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Graveyard Survey At Lydiard Tregoze YAC North Wiltshire September - October 2021

Project Background

Churchyards and burial places are of amazing historical value, containing a wealth of information on local families, both rich and poor, and providing a glimpse into the cultural values and beliefs of past lives. Sadly, many older tombs and memorials are threatened by time - erosion can make some monuments difficult to read, weathering can cause monuments to topple over or collapse and accidental or, sadly, deliberate damage can also happen. Graveyard Surveys are therefore an important resource for collecting and reporting data to help with the care, management, and protection of monuments and to support research into family history, social and cultural change and population studies.

St. Mary’s, Lydiard Tregoze, Wiltshire has a rich history, parts of the fabric of the church date back to the 12th century with the majority of the building as we see it today dating to the 15th century. Past graveyard surveys have recorded inscriptions, some of which are now lost due to further modern erosion, but there has been little recent study of the monuments.

With interest in family and local history increasingly popular, the Friends of Lydiard Park have embarked upon a digital graveyard survey & local history project which will seek to uncover more about the lives of local people in Lydiard Tregoze down the centuries. They have enlisted the help of a geomatics company to create a web-accessible digital survey of the graveyard at St Mary’s and the 19th century parish cemetery at Hook. This will ultimately become available as an online resource, linked to parish Burial Registers.

As part of this wider project, the Friends of Lydiard Park invited the Young Archaeologists Club (YAC) North Wiltshire branch to get involved. Our focus for the activity was a re-assessment of the condition of the monuments at St. Mary’s, recording inscriptions, architectural and artistic details of the gravestones and, importantly, their condition.

Our sessions at Lydiard Tregoze are part of the first steps in helping to preserve by record any information that may be lost and to inform an environmental management plan for the future care and maintenance of the upstanding churchyard monuments, some of which date back to the 17th century. More information on the wider project can be found at: https://www.friendsoflydiardpark.org.uk/projects/grave-survey-lydiard-tregoze-family-history-project/. The recently launched Lydiard Archives website is at: https://www.thelydiardarchives.org.uk/

The YAC Survey

Over two weekends in September and October 2021 YAC North Wiltshire visited St. Mary’s Lydiard Tregoze to undertake our graveyard survey. This combined a learning element for the Young Archaeologists in the tools and techniques for graveyard recording, followed by putting this into practice! This included the use of pre-formatted recording forms to make capturing key information simpler and more consistent and encouraging the inclusion of sketches, plans and comment on the condition of the memorial, along with the formal photographing of the tombs.

Memorial Recording in Progress!

The focus for September was a group of 19th century memorials in the north-west of the churchyard. These were fully recorded, including details of the inscriptions and condition. In some instances the inscriptions were very clear, in others time, with the stone starting to decay, and the growth of lichen, ivy and moss, have acted to obscure the lettering. The Young Archaeologists quickly understood the importance of not removing plant growth to avoid causing further damage to the stonework. It was also clear, from their measurements and observations, that a number of monuments were in poor condition, with some beginning to subside. The group realised that the position of the grave in relation to the prevailing wind & rain made a difference in terms of condition.

The recording of the monuments saw a recognition of different forms of script, even within a single memorial and the remnants of pigment used to highlight the lettering. The variety of symbols present also surprised some of the group, with draped urns, an anchor, classical figures, floral and acanthus leaf patterns, an hourglass and a butterfly - the latter on a relatively modern headstone.

A poignant observation was made by the Young Archaeologists recording the monument to Edwin Edmonds and his wife Rhoda - it was noticed that Rhoda Edmonds died on the 25th September 1861, exactly 160 years to the day that the recording was being undertaken.

For the October session, the group moved to the east end of the church to make a record of a series of large 18th-19th century chest tombs belonging to members of the King family, a major farming family from Swindon. The group were joined by local historian Frances Bevan who has undertaken much research into local families of the period and she was able to share her knowledge and answer questions from the Young Archaeologists on the history and importance of the King family to the developing town Swindon during that time.

A number of the chest tombs were in very poor condition, with serious issues regarding subsidence and vegetation growing over, under and through the monuments. One unrecorded tomb has already collapsed. However, those that were recorded yielded really interesting evidence regarding the King family, including a previously unrecorded connection to Wickfield Farm in Swindon. The team recording one of the tombs noted that all of the people buried within it died within the same year, but at different times, this gave rise to some questioning as to why. Some of the older tombs, the earliest burials within dating to the first half of the 18th century, contained interesting imagery, such as classical figures and hourglasses, an echo perhaps of the types of symbolism found on memento mori tombs from the 17th century.

Our visits to Lydiard Tregoze provided an excellent opportunity for the Young Archaeologists to engage with and contribute to a heritage project. They all acquired new archaeological skills and learned of the importance of studying and researching local history. More importantly the act of observing, discussing and recording the monuments allowed them to connect directly with the lives of the past parishioners of St. Mary’s Church in Lydiard Tregoze.

Who Are the Young Archaeologists Club?

The Young Archaeologists’ Club (YAC) is the only UK-wide club where 8-16 year olds can participate in real archaeology and discover why it matters. If you want to become a professional archaeologist in the future or just feel like taking up an amazing new hobby, YAC is the right place for you!

YAC members take part in all sorts of fantastic, hands-on activities, such as excavation, working with artefacts, visiting historical sites and undertaking experimental archaeology. We explore all eras of human history, from British prehistory to Romans, from Ancient Egyptians to the industrial archaeology of the Victorians and beyond. Supported by the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) we have over 70 branches across the United Kingdom, run by over 500 dedicated volunteers, delivering over 10,000 archaeology and heritage-based activities to young people each year.

At YAC North Wiltshire our sessions aim to blend indoor activities with getting out and about to explore the wonderful archaeology and history of Swindon and North Wiltshire, from the Neolithic monuments of Avebury to Swindon's industrial past and everything in between!

If you are interested in finding out more about us, YAC North Wiltshire can be contacted by email at yacnorthwiltshire@gmail.com. For information on the YAC nationally, including other branch locations, please go to https://www.yac-uk.org/ - there may be one closer than you realise!

Acknowledgements

YAC North Wiltshire would like to thank the Friends of Lydiard Park for the opportunity to be involved and contribute, in some small way, to their wide ranging and long-term heritage project and to historian Frances Bevan who provided our Young Archaeologists with fascinating insights into the King family, who’s chest tombs and memorials formed a key part of the YAC activity in October. And of course a big thumbs-up to the Young Archaeologists themselves for getting stuck in and showing a real interest and enthusiasm for the project!

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All photographs are by the Author unless otherwise stated.