Exploring Littlehempston Churchyard

On Saturday 13th April Jenny Galton-Fenzi led a fascinating walk round LH churchyard. The aim was to use LH History Archive material and local knowledge to give a deeper understanding of how the churchyard developed, and to point out some of the graves of former parishioners. LH burial records begin in Oct 1546, and it is clear that approximately 2000 parishioners are buried in the area of the churchyard, although only a small proportion of these have marked graves. Most people were too poor to afford a stone, and wooden crosses soon disintegrated.

Through photographs and historic remains, we investigated the site of the old lych-gate, church gates, the boundary of the early churchyard and heard about those buried here including Percy Cose, Rev Gower, Ted Farmer, John Reap and Mary Shinner, William Forster, former Rectors Harry Hubery Heap, Fitz Henry Hele, Dunstan Rundle and High Grismond Philips, the Cornishes and the Evans family, Charlie Peters, the Pole-Carews. We reflected on how quiet the village must have been and what a change the arrival of the railway would have brought to the village. Bells were an important means of communication at one time, and had many functions, including sounding the curfew (‘couvre-feu’ – when people had to extinguish their lamps and candles to avoid a night time fire) at night, and announcing deaths of parishioners. Men had nine strokes of the bell, women six and children three.  Hence the saying ‘Nine tailors (tellers) maketh a man.’ Sometimes the age of the deceased was also rung out after a pause.

Inside the church we looked at the two war memorials, the Cornish memorial over the main door and learnt why the floor of the sanctuary is tiled with sea cobbles and why there are certain gaps in the gravestones.  Jenny finished with an update on the Living Churchyard project. The churchyard is cut early and late to allow the astonishing variety of wildflowers and insects to flourish.  An insect log pile has been established to the rear of the yew tree, but needs more logs, if anyone has some to spare!  Efforts were made last year to remove ragwort from the churchyard, as it is poisonous to animals, however it appears to be coming back with a vengeance again.

Jenny concluded by reading the poem ‘Church Going’ by Philip Larkin, and everyone then enjoyed a hot cup of coffee, especially welcome as the weather was very wet! Many thanks, Jenny, for a splendid morning.

For a fuller account of the morning, read Getting to know Littlehempston churchyard in our History section. And if you want to know more about local history or the Living Churchyard project, contact Jenny Galton-Fenzi