Our churchyard project is slightly unusual in that the ‘new’ church is 400m away and the normal link was not as strong as might be expected. It dates from 1660, is 2.2 acres and has 11,200 burials recorded. Part is ‘closed’ and the grass cut by the Council, part is mainly mid Victorian through to 1970 and there is a small part where burials take place. These latter two parts were completely overgrown with brambles and rose bay willow herb with barely a path through. We began as a Friends Group – voluntary & secular – with loose links with the PCC about 4 years ago, made limited progress early on through lack of tools but have cleared the site improving access, photographed & recorded all grave memorials, provided benches and information boards. We are almost at the maintenance stage which we will manage by monthly working parties and some paid help.
Working in a partnership: Over the life of the project, we have developed relationships with a range of organisations & groups. The PCC with regular items in the PCC and an annual concert in the church to raise our funds, Councillors and officers – we have discussed our needs with the departments and received good support, Friends of Friendless Churches who own the iconic tower all that remains of the ‘old’ church and established a group of Friends some of whom support us at working parties and others who show an interest (& give encouragement) in our work. A local farmer cuts the grass in the new burial area with his gang mower. Feedback from the local community has been very strong and there is a sense of greater respect for the churchyard.
Where we started: We decided that we would make most early impact by improving the paths. Very heavy cutting & weeding brought these back in to general use (the main paths are now cut by the Council under a small additional contract. Then the tree cover was tackled including removal of established saplings. From then on, if not easy our local community could see that things were happening.
Getting to grips with grass cutting machines: As indicated we had a very large overgrown area to deal with and had decided that we would not use weedkiller. It was a major challenge. A petrol strimmer was a start and is still very much an essential tool. Using HLF funding and a small grant from the local council, we bought a heavy duty Viking 3 wheeled rotary mower and, the revelation for us, a Grillo wheeled strimmer which cuts through almost anything and is very manoeuvrable.
We soon realised that using volunteers at monthly working parties would not enable us to make continuous progress especially in the growing season. We were fortunate that one of our volunteers had some spare time and was willing to do paid work cutting grass carefully & weeding around grave memorials so that they could be photographed & recorded.
Website: We put in our bid that we wanted a website and assumed that we would require a very basic standard type. By chance, when we started talking to a website designer, we began to be more ambitious and he created for us a searchable database based on everything that we were finding out about those buried in our churchyard plus those mentioned on headstones. The cost increased by about 60% above our bid estimate but, with a saving elsewhere, HLF approved the additional costs. Do have a look www.lightcliffechurchyard.org.uk and test by putting a couple of names as burial searches – try Fred Booth for example. What has been very satisfying is the way that this has generated interest in family research from this country and across the world.
Recording and photographing burials was always our intention but when we started we had no idea how many memorials we had as many were overgrown or partially buried under turf. We used a format suggested by Gravestones Photographic Resources and submit our photos to them. However we still find the need to source directly specific photos when these are asked for. All of this information is co-ordinated on a database which started off as extracts from the church burial records going back to 1715 and augmented by ledger stone inscriptions back to 1660.
Restoration of some key memorials: One of our first aims was to clear and then restore any memorials commemorating those lost in WW1 (restoration done in co-operation with the Council team at a good rate as part of our original plan) this led to a member researching those soldiers and writing up their family histories which are then posted on the website. This is expanding to include other local families.
Faculties: gaining permission from the Diocese came as a big surprise to those on the Committee with no previous experiences. Though we fully understood the need for the Diocese to have overall control, a requirement to gain permission to restore memorials to their original condition was surprising. If we were starting again, I think that we would try to predict where these Faculties were to be needed and apply well ahead where possible.
Creating the walking tours and information leaflets: We had intended to produce information leaflets but soon recognised the problems of display & storage. With no building other than a locked tower we had nowhere for either. We decided (& gained immediate HLF agreement) to substitute posts carrying QR codes. These codes relate back to a virtual tour on the website. We’ve even seen young people using them.
Recruiting a poet in residence: Pure luck. A local historian and poet suggested that we might like a poet in residence. Early days but his first poem has drawn interest.
We are very happy to share our experiences in more detail on an individual basis. Please contact us either through this space or our website.