The articles on this page were originally published in five parts in 1997 editions of the magazine of St. Giles church in Farnborough parish. The author was the late Peter Bailey, long term resident of Farnborough.  He had many and diverse  interests, and contributed greatly over many years to the well being of and record keeping for the parish.

The main article below tells how the churchyard in Farnborough developed from its inception some 800 years ago to the present day, The panel to the right discusses more generally how churchyards came into being, drawing on examples from across the land, demonstrating great diversity and idiosyncrasies.

St Giles Churchyard first came into being about 600 years ago when it was a very small area round the church.  Over the years it has undergone a series of enlargements, first to the north and west and then to the south. The map above shows how this happened.

The first recorded burial is that of John Marshall on the 23rd. November 1538,   This entry was made only a few weeks after the ‘Direction’ that Parish Registers of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials were to be kept.   As the Parish was paying Tithes in the 12th. Century the church yard is at least as old as that but exactly what size and shape it was we have no idea.

In the Parish records we have a curious document as follows :- A list of the several Landlords and Occupiers of Land and Houses in the Parish of Farnborough in the County of Kent, relating to their several and respective marks belonging to the Fence in the Church Yard in the said Parish as follows: 

         Landlords                 Tenants                           No of Feet

The Rev. Mr

Thomas Brome          Peter Wynne                     44     First next adjoining the

                                                                                           high road the left hand

                                                                                           of the Church gate.

Sir Thomas Dyke        Thomas Stow                    38     next Do.

Leonard Bartholomew Esq.Stephen Bassett     16     Both houses next Do

                                                                                           each side of the gate

Richard Staples          For his own                        6     One fence beyond the

                                                                                           lower gate next the hole.

George Baldwyn                  ___________                Next Do

Adgate Broomfield    Wm Whiffin                         next Do

Widow Wahelyn        __________                         6      next Do

Mry Elliott                   John Jeale                          4      Next Do- for the stept house

Margt. Brooks otherwise Richard                       6      Next Do

Widow Banking          Widow Dilley                   10    next to

Widow Soane             Samuell Cooper                12    next Do

Michael Allen             Edwd Baldwyn                  8      next Do

Wm Winne                 For Mr Heaths                   9      next Do

Martin Stow                Richard Best                      7      Next Do, and Dilleys slip

Robert Diper              Thomas Wynn                  12     Next Do

Mr Stears and Widow  Mitchell                         10     for the House at

                                                                                           Broad St. Green next.

Mrs. Elliot                    John Jeale                          24    next Do

Mr Austin                    Thomas Wright                 16    next Do

Gandy Cooper            John Poole                         20     next the stile and Pt

                                                                                           next the Field.

Mrs Elliot                     John Rance                        9      Next Do

Sr Thomas Dyke         Hen. Chapman                  28     Next Do

Mr Cooper for Chalk Barn & Whiffin                 12     Next Do

Richard Mercer         ____________                       7     Next Do

Wm Winne                 Wm Lemme                          7      Next Do

Mr Floyer                    Peter Wynne                     33     Next Do

Edward Baldwyn        Richard Styles                   4      Next Do

Thomas Chapman Senr.                                       _6      Next Do

Mr Johnson                 Edwd Whiffin                    10    Next Do

Joseph Budden  |       Geo Dilley &              |

Wm Winne         |      Thom Chapman Junr|     6        Next Do for both Houses

Mr Allen                      Geo Champion                  12     Next Do

Wm Biggs                    Geo Frances                      7       Next Do

Mr Staples                   Hen Chapman                   12     Next Do

Peter Sykes                 Thomas Lamb                   12     Next Do

Gandy Cooper            Adgate Broomfield          12     Next Do

Jeremiah Delver        Michl Mitchell                   10     Next the right hand

                                                                                           post of the gate.

Taken this 14th day of Feb. 1749    Henry Chapman, Thomas Wright -| Churchwardens

Peter Wynne, Francis French, Thos. Lamb, John Poole, William Dilly, & John Jeale present

                                         The Church marks.


This appears to be an allocation for the upkeep of the churchyard fences to certain properties in the parish, a practice frequently found in parishes across the country. The ‘Lower Gate’, we can place with some certainty.   It was at the bottom of the slope next to the roadside wall leading from the road along the south side of the church, and ‘The Hole’, which was the chalk pit partially filled in 1909, and now the car park.   We must remember that at this time the road would have been more or less on a level with the churchyard as the lowering of the carriageway did not occur until 1833, and thus the entire churchyard would require fencing.

Using the figures in this document, if we measure up from the Lower Gate the 98ft. indicated we find that the ‘Church Gate’ (not called a Lych Gate) was some fifty feet nearer the church than the present one.   If we continue to use these measurements, guided by the position of the grave stones pre 1749 & excluding those after 1854, when we know that the churchyard was enlarged, we establish a very small area round the church, but one which is in agreement with the figure quoted in the Tithe Assessment of 1840 of 1 Rood and 15 Square Poles ( 0.35 Acres).

Line of gravestones marking the boundary of the ancient graveyard

This ‘God’s Third of an Acre’ served the parish from the beginning in the 12th Century or even earlier until 1854. The earliest tomb stones are usually hewn from the local stone and are quite simple,  That of Frances and Richard Wynne, who died in 1776 & 1775 respectively, which is near the main path by the Choir Vestry is easily identifiable.   It is a simple stone of Kentish Wragg, most likely from the Dunton Green area where the nearest quarries are found. It has a carved inscription but no ornamentation, and unfortunately it now has part of its top missing.  

On the other side of the church is the stone of one of the Rance family who died in 1773. This stone is almost hidden by the brick table tomb just to the right of the main church door outside the Clergy Vestry window, here we find in addition to the deceased names, some quite elaborate carving, but still in the local stone.

These are not the oldest grave stones.  To the right just as the path leads into the newer part of the churchyard and hard by the large ‘pine’ tree, is a stone which reads:- ‘Here lyeth the body of Thomas STOW who died 18 October 1723 in ye 60th year of his age, leaving 3 sons and 4 daughters, being the best of husbands and the best of fathers.’ This is a very typical Kentish grave monument consisting of a ‘body stone’ with a small foot stone and a large headstone carrying the inscription. We have a few of these ‘body’ stones’ but they are genuine stone and not caste in concrete as you often find, especially if they are much later Victorian copies.  

When ‘Important’ people sort after much more elaborate monuments, the Table Tomb appeared.   The tomb of ‘John Francis SKEGGS Esq.’, just behind the ‘Clergy Board’ and not far from the Lych gate, (it was just inside the churchyard when it was erected in the early 1850s), is quite typical, built from imported stone and carrying inscriptions in all four sides.  

Usually these 19th century table tombs are surrounded by railings and we still have examples in the churchyard.   On the other side of the church we have four other table tombs, all of which date from the same period but are of simpler design;  those beneath the old yew tree are showing their age.

By 1850 the churchyard was becoming full, the option to start again on the far side would have necessitated removal of grave stones, so the ‘Parish’ prevailed on Mr. Skeggs to sell them land to the north and west of the existing churchyard. The original suggestion as recorded was that they hoped they could buy about ¼ of an acre, but in fact in 1854 the area added was nearer an acre, and the whole was fenced with a thorn hedge.

gravestones in the 1850 extension

This area accommodated the parish until the end of the century and contains many new types of grave markers.  The Celtic Cross made its appearance, and limestones and granites gave new habitats for different species of lichen.  Some stones were painted and these can easily be picked out as the paint prevents the growth of algae and lichen, leaving us with a ‘white stone’ with black lettering.

Farnborough became a fully independent parish n 1876, and this led to a number of significant changes, 1885 saw the purchase of another section of land of 1 acre from Sir John Lubbock. This was to the south of the church, to include the ‘hole’, which was filled in 1909 with spoil from drainage work in the village. The opening of this new section at the beginning of the new century also saw a change in church record keeping. Since 1538 every one buried in the churchyard was recorded in the Burial Register, except for some omissions during 17th century when the ‘Commonwealth Government’ was in power and for some years there are no entries, neither is there any indication as to where they were buried.   Grave stones with names are our only indicators before this date, and sadly many of these are known to have been lost.

gravestones in the 1885 extension, known today as part of the 'new graveyard'

In the new extension all future grave positions were mapped out, and spaces were numbered starting with No 1 at the South West corner of this new extension with wide pathways between graves, some sections being reserved for children’s graves   A ‘Grave Register’ was introduced which for the first time recorded each grave space by number, who was buried there and when. Curbs all round the grave with corner cubes and perhaps a headstone became the normal grave monument from this time and each had to have its grave number engraved on it, as is in fact the regulation to this day, although mostly honoured in the breach.  

By the 1920s the designated spaces were fairly well filled so some of the reserved child spaces were renumbered and the pathways were allocated as spaces.  The numbering system just carryied on so that grave 412 ended up next to grave 1 and 537 next to 237. Finding graves in the churchyard was not always easy, even with the original maps, as these have been constantly altered as burials continued and graves were renumbered. This part of the churchyard does  however contain some of our more spectacular monuments.

The ‘Lubbock Cross’, behind the Garden of Remembrance, is well worth examination. This depicts the interests of the family, has new as well as old stone age implements carved on it, a bee skep and a representation of the Avebury Ring, from which the family took its title. This monument started life in the churchyard, but when the vandalism against Lord Avebury’s grave began,(he had promoted the Bank Holiday bill in Parliament and employers have adopted these holidays for their workers, doing them out of their previous Saints Days holidays which were much more numerous) it was moved along with other Lubbock memorials into a private burial ground in the wood south of its present position.   When this too was vandalised during the 1970s, this monument returned to the churchyard.  
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We have one ‘Architectural’ monument along the northern boundary of this section to the right at the end of the path. This is a triple plot, surrounded by curbs and having in the centre a miniature ‘Roman Temple’, with on one side a stone cross on a stepped plinth and on the other a more standard headstone, this is the grave of the Evans/Butterworth family.

The grave of Gipsy Lee is well known and is easily found on the right hand side of the path half way between the church and the gate into Church Field. Near by is the monument with ‘The Fallen Angel’ bronze on top which is the grave of several members of the March family who were sculptors  and painters and whose most famous production was the bronze figures for the National Canadian War Memorial in Ottawa (we have an ‘Epstine’ type bronze of theirs on the north wall of the nave inside the church).  

Only a very small sample of the very varied collection of grave monuments have been mentioned, which were erected at a time when there were few regulations thus allowing the extreme variation we find in this area, which contains 620 adult and about 200 children’s graves, some converted for adults. By 1936 even the paths between graves were full and a new section to the south and west of the previous one was acquired. The piece to the west was scrub woodland and was not utilised until the 1970s.

For this new section a NEW Grave Register was opened, and the grave numbers again started at 1. The fence between the two sections was removed and the graves in the new and the old adjoined each other, one grave being 562 in the old register (Book 1) and 1 in the new register (Book 2). It can be very difficult to identify individual graves on the boarder line between the two areas especially as the much altered maps were drawn to different scales or in one case to no scale at all!

Shortly after this section of the churchyard started to be used, Diocesan Regulations began to appear restricting types of grave monuments that could be allowed in churchyards and this has greatly diminished the possible variation that we find from this age.   Full curbs with often a ledger stone at the foot and a headstone became the extreme of flamboyancy and gradually this was reduced when the Diocesan Chancellor (he is the head ‘legal eagle’) prohibited curbs. These regulations were meant to produce an easy to keep churchyard, headstones with an integral flower vase holder in its base was all that was to be allowed.   Cut flowers only, in the head stone holder were to be the only decoration so that the grass over the graves could be easily cut with no obstructions to the mower. The material of the grave stone was also specified so that it would last and not disintegrate with age as many of the stones in our churchyard have.   Sculpture of the stone was restricted, as the crevices created in the stone tended to hold water and with the action of frost, pieces break off leaving a disfigured stone. This has resulted in very little opportunity for variation in the style of monuments since the 1950s.

A few years ago, the churchyard was in a very untidy state. A small voluntary group of people spend many hours putting it to rights so that today it is one of the best kept churchyards in the area, although it still requires the attentions of volunteers aided by our professional grass cutter to keep it so.  

While we were doing this restoration, new maps of the churchyard were made, all the grave stones plotted and for the first time there is now a reliable index of where people are buried  from 1880 (when the new graveyard was brought into use) to the present day.

Peter Bailey

The article above was written many years ago.  Subsequently and in order to eliminate duplication of numbers, and thereby hopefully reduce confusion, graves in the original 1885 part of the 'new' graveyard had 1000 added to their grave number, while those in the 1935 extension had 2000 added. or 3000 in the case of the graves at the far end of the graveyard adjacent to the boundary hedge. A further area acquired in 1995 by extending the graveyard to the south has its graves numbered in the 4000 series. 

Thus for the first time all graves in the churchyard have unique numbers. 

Relatives wishing to locate a grave should contact Farnborough Parish Office in the first instance see https://farnborough-kent-parish.org.uk/index.html


About Churchyards

Churchyards, even in the middle of cities, are an oasis of peace and quiet which have existed in many cases for centuries past and witnessed many people seeking peace to sit and contemplate.

The Celts who inhabited Europe for many centuries before the birth of Christ and were living in Britain when the Romans first came in 44 B.C. used the word CIRIC, pronounced 'CHIRCH' which gives us the English word 'Church'. The German word 'Kirche' and the Dutch word 'Kerk' are also recognisable to us as the name of the building where people assemble for Christian worship.

In Celtic times however, the word CIRIC meant 'Holy Ground', the place where the dead were buried; we had to wait until the late 10th. century for the Church with its yard round about it. The origin of the actual churchyard is obscure, but in England their inception is usually credited to Cuthbert, Archbishop of Canterbury, who in 752 got the approval of the Pope to set them up around city churches. This, following on from Pope Gregory's instruction to his missionaries in 601 that they were not to destroy pagan temples but to convert them to Christian Churches, explains why churchyards often pre‑date the church in origin being pre‑Christian sites taken over, or being continued in use by newly converted pagans of the area.

Of the churches on pre‑Christian sites the best known English examples are those at Knowlton in Dorset and Cholesbury in Buckinghamshire, both are within large circular earthworks, surrounded by banks and ditches.  

The date of these Bronze Age earthworks at Knowlton, above, where the church is a ruin, is between 1800 and 500 B.C. and at Cholesbury, where the churchyard is still in use, the church stands on an Iron Age Hill Fort from about 500 B.C..

Early in his pontificate, Pope Gregory advocated churchyards round churches as he believed that the prayers for the dead were more likely to be answered if the living passed the graves on their way to church - at this time it was believed that souls remained in purgatory unless frequent masses were offered for them.  

By the tenth century it was the practice to enclose one acre round the church as the burial ground ‑ God's Acre. Although the Romans favoured rectangular enclosures many of our church yards began as circular plots  

That at Escomb in County Durham, above, is still surrounded by its dry stone wall (with a road right round its outside) with its almost untouched Saxon Church at its centre. This one survives intact because an early 18th. Century Vicar did not like the ancient small church and decided to build a new Parish Church some distance away on top of a hill, the old church was just neglected and remains to this day an almost perfect specimen of what a church was like a thousand years ago.

As had always been the case, people paid only to be buried in the churchyard, the ownership of the ground remaining with the church, or more correctly vested in the Rector as his freehold, with each incumbent exercising his right during the tenure of the living. The practice was to start burying at one side of the churchyard and work across to the other side. When all the space of the churchyard had been used, burials began again at the original position.

Before the 18th. Century people were usually buried only in a winding sheet, (at one time this had to be certified to be made of wool when a government edict was in force to boost the wool trade), the ‘Parish Coffin’ only being used to carry the deceased from his home to church, stopping at the Lych to await the arrival of the Rector.

Lych Gates could be very simple structures or very elaborate. The name comes from the Saxon word ‘lic’ meaning corpse because the main function of the gate was to provide a covered place where the coffin could rest on a shelf and where the bearers could sit and wait for the incumbent. Most Lych Gates have been modernised over the years and changed into simple gateways to the churchyard.

At Anstey in Hertfordshire, above, a third of the Lych Gate is taken up by a small building, the local lock up, just big enough to hold one person. Some Lych Gates had cottages attached to them to provide lodging for the Parish Sexton.

In the local area, Beckenham Parish Church has the oldest gate in this area, St. Nicholas, Chislehurst (below) has a Victorian Gate incorporating a coffin rest as part of the large centre pivoted main gate (usually kept locked).

The main problem for Lych Gates is churchyard enlargement; where enlargement leaves the gate isolated and not in the churchyard fence it has either to be moved, abandoned or a new gate, usually of much simpler construction, built in its stead, as in Farnborough.

Up to the 17th. Century, individual tomb stones are quite rare, being usually reserved for the very well off and then usually sited inside the Church, even if the burial took place outside.  Church-yards were unencumbered grass areas used for many purposes, people stopping to gossip after Church, as goes on today, but also for Church Fairs or grazing some of the parish sheep.  

There are records of attempts by more than one incumbent trying to put a stop to the local cricket team using his churchyard as their match ground.

In the 17 Century the move of people to the towns due to the industrial revolution meant that people were paid in money rather than produce for their labour, and some at least wished to show their increased status by having markers to show where they had been buried. This meant that whereas the churchyard, which in many cases had been adequate for five hundred years or more, had either to be cleared of the existing grave stones or more land acquired.

If you go into a very old churchyard you will find that the ground level is much higher than the paths due to all the burials that have taken place in the past.   Also you might find other buildings in the churchyard such as Charnel Houses, where the bones of the deceased were placed when an area of the church yard was reused,  and often the church crypt was used for this purpose. ‘

Watching Houses’ still exist in some churchyards where paid men kept watch over recent burials in case ‘Resurrectionists’ tried to steal the body to sell to anatomists. The parish of Warblington in Hampshire, just east of Chichester, has two brick and flint examples at opposite corners of the churchyard, perhaps they were very prone to the ‘Resurrectionists’ activities.  

In the churchyard at Great Chart near Ashford in Kent is a 16th. Century timber framed ‘Pest House’ where those people who contracted ‘Small Pox’ or ‘Plague’ were confined until they either got better or died.  East Peckham, also in Kent, has stables in the churchyard for the horses of those attending church. Many churchyards have a well and various buildings to house people and domestic animals.

From the 17th. Century, if churchyards were unable to expand, especially in towns, the existing stones were either cleared to the edge of the yard or they were used to pave the church paths and the ground reused as before.   Mainly most churchyards expanded and the various designs of tomb stones are characteristic of their age.

By late Victorian times, city churchyards had run out of space and this resulted in the establishment of the Public Cemetery, usually at some distance from the traditional churchyard.   Here for the first time, people could own a grave space or even a family plot and erect much more elaborate monuments than allowable under churchyard regulations.

Peter Bailey

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