1

David McLaughlin on the trials and tribulations of restoring neglected churchyards.

Restoring neglected churchyards is a balancing act. To my mind it is a question of balancing apparent pleasing decay against the need for intervention and repair.
I like the idea of pleasing decay: something perhaps a bit worn or faded, headstones at different angles, chest tombs and urns amongst trees and shrubbery. But I don’t like the manicured scrubbed look with stones removed to give way to acres of lawn. I don’t like fractured stones on chest tombs inviting vandalism. I don’t like roots fracturing memorials. I don’t like to see cement mortar packed into joints in the hope of effecting a repair. I love the idea of the churchyard as a special place a place set apart from the everyday whirl and hubbub of things today, a place that is a spiritual place, a holy place.

THORPE -LE-SOKEN, ESSEX
The Reverend Brian Shannon, the parish priest of St. Michael’s Church, Thorpe-IeSoken, Essex, has prepared an excellent guide to the churchyard of his own parish church. Entitled A journey of discovery, the eight sided brochure sets Out tO help the visitor in “Making your own discoveries”:
The vision of this guide is to encourage you to look with new interest at the history and wonder around you, and to take time to browse and make discoveries of your own.
The guide records ‘milestones of history’ and clearly reminds the reader that
The churchyard belongs to the community. It honours the dead, reminds the living, and surrounds a living place of workshop where prayer is offered day by day, creating a spiritual atmosphere at the heart of the village.
The churchyard is divided into numbered sections so that it may be cared for by volunteers who also participated in a group project to record the churchyard and in doing so explored the village’s history.
Even the Book of Remembrance within the church itself has been enhanced by this refreshing approach to history. Here the names of the dead are recorded on the right hand page while historical events both within and outside the parish are recorded on the left hand page.
To quote Thorpe-le-Soken’s ‘Journey of discovery’,
The trees in the churchyard are magnificent and even when they fall down, the stumps are full of interest.

In its own way, the churchyard is something of a nature preserve with its wild plants and birds and offers that precious gift of peace.

HIGHGATE CEMETERY
On a completely different scale, the work of the Highgate Cemetery Trust and the Friends of Highgate Cemetery (FOHC) deserves real study. I can only introduce this project to those of you to whom it is unfamiliar and strongly recommend you visit it on an open day.
Excellent publications (Highgate Cemetery, FOHC, 1978; and Highgate Cen2- etely: Victorian Valhall, Felix Barker and John Gay, John Murray, 1984) record both the Cemetery itself and the work of restoring it. Jenny Cox’s landscape study is the working document for the FOHC and Martin Caroe has prepared a feasibility study for the future of the cemetery. The objects of the Highgate Cemetery Trust are:
to promote for the benefit of the public as an environmental amenity the conservation of the cemetery, its monuments, buildings, wild life, and the natural beauty of its setting and to secure the repair, restoration and preservation of the Cemetery by aiding the carrying out of works.
The cemetery relied on its beauty and the unusual to succeed over its rival. Family vaults along the Egyptian Avenue costing 130 guineas were approached under a great Egyptian arch flanked by obelisks. This avenue led in turn to the more exclusive Circle of Lebanon where tombs cost 200 guineas.


TROWBPJDGE, WILTSHIRE
Still involving voluntary effort, but on a much smaller scale, the repair of the Kingdom and Hastings Mausoleum in Trowbridge Cemetery was a joint effort between the then newly formed Trowbridge Civic Society and the Avon Group of the Victorian Society.
The Grade II listed mausoleum was in danger of demolition as a dangerous structure by West Wiltshire District Council.
Large areas of stonework had fallen away. Anxious to oppose the demolition of the structure, the Civic Society approached the Victorian Society for help and advice. This was the beginning of my own involvement, and several hours sorting through fallen masonry (cutting my way through brambles with secateurs) showed that most, if not all, of the stonework was still there.
What was needed now was to convince the local authority that the structure could be repaired and made safe and, in this case, at little or no cost to the local authority. To help in this I prepared a step-by-step drawing showing how the jigsaw of fallen stonework could be re-assembled and indicating the need to rebuild certain areas of retaining walls and incorporate land drains.
Several local factors led to a delay in starting work on site. This almost caused the local authority to lose patience with the professed good intentions of the Civic Society to do the works, as no work had actually started on site. Thankfully, the work did go ahead and a band of enthusiastic and very hardworking volunteers of the Civic Society gave nearly a year of weekends to complete the job.

BATH
Bath has some 66 churches and chapels of which 41 are listed: 53 churches and chapels are in the Bath Conservation Area (which covers approximately two-thirds of the City
1915 hectares): 38 listed churches and chapels are in the conservation area. Of this last group, seven are no longer in ecclesiastical use. In addition, Bath has 20 cemetery chapels and lodges of which seven are listed and 15 are in the conservation area.
The City Council, in partnership with English Heritage, is about to embark on a review of Bath’s listed buildings. While
CONSE CRATED VEGETATION
CONTEXT 28
17

1