Friday, October 15, 2010

Gravestones and lawnmowers

click photo to enlarge
The earliest device for keeping down the grass in graveyards was the humble sheep. They are still occasionally used today, and their presence brings an old world, agricultural charm to the hallowed plot. The scythe was also used for long grass and awkward corners, but like the sheep it has pretty much disappeared. In virtually every UK churchyard today (except those that deliberately let the grass grow long for conservation reasons) it is the lawnmower and strimmer that are employed to keep the grass in order.

Walking a mower round the closely packed and irregularly sized graves is never an easy task, and around the mid-twentieth century some parishes tried to make the grass cutting an easier task. They took down all the headstones and re-positioned them in lines around the perimeter of the churchyard. Often they were placed in front of the wall: sometimes they were used to make a wall. This was accomapnied by levelling of the turf. Immediately the job of cutting the churchyard grass was a task taking a couple of hours rather than a day ot two, and the volunteers to do it became easier to find. Not everyone likes this development, and where it has been proposed in some churches it has led to strong disagreements. But, quite a few have adopted the measure, particularly those in urban settings.

The second of today's photographs shows a church (St Margaret's at King's Lynn) where this has happened  in a very extensive way. A few notable gravestones remain, dotted amongst the greensward, but most have been put to the edge. These headstones date from the second half of the eighteenth and the early nineteenth centuries. The first photograph (of Duddington churchyard, Northamptonshire) may show it too, though much of this churchyard looks fairly "unreconstructed". What this image does show is the damage that mowers can cause to gravestones (see the chips and scrapes at the base of the leftmost), something that never happened when sheep quietly cropped the grass away.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Photo 1(Photo 2)
Camera: Lumix LX3 (Olympus E510)
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 5.1mm (24mm/35 mm equiv.)(55mm (110mm/35mm equiv.))
F No: f2 (f5.6)
Shutter Speed: 1/125 (1/160)
ISO: 80 (100)
Exposure Compensation: -0.66 (-0.3 EV)
Image Stabilisation: On