Of all the history the town has lost over the years through redevelopments and modernisation, the most heartbreaking to me is the clearing of St Edburg’s churchyard. And perhaps what makes it all the more surprising is that it was instigated by the Vicar, Rev. Cowland-Cooper, someone who you’d think would have known better.
In 1945 he decided that the churchyard, which hadn’t been used for burials since 1868, had become too untidy and overgrown. So he determined to turn it “from a wilderness into a tranquil garden”. He went through the proper channels to get all the necessary permissions from the Council and the Diocese, then set about hiring workmen to clear the site.
Once the local residents noticed the workmen removing and breaking up the headstones they started to complain, as can be seen in the letter below. The work was then stopped, but sadly this was too late for a lot of the headstones.
Almost all of the headstones had been taken up by that point, and most had been broken up. Any that were still intact were put back, either against the vicarage wall or in “a pleasing arrangement”, and any that had already been broken up were used to pave the path around the back of the church and the areas around the tower. Even today, despite almost 70 years of footsteps, some of the inscriptions are still legible.
This does mean that we no longer know for certain who is buried where. Even some of the chest tombs are known to have been moved. All we do know for certain is that, with over 800 years of burials on the site, wherever you step you are bound to be standing on someone’s last resting place.