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IN THE CHURCHYARD OF NEWPORT PAGNELL PARISH CHURCH
DENNIS MYNARD, SHAUN HIGGINS,
And DICK PARKER
In the early 1960s the churchyard at Newport Pagnell was becoming overgrown and it was getting difficult for the Parochial Church Council (PCC) to organise the maintenance of the area. Most graves were over a hundred years old, some covered with brambles and ivy, and only a few were tended or visited by family relatives.
In June 1964 the PCC met with the Newport Pagnell Urban District Council (UDC) to discuss the future maintenance of the churchyard. The UDC suggested that the PCC grant it a licence for the maintenance of the churchyard under the Open Spaces Act of 1902. The PCC agreed and after further discussion it was decided that many of the headstones should be removed to enable easier mowing of the grass.
The UDC proposed to remove gravestones, lay them as a pavement, along the 'Terrace' on the south side of the church, level the churchyard, and reseed it with grass to form a useful public open space.
In view of the threatened removal of gravestones John Coales and Ray Bailey, (both now deceased) together with Dennis Mynard, recorded, as fully as possible, the inscriptions on 122 gravestones (nos 1 -122 on plan). The work was commenced in August 1964.
In 1965 the UDC carried out a survey of the whole churchyard recording readable names and dates only, and plotting the locations of 362 gravestones. The work took place under the direction of Mr Frank Palmer and was carried out by Joan Brooks and Philip Burbidge. In addition a plan was produced by Ray Hubbard of the Surveyors Dept.
Since several of the gravestones, particularly the Table Tombs were considered to be of historic and special interest an Advisory Committee, consisting of John Betjeman, Lawrence King, John Piper, Representatives of the Diocesan Advisory Committee, The Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society, and the PCC was established to decide which stones should be preserved.
The 362 memorials recorded by the UDC were entered in a list dated January 1966 in which only 9 memorials were marked 'To be retained', of these only 5 were retained. Only a poor carbon copy of this list now survives. The PCC, on the advice of Church Warden and local historian, Mr Newman Cole suggested that 14 stones should be preserved; subsequently the Advisory Committee recommended the preservation of several more. The plan drawn up by the UDC listed a total of 25 graves which they recommended to be retained, but in the event only 14 of these have survived, not all in their original positions.
On the 10th March 1966 the licence, for a term of 50 years was agreed and signed between John Crisp, then the Vicar, Frank Crawley Chairman and Frank Hall Clerk of Newport Pagnell UDC.
The Licence defined:
1) The Vicar's rights.
2) Confirmed that the churchyard had been closed on 1st March 1861 under the Burials Acts 1852-60.
3) That the UDC had requested the Vicar to grant a Licence under the Open Spaces Act 1906 so that the UDC could lay out and maintain the churchyard
4) The Vicar agreed subject to a Faculty being granted by the Consistory Court of the Diocese of Oxford that it is desirable for the churchyard to be laid out and maintained by the UDC.
The licence witnessed:
1) That the Vicar's rights would not be affected in the area of the churchyard defined in red on a plan attached to the licence. That the UDC would hold the churchyard being responsible for it's maintenance for a period of 50 years paying a sum of 1/- per year to the church.
2) The UDC agreed:
a to pay the above sum.
b to lay out the churchyard
c to pay all rates and taxes related to the churchyard.
d to use as an Open Space and not to allow the erection of a bandstand, nor permit games or sports or any act of desecration to be carried out in the churchyard, nor any political meeting or religious meeting, nor to let anyone be a nuisance to owners or occupiers of adjacent properties.
f to maintain the above by personal supervision or otherwise.
3) The Rights of the Vicar
a Access to the churchyard
b that his agreement was subject to a faculty being granted.
All legal costs of the Licence to be borne by the UDC.
With the reorganisation of Local government in 1974 the interests and responsibilities of the UDC in this licence passed to Milton Keynes Council.
In 1967 a company called Hunts Land Services was contracted to the UDC for the removal of the stones, the levelling of the churchyard and reseeding with grass. After removal most of the stones were stacked, the ground levelled by JCB and finally harrowed over before reseeding. Many of the stones, and several unrecorded ones were laid as a paved walkway on the south side of the church.
The most important table tomb, that of Thomas Abbott Hamilton had an epitaph by William Cowper on the ledger slab. This monument, see photograph No 244, was dismantled and unfortunately the decorative side and end panels broken and the fragments re-used with bricks to form a base no more than 30cm high on which the ledger slab was laid. This insubstantial base caused an existing crack in the slab to open and the stone to fracture, into two pieces, longitudinally.
This slab has since been carefully repaired and placed on a new brick base, in the churchyard to the east of the church near the Revis Almshouses.
The method of the repair of the slab and the design of the new brick base was agreed between the Milton Keynes Conservation Dept and Mr Roy Mason of H.W.Mason and Sons. Roy personally oversaw all of the work and actually built much of the brick base himself, see photographs No 244. The two halves of the stone were carefully joined using a special resin based adhesive, with stainless steel rods inserted to strengthen the repair. The inscription consisting of 651 letters was carefully cleaned, but the Council's Conservation Officer would not allow Roy to have them recut. Now in 2011, fourteen years later it is barely legible.
The work was carried out by H.W.Mason and Sons, the local Monumental Masons in 1996-7 after an Appeal led by Dennis on behalf of the Newport Pagnell Historical Society. Finance for the work was kindly provided by the following bodies: The Trustees of the Harry Middleton Gift, the Francis Coales Charitable Foundation, H.W.Mason and Sons, Milton Keynes Council, the Newport Pagnell Lace Circle, the Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society, The Cowper Museum at Olney and a personal contribution from the Chairman of the Lace Guild.
In 2007 John Coales passed to Dennis the original manuscript list and sketch plan of the survey covering graves 1-122, which was carried out in 1964.
In August 2007 Ray Bailey cleaned and took photographs of the retained, mostly fragmentary stones, which had been re-laid as the pavement on the south side of the church, sadly his ill health stopped him carrying out more recording, but he freely gave copies of his photographs to be used in this record. Subsequently Shaun Higgins carried on the work taking more photographs of the pavement, from various angles in different weather conditions, and also of the surviving gravestones, numbers 1, 41, 60, 104, 109, 116, 117, 244, 263, 302, 383 and 391. Subsequently Dennis identified many of the stones from the typed survey lists, and more recently Dick Parker has identified more after studying the pavement in all light and weather conditions. Dick has produced meticulous plans of the location of stones in the churchyard and also of those in the church.
Study of the photographs has enabled us to add fuller inscription details to the UDC list. The memorials with a photograph are identified in the lists below and where evidence is sufficient the layout of the inscription follows that on the stone. Numbers 363 to 392 are either complete or broken gravestones with inscriptions that were not recorded in 1964 or 1965 lists.
I am particularly indebted to Mr Frank Palmer, Former Newport Pagnell UDC Chief Finance Officer, and Acting Town Clerk, at the time that the Churchyard memorials were recorded. Fortunately Frank, due to his personal interest in the town, retained a copy of the record and the plan, the originals of which may have since been lost due to the re-organisation of Local Government when the Newport Pagnell UDC became absorbed within the Milton Keynes Council 1974.
Also to Brian Humphries for permission to include his photograph of the church and churchyard taken from 'The Bully' the meadow on the south side of the church shortly before the clearance of the gravestones, and to Michael Pratt for the photo of the original Hamilton Tomb No. 244, which he took c1960.
Copies of the original lists and plans together with a CD containing a copy of this report and a photographic record of the surviving stones will be deposited at the County Record Office at Aylesbury, the Milton Keynes Library Local Studies centre, and the Newport Pagnell Historical Society.
Copyright of the photographs belongs to the photographers. Copyright of the plans is reserved to Frank Palmer and Dick Parker, and that of the Introductory text and the list to Dennis Mynard. No item or part may be reproduced without due acknowledgment.
Dennis Mynard October 2011
Numbers 1-122 were recorded in August 1964 by Ray Bailey, Dennis Mynard and John Coales. Subsequently, in 1965-1966, numbers 1-362 were partly recorded by Newport Pagnell Urban District Council.
Additional Stones, numbers 363-391 not recorded earlier, were stones that had fallen and become overgrown with grass which were only discovered when the churchyard was cleared. Many whole or fragmentary stones survive in the pavement on the south side of the church; recognisable ones are recorded in photographs which are on the CD accompanying this report.
All stones listed below were re-laid in the pavement apart from thirteen which were taken into the church and laid in the floor at the east end of the Nave, these No's 1a, 23, 41, 60, 104, 109, 116, 117, 121, 156, 244, 388, and 384 are recorded in the list of MONUMENTS IN NEWPORT PAGNELL CHURCH compiled in 2011 by Dennis and Shaun, see separate report and list.