Saturday, 3 March 2012

Taphophile in 1896

" This unpretentious work makes no claim to deal with the whole subject which it has presumed to open. Its aim is rather to promote in others the desire which actuates the author to follow up and develop the new field of antiquarian research which it has attempted to introduce. As old Weever says, in his quaint style:—"I have gained as much as I have looke for if I shall draw others into this argument whose inquisitive diligence and learning may finde out more and amende mine."

This book, then, is not a treatise, but simply a first collection of churchyard curiosities, the greater number of which have been gathered within a comparatively small radius. It is only the hoard of one collector and the contents of one sketch-book, all gleaned in about a hundred parishes. Many collectors may multiply by thousands these results, bring out fresh features, and possibly points of high importance.

Two chief purposes therefore animate my desire to publish this work. One is to supply such little information as I have gleaned on a subject which has by some singular chance escaped especial recognition from all the multitude of authors, antiquarians, and literary men. I have searched the Museum libraries, and consulted book-collectors, well-read archaeologists, and others likely to know if there is any work descriptive of old gravestones in existence, and nothing with the remotest relation thereto can I discover There are, of course, hundreds of books of epitaphs, more or less apocryphal, but not one book, apocryphal or otherwise, regarding the allegories of the churchyard. Can it be that the subject is bereft of interest? If so, I have made my venture in vain. But I trust that it is not so.

The second object is to recommend to others a new and delightful hobby, and possibly bring to bear upon my theme an accumulation of knowledge and combination of light. Gravestone hunting implies long walks in rural scenes, with all the expectations, none of the risks, and few of the disappointments of other pursuits. From ten to fifteen miles may be mapped out for a fair day's trudge, and will probably embrace from three to six parish churchyards, allowing time to inspect the church as well as its surroundings. Saturdays are best for these excursions, for then the pew-openers are dusting out the church, and the sexton is usually about, sweeping the paths or cutting the grass. The church door will in most cases be open, and you can get the guidance you want from the best possible sources. A chat with the village sexton is seldom uninviting, and he can generally point out everything worth your observation. But the faculty of finding that of which you are in search  will soon come to you. In the first place, the new portion of a churchyard—there is nearly always a new portion—may be left on one side. You will certainly find no ancient memorials there. In the next place, you may by a little observation pick out the eighteenth-century stones by their shape, which is as a rule much more ornamented and curvilinear than those of later date. They may also be detected very often by the roughness of their backs as well as by their weather-beaten complexions, and with a little experience and practice the student may guess correctly within a few years the age of any particular one seen even in the distance.

To tempt the reader therefore to take up the study which I have found so pleasant, so healthful, and so interesting, I now propose to place in order the proceeds of a few of my rambles, and shew how much success the reader may also expect in similar expeditions. His or her stock-in-trade should consist of a good-sized note-book or sketch-book of paper not too rough for fine lines, a B B pencil of reliable quality, and a small piece of sandstone or brick to be used in rubbing off the dirt and moss which sometimes obscure inscriptions. No kind of scraper should ever be employed, lest the crumbling memorial be damaged; but a bit of brick or soft stone will do no harm, and will often bring to view letters and figures which have apparently quite disappeared. If a camera be taken, a carpenter's pencil may be of service in strengthening half-vanished lines, and a folded foot-rule should always be in the pocket. A mariner's compass is sometimes useful in strange places, but the eastward position of a church will always give the bearings, and a native is usually to be found to point the way.

A road map of the county which you are about to explore, or, if in the vicinity of London, one of those admirable and well-known handbooks of the field paths, is useful, and the journey should be carefully plotted out before the start. A friend and companion of congenial tastes adds, I need not say, to the enjoyment of the excursion. My constant associate has happily a craze for epitaphs, but does not fancy sketching even in the rough style which answers well enough for my work, and I have had therefore no competitor. Together we have scoured all the northern part of Kent and visited every Kentish church within twenty miles of London. The railway also will occasionally land us near some old church which we may like to visit, and it was while waiting half an hour for a train at Blackheath station that I picked up the accompanying choice specimen in the ancient burial-ground of Lee."


With One Hundred and Two Illustrations  BY W. T. VINCENT

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