By John Parker
Old graveyards bring about mixed feelings in people; some find them eerie while others find them places of peace and memory. This dichotomy of feeling is easy to understand. They are, at the same time, both places of mourning and places where lives are celebrated, and snippets of history encapsulated. They are an important genealogical resource; there is nothing like the feeling of connection when you discover the grave of a great-great ancestor. Graveyards are often overlooked as an historical resource, and yet they are full of information. Each one is unique, some having distinctive styles of gravestone, others charting the rise and fall of local industries or families. Each graveyard plays memory to bygone days, and each contains curiosities urging the researcher to learn more. There is a lot of information that can be gleaned from grave markers, but they are being continually eroded by the weather. Graveyard surveys aim to record the inscriptions on the stones, as well as the style and design. A condition survey is a standard element; this records how damaged the stones are, and if they are being damaged by something that could be prevented.
The Community Archaeology team at Nottinghamshire County Council has been involved with several graveyard surveys across Nottinghamshire, including Cuckney, Woodborough, Bramcote Old Tower, Norwell, Cromwell and more. They are always looking for people to join in the ‘Graveyard Shift’, to come along with them to graveyards and help record the information on the memorials and gravestones. If you are interested in finding out more please go to Community Archaeology
NLHA in partnership with Nottinghamshire County Council (Community Archaeology) and the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust has submitted on 22 August 2014 a formal proposal and request for funding to the Heritage Lottery Fund for the Nottinghamshire Graveyards Project (otherwise known as The Graveyard Shift) so that we can, over a period of 5 years, survey graveyards and record gravestone inscriptions across the whole of Nottinghamshire.
Our project focuses on the heritage of every village and town in the County. The parish Church and its Churchyard have for centuries been at the heart of our communities. Churchyards contain a wealth of information about people and families, not just names and dates, but relationships and stories; what, for instance, is the story behind the memorial to a young woman shot in France in 1916? This project aims to record gravestones and memorials over 20 years old to a consistent standard, to map the graveyards and to provide an online database of this information, enabling research into genealogy and family history, as well as demographic surveys across time and place. The project will enable the biodiversity of churchyards to be explored and enhanced, helping to support parishes manage these open spaces better and encouraging more people from the community to get involved and hands-on with their heritage. A third strand is the opportunity to celebrate the County’s Glorious Gothic heritage with arts projects based in various venues such as libraries and schools; from Byron, bats and buttresses, to gargoyles, grotesques and ghost stories. We also believe that by highlighting the risk to graveyards we may encourage better management and care both of the gravestones themselves and of the bio-diverse environment that surrounds them. Gravestones offer a largely untapped but vastly rich resource for social history, local history, language and writing, art, superstition, understanding of Christian teaching. Online teaching resources developed will improve interpretation of graveyards and make them accessible to all. The project will also allow individuals, groups, community and local history societies to investigate their own heritage and to acquire skills and knowledge that will help them in future research.
If you would like to look at the results of one of the more recent surveys at Woodborough please go to Woodborough Graveyard Survey
‘Recording and Analysing Graveyards’ by Harold Mytum, published in 2000 by the Council for British Archaeology in association with English Heritage, is probably the best sourcebook for graveyard surveys and forms the basis for the model used at Woodborough.
Anyone who wants to get involved or needs further information please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org