Sunday, 21 August 2011

North Pickenham - Saint Andrew

"Entrance to the vault"
© Godric Godricson
 The parish Church is a rather sad looking exterior. The predictable result of Victorian re-modelling. There is an enigmatic stone cut sign on the north side which reads “Entrance to the vault” and one can only imagine what is in the vault. I imagine this is the ossuary from the ancient building at North Pickenham.

The recent works in the Church meant that the floor was partially dug up and this lead to the grisly sight of small pieces of bone being deposited on the wall as men wheelbarrowed spoil to a skip outside. 800 years or so of intramural inhumation (burials in Churches) means that there is probably a large amount of disarticulated bone in the building either under the floor  or in the backfill of various works.

The "garden shed" at Saint Andrew
© Godric Godricson
 Outside, the cemetery is rather dire although still in use with burials taking place. The monuments are not special and speak of a sort of ‘normal’ experience whereby people are born, they live and they die. Largely without memorials, the people of North Pickenham are laid to rest regularly and without fuss. When the sandstone memorials break they are placed around the wall although there is none of the mass cemetery clearances seen in other parishes.

Coffin shaped monument
covered in grass clippings
© Godric Godricson

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Litcham - All Saints

Litcham - All Saints
© Godric Godricson

Some time ago I came across the parish of All Saints in Litcham on a drive around the County of Norfolk. The village is pretty but in many ways it is unremarkable and no more or less than many other Norfolk towns and villages. However, the parish Church has wonderful brick lined graves  that represent many similar tombs around East Anglia. The graveyard is clearly of great antiquity and a dedication of the Church  to “All Saints” means that the Church is ancient. The photograph is interesting because we find two brick lined graves that are in effect giving way and succumbing to the effects of antiquity, poor workmanship and the probable effects of soil that is too soft for such structures against the base of a Church wall.

The inhabitants of the graves are less important than the narrative of their position . We have two brick lined  tombs capped by a rough ledger stone and separated by a sandstone stele of 1822.  The three hang together in a drunken fashion and are emblematic of the strange companions found in cemeteries.

The occupants of the brick tombs are clearly a ‘cut above the rest’ when it comes to burials. They are separated from the cold soil in their wait for immortality by the thickness of the brick lining and their wooden coffins. Although they were not able to afford a better quality ledger stone. In this example, we have a fairly rough sandstone ledger rather than a finer polished stone of “Tournai marble” from Belgium. Such marble is found in East Anglia and when seen in ‘intramural inhumation’ is a sign of wealth and privilege. Often with wonderful Momenti Mori the high polish of this black stone gives an elegance to the burial.  Momenti Mori are seen around the world and  we see that they stand as a warning and as an example that we should take from history.

The tombs in the cemetery at Litcham are elegant in their simplicity and speak  of people in the village who had some resources, even if they didn’t have as much as those who could afford to be buried inside. The tombs are  beginning the long descent into dereliction and decay and one wonders how long this burial will survive as the voids underneath may begin to undermine the structure of the Church itself.

Momenti Mori Necton Parish Church
© Godric Godricson

A link to a story about the searce for a brick lined family grave in Cambridge see this link

Thursday, 18 August 2011

North Walsham - The quick and the dead

House and shop
encroach on the
© Godric Godricson

There is something very urban in nature about the ways in which cemeteries (set aside for the dead) are  paradoxically sometimes close to the places where we live and shop. Europe has many experiences of  spaces originally occupied by the dead becoming colonised  and encroached upon by the living. This juxtapositioning is nothing new and we can see examples throughout the ages and across the continent.

The most apparent problem for cemeteries is the way they are ‘nibbled away’ by growing populations and the development of towns. Cemeteries are sometimes reduced in size by road widening, the development of railways and by the re-modelling of Church buildings themselves. Cemeteries are always seen as being a resting place for eternity although the idea of eternity changes all the time.

The living move into the cemetery
© Godric Godricson

So, how do we find the places where the living now encroach on the dead? Well, there is archive based research and the well designed archives in Norwich have a splendid collection of papers relating to the parish Churches in the County. It is possible to trace the changing shape of cemeteries whereby parish cemeteries have grown by the acquisition of new land. This growth of cemeteries happens most often in the 18th and 19th Centuries. The story of cemetery growth in London is expanded on and developed in an excellent web site on cemeteries and the experience of London  In this site we can see an exploration of the urban experience in which the living encroach on the dead. The article relating to St. Martin’s le Grand and the finding of ‘lost tombs’ is a metaphor for the experience of town dwellers and their relationship with the dead and cemeteries. This site goes on to describe the growth and expansion of the living……..

Three years later, the cemetery was consecrated by Beilby Porteous, the Bishop of London. But its life was not a peaceful one: someone always had their eyes on this desirable bit of land. In 1817, permission was granted to build almshouses on an unused part of the ground: these survive to this day. In 1854, further permission was granted for development on the site, including demolition of the existing buildings.”

Clearly, urban communities have always ebbed and flowed in size and design and although London as a capital city is not typical;  it is an excellent example of the means by which cemeteries have developed. London is an example of how cemeteries change their shape and change their function within the town. Equally, it is clear from London’s experience that cemeteries may also disappear from the landscape of the town and be covered up by later development.

Whilst the experience of London gives a clear example of how cemeteries are eclipsed by later urban development we can also see how smaller towns also have a similar experience and response to change and development.

The living ignore the dead
© Godric Godricson

Even Saint Nicholas Church  which sits at the heart of the original Saxon town of North Walsham has an experience of change. From an early date,  houses and shops moved onto the original cemetery site and took up residence. The town hemmed the Church into its current space and then proved to be a greedy neighbour. Doors opened to the rear of properties onto the cemetery and the living used the consecrated space. Pathways were cut across the cemetery as one side of the town connected itself with the other. Eventually, the headstones themselves were destroyed or removed and cleared away by the ever eager Anglican Authorities who are always  ready to turn their cemetery into an 'easy-care' parkland. The Authorities have been so ruthless that this urban park is totally clear of memorials on one side of the building and on the other side the memorials are neatly laid out and used as regimented boundary markers.  The memorials are separated from the original burial and any meaningful narrative is destroyed.

The shops in the small town have taken over from small houses and the properties, often one room wide,  creep into the Church yard presumably with the permission of the Authorities in the 17th Century and before that. The former Authorities connived at this ‘encroachment’ and witnessed the confrontation of the living and the dead.

Young couples recline on the roughly cut grass on hot sunny days in the shadow of the ruined tower as if they were in a Victorian municipal park and yet under their feet are a thousand years of burials. The cemetery forms little more than an urban open space. The development of a soulless concrete shopping precinct to one side of the cemetery only makes the situation worse as the concrete and steel of the new development hems the cemetery into its place without sympathetically reflecting the original purpose of the site or referencing the departed that lay in repose so close by.

Up to the kitchen wall
© Godric Godricson

The experience of North Walsham is not unique and has many of the dynamics seen in other urban cemeteries. There is probably folly, greed and desperation forming  human decision making relating to the cemetery and it has to be acknowledged that contemporary Church Authorities do at least ensure that the Church is open during the day and that the Church is open to receive visitors.

In North Walsham,  we can see the living and dead sharing an intimate geographical place. Even if the departed are forgotten as individuals and ancestors; they cannot be ignored completely  as they cling onto their place within the town environment and their own limited share in immortality.

South Pickenham - All Saints

The Porch South Pickenham
© Godric Godricson

South Pickenham is a wonderful parish church built of flint and rubble and it is part of a fine Norfolk village.  The village itself has  reduced in size over the past thousand years and is little more than a collection of  cottages and the 'big house' built in the Edwardian period.  The church itself sits on a cross road as the small country road  starts to rise away from the village centre.  The round Tower marking the Church out as a site of special historical interest.  I haven't been to a service taken at South Pickenham but I can't imagine many people go to the services in the church.  It is just too far away from Swaffham or other local towns to attract people.

The moderately sized churchyard is entered through an inconspicuous country gate which leads from the road to the 18th-century porch and on into the Church proper.  With particular interest to graveyard monuments it is interesting how the levels of the cemetery have risen to the point where the path is probably at least 12 inches below the general level of the modern surface in some places.  Even with smaller contemporary populations of people living in the village we can see that continuous burials over a thousand years can lead to the surface level changing overtime.  The grass that covers the cemetery is fairly rough and quite clearly does not receive a lot of attention.  This is a churchyard that is rural and traditional in nature and bears none of the hallmarks of a manicured exterior.  There is a seat on the south side of the Church and it is marvellous to sit there on a bright and sunny day to reflect on the nature of the building and of the place.  It is good to pray for the dead and  to wonder what it was like to live in South Pickenham.

Some of the Putti surviving
at South Pickenham
© Godric Godricson

The memorials in the cemetery are varied and cover at least a 200 year period. We find the usual sandstone stele with putti in full flight looking down on the occupant and this seems to be the starting point of this cemetery in terms of memorials.  Everything that went before has either been removed or has returned to the land  with nothing of note from an earlier period.  Wooden monuments, if they were evident,  are no longer present and there is no noble family living in the village to make its mark in terms of memorials.  So, sandstone monuments are the beginning for South Pickenham in terms of memorials.  Before that time it is as if the people themselves did not exist and their passing has been forgotten.

Concrete utilitarianism
© Godric Godricson

Subsequent to the sandstone memorials, so popular in Norfolk, we find a few Victorian monuments before they themselves yield to the hard concrete crosses that became popular in the early part of the 20th century.  Often without ornament or adornment in any way;  the hard concrete is stark and impervious in both nature and conceptualisation. 

Utilitarian design and function surged forecfully into this cemetery and swept away all the joy  found in earlier sandstone and in the process destroyed evidence of a belief in the Providential God.  Strangely enough here at South Pickenham we do find two large memorials from the early 20th century that are imposing and speak of an almost Stalinist determination for immortality.


Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Sophia Ann Goddard - Died Norwich 1801

"This Stone is dedicated to the Talents and Virtues of Sophia Ann Goddard, who died 25 March 1801 aged 25. The Former shone with superior Lustre and Effect in the great School of Morals, the THEATRE, while the Latter inform’d the private Circle of Life with Sentiment, Taste, and Manners that still live in the Memory of Friendship and Affection".