A visit as the snowdrops emerge, February 2010; please note, this is not necessarily endorsed by Eynsham Parish Council or the Parochial Church Council (PCC). We also have a feature on Residents Recalled.
St Leonard's churchyard lies immediately to the south of the church and adjoining the grounds of St Peter's church. An extension on more open ground to the south-east was opened in 1929 – though the 'new' grounds date back to the days of Eynsham Abbey and beyond. In 1989 Oxfordshire Archaeological Unit excavated the entire length of the extension, as reported in Eynsham Record 7 1990, finding evidence of the Norman and medieval abbey and of earlier Anglo-Saxon occupation.
A hand-written register of graves in the 'older' part of the churchyard was compiled in 1909, totalling 999 entries, with numbered metal marker plates on the ground to correspond. The only surviving marker still on its original grave is shown in the slideshow.
Eynsham's monumental inscriptions were fully documented in 2000-2001 by Oxfordshire Family History Association, as reported in Eynsham Record 20 2003 pages 14-17. The transcripts and images are now available on CD, with navigation by means of a clickable plan of the churchyard.
The oldest readable stone found in the graveyard (as distinct from the church itself) dates from February 4 1648 and commemorates someone with the initials 'RC.'
The best-known missing stone is the medieval table tomb illustrated by JC Buckler and discussed in Eynsham Record 23 2006, which supplied the 'foliated cross' adopted as a logo by Eynsham Roundabout, Eynsham Medical Centre and more recently the lower Bartholomew Room door.
The Parish Council has arranged for the grass to be cut since 1985, recovering part of the costs from funeral fees paid to the church governing body (PCC). These arrangements did not include the gravestones – many of which are sadly in need of attention, totally overgrown by ivy and shattered by emerging saplings. A professional survey of the churchyard in May 2006 found 45 trees, of which 4 were a potential risk, and advised remedial work on one third of the remainder. This is a matter of ongoing concern.
Existing maintenance arrangements came under review in 2009, following legal advice that a parish council is not empowered to maintain an open burial ground – which may come as a surprise to a number of other councils around the country. In August 2009 Eynsham Parish Council notified the PCC that it would cease to take responsibility for the maintenance of the churchyard with immediate effect but would carry on the grass cutting until the end of September. Detailed provisions for machinery etc were proposed by the Finance Committee in January 2010.
It is unclear how long the churchyard may remain open to new burials: estimates of available space range from 2 to 5 years. In March 2009 the PCC agreed to investigate the procedure for re-using the graves and to keep the PC updated; and the Parish Council to continue looking into funding for works required. The new housing development off Bitterell does include funding for £30,000 for improvement / extension of “cemetery or other community facilities” in the neighbourhood of the site – though efforts to find new land in an appropriate location have been unsuccessful to date.
Further Reading: 16/01/2009 Managing the safety of Burial Ground Memorials (Ministry of Justice)
CHURCHYARD by Peter Way reproduced from Eynsham Record 24 2007
Tall trees pensively, silently stand
Sheltering birds over Abbey land;
Where Benedict's great building stood,
Headstoned grass now grows; and wood.
Along the length of open ground
People go and come, each mound
Showing the shape of resting dead
Asleep within a narrow bed.
Seasons revolve. The sun brings days
Of winter bareness, summer blaze.
Patient generations dream and wait,
Dream and wait. Early and late.
|18/04/2010 St Leonard's Churchyard|
|01/05/2006 Tree & Risk Assessment|
Trevor Green has been cutting the grass for more years than he can remember.
The tallest remaining table tomb - solid enough at the top but undermined at the foundations.
The only surviving marker from the register of 1909 still on its original grave.
A plaque on the wall in the Children's Corner.
This stone is inscribed FEB 1648