Updated: Sep 22, 2020
On September 22nd 2020, Freddie Young will celebrate his 50th anniversary at Lambeth Bereavement Services.
Starting in 1970 at 19 years old as a gravedigger, his job title has since evolved to Crematorium Technician, but the value of his work to the Cemetery’s grounds and the people of the Borough has remained consistent over the half century. He is one of Lambeth’s foremost unsung heroes.
Freddie sits cross-armed under the filtered light of the Cemetery’s trees.
“When I started over there, you didn’t have no mowers, the only people who had mowers were the gardeners… everyone else had a hook and scythe.”
Freddie has worked on-site in hands-on, manual roles his whole life. He began at Lambeth in the early 70s, given the job at the recommendation of his uncle, who worked there as a gravedigger at the time.
“I was thrown in the deep-end,” he attests, speaking about being put in the specialist position in the crematorium before even his superiors, and recalling the system of hand-digging each grave in pairs.
Immediately before this, he worked the contract for American oil tycoon Robert P. McCalloch, taking down and preparing the old London Bridge for shipment.
Although offered a permanent position at the agency, 19 year old Freddie refused: “I’m getting further and further away from home”.
Soon after, he found himself in front of the superintendent.
“I went in the office, spoke to the superintendent for Lambeth at the time, he said, "When can you start?" I said, "When... d'you want me?" He said, "Can you start Monday?" I said, "Yeah." And as I say, I've been here ever since.”
Freddie’s professional duties have remained much the same throughout his career at Lambeth; “grass cutting… emptying the bins.. General maintenance on the… cremator,” but a significant portion of his role and duties is still very much about day-to-day kindnesses.
"I think that's why I like it…. You're out in the open all day, you meet different people, you're sort of a shoulder to cry on… and they go away happy."
Freddie has been responsible for putting the loved ones of countless Lambeth families to rest, and has held countless hands through the grieving process.
"I still see what's left of the families," he says.
Freddie recalls an 85 year old woman whose husband he cremated telling him, "I don't want you to go until I'm gone… I'm not gonna trust anyone else to cremate me."
Freddie even met his wife in the cemetery.
Laughing, he talks about their first date; "I go into the living room, her dad's there and her brother's there… They both worked over there… I used to go drinking with them, Tuesdays and Fridays on a dinner time. I couldn't believe it. I didn't have a clue!"
One could say his whole adult life has blossomed in and around Lambeth.
Not too long after their marriage, he and his wife moved themselves and their children on-grounds into the foreman's lodge.
"Well, as I say, I'm still there," he laughs.
Freddie's connection to the actual cemetery grounds is as undeniable as his connection to the people. "It's as peaceful as anything here."
Beyond simply maintaining and care-taking, Freddie has been responsible for significant landscaping and revitalising efforts.
Many of its trees and greenery have been personally planted and nursed by him, and he has even used pieces from his own garden to beautify certain nooks and crannies.
Explaining, he says, "You know it is like, oh, we've come here years ago and it was all unkempt... I said ' Well, you know, we'll be loosing staff we're not replacing anybody'... We do our best for everybody."
Freddie's place in Lambeth Cemetery and Crematorium remains more than invaluable; he will be sincerely missed both within the staff and without the broader community. His retirement will finalise with a bang on New Year's Eve of this year, which will also be his 70th birthday.