Celebrating England's churchyards

30 Apr 2018

At The CCT we never forget to venture outside! As well as churches, we look after many beautiful and ecologically important churchyards.

In Gloucester, we approached Jonathan Bishop and his company Foliation to help maintain the churchyard surrounding St Oswald’s Tower in Lassington. Jonathan is both a Royal Horticultural Society advisor and Chelsea Flower Show Exhibitor. As well as experience in estate management, he has worked with many churches. His team either prepare a report and suggest a way forward, or work with a group directly. Their link with Lassington began with an inquiry for the churchyard to be used for wedding photographs. It was so overgrown that work on the site was urgently needed! Their role has been to maintain the churchyard and balance this with the needs of local wildlife. So far this year they have visited the site three times to check on progress.

Last year a different approach was taken at Mongewell, Oxfordshire. The Historic Church Community coordinator organised an afternoon of weeding and pruning in the partial ruin of St John the Baptist. Twelve people attended, including the Green Gym – an initiative started by The Conservation Volunteers which inspires people to improve their health and the environment at the same time. They deliver volunteering days for over 8,000 employees with various activities from land management to sowing wildflower meadows. Their first project was at Box Hill, Surrey, back in 1959. A group of 42 volunteers, including the famous botanist David Bellamy, cleared dogwood to encourage the growth of juniper and other chalk-land flora.

Our churchyards also boast some spectacular monuments. Those of St George’s in Portland, Dorset, tell tales of murder, piracy and adventure. There are inscriptions to Mary Way and William Lano, who were shot and killed in 1803 by a press gang. There is also a memorial to Joseph Trevitt, an assistant warder at Portland Prison, who was murdered by a convict in 1869.

St George's church in Portland, Dorset
St George's church, Portland, Dorset

Sometimes what makes our churchyards special is their setting. St Nicholas of Myra, Ozleworth, Gloucestershire, sits in a circular churchyard which could be part of a pre-Christian site. Monuments pay tribute to both wealthy neighbouring families and those who fell in The Great War. Another church with ancient foundations is St Andrew’s in Northover, Somerset. Built close to a large Roman cemetery, the mound on which the church stands has been excavated to reveal the possible foundations of a Saxon minster. There is also possible evidence of an earlier Christian/pagan temple.

Caring for God’s Acre is a Charity ‘dedicated to conserving and celebrating burial grounds and encouraging a holistic approach to management’. Saturday 9th to Sunday 17th June 2018 is Cherishing Churchyards Week and their website has information on activities available to download. This gives us all a reason to investigate, and indeed cherish, our own churchyards!

This article was originally published in the Spring 2018 issue of Pinnacle, The CCT's members' magazine. To join us as a member, click here.

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