St Margaret’s Churchyard at West Hoathly is remarkable for the quantity, quality and variety of the surviving memorials. This was recognised by a substantial grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which had made it possible to restore many of the box tombs during 1996 and 1997.
A debt of gratitude is due to the Friends of the Churchyard, a long-established, independent local trust which supports maintenance and improvements in the churchyard through the interest received on its capital funds. Donations to support the work of the Trust are warmly welcomed and cheques should be made payable to “The Friends of West Hoathly Churchyard Trust”, c/o The Vicarage, West Hoathly, West Sussex, RH 19 4QF. The grass, hedges, shrubs and trees of the churchyard are maintained and cared through the year by the PCC, who employ a skilled local gardener.
Those of us at St. Margaret’s believe the churchyard has one of the best views in Sussex. Walk down to the viewpoint, kindly created in memory of a parishioner, to enjoy the magnificent view over the valleys of the River Ouse towards Lewes and the South Downs. Throughout the churchyard you will notice the variety of tombstones, each reflecting something of the attitude of their time to life and death, as well as reminding us of parishioners who played their part in village life in years gone by. The older tombs show the individual interpretation.
A list of more than 100 trees, ferns and other plants found growing in the churchyard has been compiled. Many of these plants are important in the lifecycle of various animals and insects who live there. Over 55 different sorts of birds and 26 varieties of butterflies have been observed in the vicinity. The churchyard is still in use and is regularly visited by many relatives and people from the community.
A fuller account of the Churchyard and Memorials is given in a booklet, available in church.
This unusual and beautiful churchyard has undergone many changes in past times and this is a continuing process. It has a dual role as the churchyard of St. Margaret’s and as a Public Burial Ground. It is administered by the Parochial Church Council (PCC) under the oversight of the Diocese. Running expenses are met from parochial church funds, with a grant from the Parish Council, but this does not cover improvements to the facilities or enhancements of the environment. These latter are the aims and objects of The Friends of West Hoathly Churchyard Trust.
Over the centuries the churchyard has undergone gradual expansion. This was needed as the population increased and the practice of reusing the same ground for burials became unacceptable. The early churchyard consisted of the area between the west end of the church and the present wall bordering The Street, bounded by the path to the south porch up to the end of the chancel in the east, with an area on the north side between the north wall of the church and the road, now known as Church Hill.
In the 18th century the area to the south of the porch path was brought into use for burials and was used in the early part of the 19th century. After 1865 there was an extension to the east, to the edge of the steep slope. A further extension was needed at the beginning of the 20th century and a row of cottages on the northeast side, Smugglers’ Row on Church Hill, was demolished to accommodate it.
Around 1930, William Heard Shelford conceived and supported the scheme to improve and adapt the ancient terraces to the southeast for burials. These are a most unusual feature in a churchyard. In more recent times the field below the terraces was brought into use but as the water table is a problem in the lower part, burials have been discontinued and an area to the east of the church is now being reused.
With acknowledgement to “The Churchyard and Memorials at St.Margaret’s, West Hoathly” by Kay Coutin – available in the Church
FRIENDS OF THE CHURCHYARD TRUST
During May 1962 Sir Martin Wilkinson, Henry Duckworth Walter Lines and Tom Shelford (son of William) realised that the cost of maintaining the environment of the churchyard in the future would be impossible for the PCC to meet. In the hope of providing financial assistance for that time, they formed the Trust, which was welcomed by the then Vicar and Churchwardens. Over the past forty years, through the generosity of many donors, legacies and covenants, a capital fund has been accumulated which is invested in bonds approved by the Charity Commission, generating a useful income for work in the churchyard.
The Trust is an independent grant giving body with the purpose of maintaining, repairing and improving the churchyard as a public place. In recent years the Trust has met the whole cost of reconstructing and extending the brick paths, gateway steps, a new drainage system for the long path and providing a new sloping path, allowing disabled people access to the Pam Furse Memorial corner and the recently re-opened burial ground.
Although the regular income from our capital fund allows significant help to be given to the PCC in funding churchyard improvement work which may not otherwise be done, the Trustees have to take account of future trends in inflation and therefore need to continue augmenting the capital fund in order to maintain the real value of our income so that we are able to keep up the level of work which we sponsor. To achieve this aim, further donations and financial assistance are sought and will be gratefully received.
Here we have an excellent opportunity for all those in and beyond the parish to make a contribution towards the preservation of this attractive piece of common heritage and to ensure that it remains a place of peace and beauty well into the future.
THE FRIENDS OF WEST HOATHLY CHURCHYARD TRUST
Registered Charity NO. 231971
Paul Brown – 01342 811 866 (Hon. Chairman)
Will Buckley – 01342 811 113
Hans Sethi – 01342 810 085
Derek Shurvell – 01342 810 780