Barnack Churchyard over Time

Barnack ChurchyardIf you stand near the western entrance to the churchyard and look carefully at the ground level between the church tower and the boundary wall opposite the post office, it is apparent that the land gradually rises. In fact the churchyard opposite the post office is about 1.5 metres above the road.

 

 The base of the Saxon tower is about 0.25m.below the surrounding ground and lower than the base of the south aisle wall and porch which were added in about 1200. It is difficult to tell precisely, but the base of the tower must be at or just above street level. So over a distance of 40 metres the ground level rises just enough to make it seem as if the oldest parts of the church were built in a slight depression.

Could the church have sunk? Probably not. Barnack is built on rock that provides good foundations. Of course, a certain amount of soil would have been thrown up when the church foundations were dug. However there is an additional and more significant explanation for the rise in ground level.

Barnack, as is well known, has Saxon origins. People have lived and died in the parish for more than 1000 years. Most of them will have been buried in the churchyard. How many have been buried we cannot be sure. However, for the sake of argument, if we say that the population of the parish has averaged 500 over this period, this could mean at least 1000 burials a century, perhaps as many as 2000. The last burials in the churchyard took place in the 1890s and the first probably prior to 900 A.D. So we have more than 10 centuries of deaths, which translates into a figure of say between 10,000 and 20,000 burials. The church has not sunk; the churchyard has risen mainly as a consequence of this mass of burials.

Brian Palmer