Archaeology - The Churchyard

‘The People Before Us’ churchyard survey

In July 2017 and June 2018 a small team from Canterbury Christ Church University ran ‘The People Before Us’ churchyard survey at the Church of St Mary and St Eanswythe; during the second summer, we also undertook archaeological work behind the church (see other pages in this section for details). Over 15 days we were joined by a number of people from local communities, members of the church, a small number of military veterans, archaeology and history students, and school children from three primary schools.

We aimed to:

1) Start mapping and recording the hundreds of gravestones and memorials within, and outside of, the church, many of which are at serious risk of deterioration and vandalism.

2) To start engaging a whole range of people in our community heritage activities as part of the Finding Eanswythe Project.

3) To start exploring how green heritage sites such as this are important to the local community, and the benefits of taking part in small-scale projects of this kind.

Over the years several surveys at this site have helped build a picture of the people who lived and died in Folkestone over the centuries. Our future work aims to complement these by providing a more detailed archive including photographs of the stones, details of who they commemorate, and the types and history of memorials.

More broadly, we were also interested in understanding how the churchyard has evolved in the decades since the previous survey undertaken by Paul Bingham in the 1980s. Has there been a significant degradation of gravestones due to environmental and human factors? How many have been moved, or removed, completely? Have the gravestones been reused for other purposes at, or near, the site? Much has indeed changed. Many gravestones have been moved and now rest along the boundary walls, and there is clear degradation – sadly resulting from vandalism in some cases – but also due to the natural environment; many that could be transcribed a few decades ago, are now no longer legible.  This is why the photographic record is so important; we are working towards uniting a new digital archive with the information from earlier surveys.

Over the course of the project, we were delighted to see how many people, from all different backgrounds, joined us in our endeavours. Some took part for the whole survey, others dropped in when they could, and many stopped on their daily journey through the site to talk about the project, and share their own experiences of the place. It was an extremely positive atmosphere, and we felt a strong sense of community, and shared-ownership of the heritage.

Nearly 100 primary school children from three schools took part in our ‘Graveyard Challenge’ and also explored the history of the church through tours, talks, and art activities. They also got to handle a range of archaeological materials, including an actual Anglo-Saxon skeleton! The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and it was clear that they went away with a greater understanding about why their local history and heritage is important – but also exciting – to explore.

The benefits of such projects to individuals and local communities is a key aspect that Lesley Hardy and I presented on at various conferences and workshops, culminating in a book chapter (see the resources page); the need to protect these green heritage spaces in the future is of paramount importance. Beyond the survey, we discovered that there was great value for people in simply spending time recording, drawing, and discussing the churchyard. We speculate that this is in part a response to the nature of the site. Such places speak of past lives and past experience, bringing together the present with the recent and distant past. Perhaps there is something comforting and reassuring about being in this stream of historical continuity?

Overall, our findings will hopefully help inform local bodies on the value of such historic sites and green heritage spaces, and how better to protect, and use them, in the future.