Echoes of The Past

(Memorials in the Old Church)

From the earliest days, burial inside a church was regarded as halfway to Heaven and in many minds a way of ensuring that the deceased was more easily remembered and the family honoured by the splendour of the memorials on view. They are of course invaluable to historians, particularly those building a picture of their forebears. The practice was not confined to cathedrals and the city churches; indeed many of the most elaborate and informative memorials survive in country parish churches. But small churches became overcrowded and, with the added factor of increasing concerns about health, burial inside the church virtually died out.

There are three memorials on the north wall of the Old Church chancel. The one of most direct interest refers to a trust set up in 1635 which remained in operation until the year 2004. It reads:

“Near this place lyeth
The body of John Hoskings
Deceased the 15th of
February 1635 & for
Ever gave a parcel of
Ground to this Church
& Poor of this parish
& for the true performance
There of put in trust ofesers
Tho’ Hoskings
Iohn ap Iohn
Christopher edwards
Rowland Iohn.

The parcel of ground above-named is situate at Cross Vane, in ye parish at ye top of ye Lone Lane, is bounded on ye North by ye sd Lane, on ye South East and West almost entirely by ye Argoed Lands, in shape obling from E. to W., in measurement 5a 1r 8p.”

The two other handsome memorials on the north wall of the chancel each with its poetic commentary are:

In memory of Thomas C. Rosser of His Majesty’s Royal Navy and son of William and Sarah Rosser, late of this Parish. He died at Port-Royal, Jamaica, on the 23rd day of November 1832, aged 28.

They that in ships with courage bold
O’er swelling waves their trade pursue
Do God’s amazing works behold
And in the deep his wonders view.

And in a stylish oval border:

To the memory of William James, who departed this
Life August ye 22nd 1800, aged 64 years
Also Margaret James, who departed this Life Apl ye 15th
1804 aged 68 years.         

As God together did us join
So did he part us for A Time
But now together here we lies
Till Christ doth call us to Arise.”

Thirty-six memorials have been identified in the church, most of them to more than one person. The earliest is dated 1635, the latest 1827. Seven are wall memorials, the rest flat stones, 15 in the chancel, 6 in the nave, 4 in the South aisle and 4 in the porch. Four record deaths in the 17th century, 41 in the 18th and 9 in the 19th. Few have anything but names and dates on them. The exceptions are worth noting – first the “rude” spelling on a flat stone inside the altar rail –


In the chancel are two flat stones which appear to record the death of the same young man; one reads

Here lieth ye body
of William ye son
of Iames and
Blancs Iones who
died March ye 12
aged 18 yeres

The other reads:

“Here lieth ye body
Iames Iones and Blanc Iones
who Died March ye 12
aged 18 years.
Mourn not for me my
Parencs dear I am
Not dead but sliping

We cannot guess why there are two memorials or why the name of the deceased is missing from one of them; but we can smile at the inadvertent reference to the sloping floor of the chancel.

In the porch is a flat stone remembering “John Edwards of the glyn who departed this life the 26 day of February anno domini 1728.” The churchwarden whose name is on one of the bells, dated 1700 is a John Edwardes and the dates suggest that they are one and the same.

Today tributes on memorials and gravestones are either non-existent or tend to be short and succinct; the latter often indicate much heart-felt thought as these examples show:

“A Fine Son and a Loving Brother”  (Jonathan Dodds, 1987)

“Much Loved Historian and Enthusiast ” (John Hope-Simpson, 1989)

“Submariner, Horticulturalist and Generous Benefactor”  (Lt.Cdr. Anthony Collett, 1991)

“The Life that I have is all that I have
The Life that I have is yours” (Leonard Carter, 1996)

“Devoted Wife – Generous Friend” (Elsie Kimber, 2004).  

[Photos: Lyn Harper]

[from: Penallt Revisited]