Last year I completed a
placement with The Churches Conservation Trust based on the
churchyard of the Wentworth Old Church,
a site they have cared for since 1974. My placement would extend
the Trust's knowledge and understanding of the graveyard and
help this historic site remain open and cared for. This is a
brief taste of `some things I discovered and how I found the
"Stories in Stone".
I felt I
had to understand the history of Wentworth Old Churchyard before
I could begin to understand what is there today. I decided to
start my placement looking through the records in the Sheffield,
Rotherham and Doncaster Archives.
clear that the graveyard was established because Wentworth lies
roughly in the middle of a linear shaped parish. Carrying a body
from the western edge perhaps beyond Hoyland to be buried at
Wath would have been a major undertaking, especially in the 12th
Century when the area had few roads. A chapel-of-ease was needed
in the centre of the parish. The church authorities were
reluctant to fund the chapel. The solution to the problem was to
build at Wentworth; it had a family, the Wentworths, that were
becoming increasingly wealthy and were anxious to demonstrate
how important they were. They largely paid for the church and
its graveyard and the family continued to maintain and fund it.
I next made
a plan of the site and then began to plot the location of the
graves within it. I noticed that many of the graves were not dug
on the traditional east-west line. This graveyard however was
always controlled by the Wentworth/ Fitzwilliam family who had
other considerations. Also most of the village worked for the
family and they would want to be remembered by them when they
died, so along the pathway leading to the chancel door, which
before 1877 was the private entrance way for the Fitzwilliams,
gravestones were set facing onto the path so that they could be
read and hopefully remembered by the family as they walked to
beside the church doorway is a gravestone commemorating "Mrs
Hannah Jennet, the Housekeeper of Wentworth House" ("Mrs" was a
courtesy title, she never married). She stands at the door, as
she always had at Wentworth, head of the female servants, ready
to welcome the family back home from London.
variety of sources I began to understand who was buried in which
grave and how the graves where connected not only to the
Wentworth/Fitzwilliam family but also how they connected to each
other. The Birams are a good example of this. Joshua and his son
Benjamin share a family tomb, a table model, then very
fashionable, beside the entrance to the church.
As I researched the family I discovered that Joshua had
served as the Steward of the Household and also managed the
Estate’s industrial and mining interests. On his retirement his
son took over his duties. Father and son steered the Estate into
becoming an extremely wealthy one. The Earl Fitzwilliam thought
so much of Ben Biram, one of the
19th Century’s greatest mining engineers, that he began
his letters to him with "My dear Ben". If the Birams were so
important on the Estate I wondered why were they not buried
within the church? I began to look at other graves around them.
Did they choose to be buried outside the church because they
wanted to be close to John Kedman and his family, their
relatives-by-marriage? I realised that if the church was a
sepulchre for the Fitzwilliam family, the graveyard was a
sepulchre for its retainers.
gravestone is that of Ralph Cutt of Harley, who died in 1670.
The church certainly existed in and almost certainly well before
1235, so for over 400 years all the burials outside of the
church were unmarked and never had gravestones. After the 17th
Century, when graves began to be marked, it is impossible to say
what proportion of those stones that were there have survived.
to see if the poorer villagers were ever able to mark their
graves, so I looked at the family names in receipt of parish
relief in the 18th Century; these family names do not occur on
any of the remaining gravestones at Wentworth, they probably
never did. However some poor families did make a tremendous
effort to erect a gravestone, a good example, near the gateway,
is to the memory of George Hobson who died in 1892 leaving a
widow with eight children under the age of 14.
Despite being in very
straightened circumstances his widow had a substantial and
expensive grave stone erected. However, over time her investment
proved to be a good one, as it was also used to mark her burial
in 1938, commemorates her second husband
William Rouse (buried across the road), Joseph Wm.
Wright, who died 1980 aged 91 and Mabel and Winnie Booth, her
As you see
from the few examples I have used here, I have collated many
"Stories in Stone" but I do not feel the records are mine, I
merely take care of them until I can pass them on. Through
Wentworth Village Talk I have made contact with some family
historians researching their Wentworth ancestors. They have all
shared their family information with me, giving me leads I have
to follow. I cannot see when this work will be completed or my
interest in Wentworth churchyard lost.
her retirement from Tickhill Post Office, Roseanne studied for a
BA (Hons) in Heritage Studies at Lincoln, her placement with the
CCT being part of her course work. Roseanne was awarded her BA
at Lincoln Cathedral in 2011.]