St James the Great Churchyard Survey 2001-2002
After a year of surveying and recording all 750+ memorials in our graveyard we are now in a position to make the information available to all interested parties. What follows is a report not only about the listing of the grave details and ashes memorials, but a testimony to the collaborative efforts of almost 50 people who have made this historical document possible.
We have had a map of the memorials in our churchyard since Paul Jacobs described them in 1972 but we have failed to keep a comprehensive up-to-date record of all the inscriptions. Since 1990 we have also formed a Garden of Remembrance for the interment of ashes. The lack of a recent record was forcibly brought home to us early in 2001 when our assistant priest, Ali Walton, was asked to locate a grave so that a spouse could be buried with her husband. Despite many hours of fruitless reading of legible and illegible inscriptions by Ali, Roy Griggs (our diligent 'churchyard warden') and myself, we were unable to locate the named grave. A week later we were subsequently told by the undertakers "Sorry we've got the wrong graveyard - it should have been All Saints, Hockerill "! The Rector, Clive Slaughter's parting gesture was then to ask me, in my capacity as the church historian, to update the graveyard map.
I soon realised that this had wider implications than just drawing a map. A comprehensive survey of all existing memorials could not only be of use to the clergy and Roy Griggs but would also be useful to genealogists and other students of local history. I enlisted the help of Margaret Streets, in her capacity as a member of the St James Outreach Group, to help co-ordinate the project. During June 2001 we mapped the whole area into a manageable grid format by dividing the churchyard up into areas, rows and individual graves. This enabled us to allocate a unique reference number to the location of each grave or ashes.
In response to our request in the Sunday pew leaflet, we were gratified to receive 32 offers of help to transcribe complete details on headstones or memorials of ashes. The volunteers were supplied with up to 20 pro forma sheets with instructions as to where, what and how to record every detail. We gave handy hints regarding essential equipment - gardening gloves, a clipboard, two pencils etc. Advice was also proffered as to how to decipher difficult lettering such as wetting the stone, choosing an oblique light, using a tube to concentrate the light source or lightly dusting the stone with chalk. Readers were asked not to disturb the lichen but they were free to trim off weeds and nettles! The survey forms were then largely completed within the summer months. Steve Maddams undertook the unenviable task of mapping and recording the names for the 60+ ashes memorials located within the Garden of Remembrance. By referring to a draft map and records kept in the Parish Office, Steve was eventually able to locate and document every interment.
The next stage was to produce a format to preserve these records electronically. Kirsty Pettinger devised an Excel spreadsheet and then a further 10 members of our congregation volunteered to input the information on to pre-formatted discs. From the outset it was our intention to make all the information widely available on the Internet. The Chairman of the Friends of St James the Great, Philip Hargrave, who is also responsible for managing The Friends website, was involved from the beginning for advice as to the most accessible way to include all the survey results. As well as the written information, a computerised map was an essential requirement to enable researchers to locate individual plots from the Excel data. Again another friend of St. James' help was enlisted to devise a map format that enabled quick viewing and not too much computer memory. The database information and maps were then merged into a format for the website.
As the promoter and co-ordinator of this project I shall gladly take responsibility for rectifying mistakes and omissions in the survey data. Please let me have any details of corrections via firstname.lastname@example.org. It isour intention to update the database information annually
Return to Churchyard Monuments