One of our most frequent enquiries at the History Centre is along the lines of ‘I’m trying to find out where my great aunt is buried; her death was registered in Salisbury in 1923…..’ We can usually help them track down the place of burial, but what they really want is to find the plot to visit. People assume that all churches have a plan of their burial ground, when the reality is that most don’t.
My interest in this subject began as a small child when I accompanied my father, who mowed the grass in our village churchyard. While he was busy mowing I was busy wandering around looking at all the grave stones. Who were these people, where did they live, what did they do? Horningsham also has a number of listed tombs which are bigger and grander than a headstone and often commemorate whole families. I was fascinated by all these people and wanted to find out more about them.
Many years later I found two friends who were happy to help me survey the churchyard and this was the beginning of my project. Horningsham is a challenge geographically, as the church is on a hill and the burial ground is divided into three sections, all on different levels. I soon realised that this was not going to be straight forward! However, with the help of my friends (I couldn’t possibly have done it on my own), and countless visits to check my drawing, I have at last finished. It has taken me years and five attempts at drawing a map I am happy with, but it is a huge sense of achievement to have finished at last. Along with the map I have also transcribed the inscriptions and photographed all the stones.
Is this something that might interest you? There are countless parishes still to be done and the staff here are always happy to help you. The archaeology team will be able to provide you with a large copy of the ordnance survey map, to give you an accurate ground plan to work from. The first thing I did was to draw an outline of the church, as I used the row of pillars on the south wall as fixed points from which to measure the stones. The scale I used was 1:100. The graph paper was marked in millimetres.
From here I began plotting each stone from two fixed points.
On a 1:100 scale, 145cm and 130cm reduce to 14mm and 13mm. You then draw two arcs (using a compass), and where the two arcs meet is the centre of your headstone. A cross will probably suffice to mark a headstone, but a tomb will need a square.
Fortunately, I had the church on one side of the square and a wall on a second side which gave me a straight line of graves that were easy to plot. Together, these gave me two sides of fixed points that helped me plot the remaining graves.
Have you ever thought about investigating the history of your community but aren’t sure where to start? Why not organise a Reunion! This is something I first started in Horningsham in 1995 and 23 years later we are still going strong! It first began in 1994 when I wanted to mark the 150th anniversary of the rebuilding of our church. We held a special service with refreshments afterwards and it was a great success. Someone then had the idea of tracing as many people as we could find who had been baptised in the church, to invite them to a Reunion. Everyone who came enjoyed it so much that they asked if we could do it again the following year, when we chose marriage as our theme………
There are some key factors that will guarantee success. Food and drink is always a good ice breaker, so try and offer some nice treats to your guests. If they are travelling a long way it is good to offer lunch if you can. My experience is that once people sit down with friends over lunch, they are very happy to just sit and chat.
Old photographs are always popular and are a good way of stimulating conversation and memories. This will also encourage people to search through their own collections and find you something for next year. My best find was the year that I was given a photograph of the Royal School at Bath, who were evacuated to Longleat House during WWII. I couldn’t believe my luck and knew immediately that I had my theme for the next year (2008). Many villagers were on the picture as staff who helped look after the girls and I was put in touch with some former pupils who were still living locally and who offered to share their memories with me. This proved to be one of our most successful events.
You will be surprised by how quickly your invitation list grows. Many times I was asked ‘have you contacted my cousin/auntie/school friend….’ and for many years the number of people attending was over 60. Every year I think of a theme and put up a display of photographs in the church, for people to look at before the service. If you tell people what the theme will be in their invitation, someone is sure to offer you some photographs. Photos with people or houses are the most popular; everyone likes to see a wedding photo or the house they grew up in. The friends who come to the Horningsham reunion have been so generous over the years that in 2000 I had enough material to publish a book for the millennium.
The annual tradition of ‘Beating the Bounds’ or ‘perambulations’ has been carried out for many centuries in our parishes in England, Scotland and Wales. In Scotland, the tradition was known as ‘Riding the Marshes’; a method of reaffirming the parish boundaries from way before the introduction of maps. In some parishes, this annual ritual is still very much part of village or town life. It is believed that this religious practice was first introduced in Vienne, France, around AD 470 by the Holy bishop Mamertus. There were many reasons for the ceremony but the parishioners believed that it would ‘avert great calamaties’. It would affirm their devotion to God; ask him for forgiveness from sins and for protection from evil and to bless the congregation and the fruits of their labour.
Other phrases were used for this ancient custom; ‘Rogation Week’ (from the Latin word ‘rogare’ meaning to ask or to pray), the ‘Common Walk’, ‘Gangdays’ and ‘going a- ganging’. Rogation Week is also known as Rogantide, the week in which Ascension Day falls in May, beginning with Rogation Sunday, the Sunday before Ascension Day. Religious ceremonies would take place over a period of three days of this week; Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, involving the parish priest, churchwardens and other officiates of the church. Old parishioners mixed with the young to pass on the knowledge of the boundaries. The youngsters of the parish, usually boys, would be armed with long birch or willow twigs to beat the specific landmarks such as an old tree or stones. In some cases, the boys themselves were beaten with the sticks, so they should never forget the crucial information passed on to them by their elders. Usually, the boys would have their heads bumped against the boundary marker whilst prayers were read from the Litany of Saints. The girls and women would wear and carry garlands of flowers and foliage. The Milkwort flower (Polygala vulgaris) is also dubbed the Rogation flower and was often used in the garlands.
This printed account inside a parish register held in our archives at the History Centre, give details of the 12-14 mile route taken during the ceremony along the parish boundary of Leigh Delamere. The start of the route begins with; ‘from the old ditch on the Streta Fosseway. Here there is a cottage and a junction of a road to Littleton drew. The cottagers came out and joined in the short service, the sign of the Cross was made on the ancient roadway and the long walk began along the old Roman road...’
Quite often the most soundly constructed part of a church is its tower and when churches were restored in the 19th century it’s normally the nave, aisles and chancel that’s rebuilt, repaired or re-roofed. Sometimes the church was considered so dilapidated that it was demolished and a new one built on the same or even new site. In the case of Winsley in Wiltshire the 15th century church was recommended for demolition but the owner of Winsley House, Mr William Stone of Winsley House persuaded the architect, R.S. Pope of Bristol, and the diocese to keep the tower with its unusual saddleback roof.
The new church was built eight feet to the north of the old tower and was connected to it by a raised and covered passage way under which you can walk. Eroded memorial plaques on the tower had enjoyed the shelter of the nave until 1841 when the old nave and chancel were demolished. It seems possible that the old font that was contemporary with the tower was discarded at the same time as it was found in a garden in 1876 when it was restored to the church.
One week in January I took in an accession from Colerne Church. The day after it arrived I was sorting through some of the documents in the final box. One bundle I had tentatively named “Correspondence, specifications and plans relating to the Lady Chapel and the building of the organ loft”. The very last document in the file was a yellow piece of paper entitled “Yeovil, Holy Trinity – The Organ”.
It was a report from a visit to Holy Trinity Church in Yeovil, Somerset, and the visit was undertaken in 1994, whilst discussions were in place to make the church redundant. The organ was therefore being assessed for its value “as a diocesan asset”.
I excitedly mentioned it to my colleague Steve Hobbs, who was sitting opposite me: we are both originally from Yeovil and I thought the randomness of the document would appeal to him as well as me. At first I thought this document had ended up in the wrong place, and I was all for sending it down to Somerset Record Office when it occurred to me that the organ taken from Yeovil might have been the one that ended up in Colerne. I checked back in some of the documents and there was indeed a reference to the dismantling of the organ in Yeovil.
The coincidence of finding these documents is even more astonishing when I tell you that Holy Trinity was my old parish church. I used to attend the church every Sunday with my mother. When it was closed and became accommodation, a new church was built elsewhere in the town, and Mum is still involved with the benefice. The rector, John Bennett, who is mentioned on the yellow document, was a good friend of the family and has long since moved away. My father was a church organist and played for another benefice just outside Yeovil, but occasionally played the organ at Holy Trinity for their services. When the church was closed, there was a final service and I (aged about 8) was in the choir, and I still have vivid memories of singing in the choir on that day. Dad wrote a special anthem for the service, which was played by him on that organ on that day.
I recently spent a week at the History Centre in Chippenham for my work experience. On Monday 29th June, our first day, a course was planned that we would research the village of Lacock and study how it has been developed and also why certain bits have remained the same as the 1500s when they have not survived in other places. We looked at a selection of maps, old house plans and books and answered a list of questions which were relevant and would help us develop our knowledge further about Lacock. In the afternoon, we went to Lacock and had a tour round studying important buildings, the structure of buildings and looked at the features of the church and any old features which still remain. We arrived back at the History Centre at around half past four after a tiring day but I would recommend the course to anyone thinking about doing it as you learn a lot about the village itself, but you can also apply this knowledge to other places you visit which have the same or similar features.
On the second day, we were given an introduction to the Wiltshire Community History website with Mike Marshman and were able to look at all of the parishes which they have covered and written information about. I was assigned the parish of Milston to research and having never heard of it, was looking forward to finding out new information and having a challenge. On the Tuesday afternoon, I continued to research Milston and look at things such as its church, roads, and buildings and also the Domesday Book which I had never looked much into therefore I found that particularly interesting.