tried to protect them and make them safe, but we have reached a stage where they must be lifted and laid down," he said.