One thing I rarely saw in South Africa were graves in the grounds of a local church. I do know they exist but I just never saw an actual churchyard before. When I arrived in the UK it was a different thing altogether because many of the churches in the area where I live are older than Johannesburg. What often happens is that the churches remove the headstones and stack them along the walls around the church and the churchyard then becomes an impromptu park. St Mary Magdalen up in Bermondsey was technically my first churchyard although it was seemingly sparsely populated with graves. The next churchyard I saw was in St Mary’s Church in Lewisham, and it was really magnificent.
There has been a church on this site for over 100 years, and the current churchyard was full by 1856. To say that there is a lot of history here would be an understatement. Part of the churchyard was closed by a fence so I could not explore it, but what I saw around me was enough to satisfy even the most curious taphophile.
An interesting information plate gave me some information about some of the headstones I was liable to encounter, and I will try to provide an example of each one.
The Chest Tomb:
Late 18th Century, early 19th Century. Constructed of stone with decorative side pieces with names of the deceased inscribed on the top or side. This particular example is from the Blackshaw family and the legible date is 1854. Contrary to popular belief, the coffin is not inside the chest, but underground.
The Obelisk Type.
I believe this particular stone is that of Ebenezer Blackwell. (1731-1782)
Head Stone, Body Stone, and Foot Stone
18th and 19th Century, often the Body Stone is brick, and the earliest in this churchyard is from 1702.
Cheaper than the chest tomb, the sides were made of brick with an inscribed stone top. In St Mary’s many of these flat stones are illegible through weathering and moss build ups.
Early 18th Century, with the earliest in the churchyard dated at 1707. Members of the Green and Biggs family, most legible date is 1843.
This particular headstone comes from Kennington, and is dated 1831, although there is a 1763 specimen at St Mary’s. Overall though it is a beautiful churchyard, and I regret not being able to access the one area of it, however, many headstones are illegible, and as such are meaningless today unless you have a plan of the churchyard. I am sure that exists as well.
All too soon it was time to leave, and I have since explored 3 other similar churchyards in my stomping grounds, and so far they have all been wonderful, each is a new discovery, and each just leaves me with the same old question of what was it like to live here so many years ago?
DRW © 2013-2021. Images recreated 26/03/2016