THE CHURCHYARD CONUNDRUM - Is there anybody there?

by Alan Smith

Why would a parish church wish to have a churchyard located three quarters of a mile from the church, exactly on the parish boundary? This is a question that has been nagging me since I carefully examined an estate map of Ruyton XI Towns, dated 1771.  The map, which is contained in a book of land ownership and valuation, was commissioned by the Sixth Baron Craven. He was the son of a Shropshire clergyman, who, in 1769, inherited that title, and all the land that went with it, from his childless uncle.

 While no doubt the Sixth Baron's main interest was to find out how much he was worth, to the historian it provides a wealth of information on land ownership, land rented, and from whom, acreage, (in acres roods and perches), land values and rents.  This brings us back to the puzzling churchyard.

 At the time in question, the, 'Church', owned 18.5% of Ruyton's land. This was known as 'Glebe',(the name still crops up in field and place names). In addition to this, three numbered plots are listed as, 'Church Yard'. While the first plot was, as one would expect, by the church of St. John the Baptist, the other two were either side at the very end of Startlewood Lane.

  The Concise Oxford Dictionary gives, 'churchyard' as: 'the enclosed ground around a church, esp. as used for burials'. Clearly, when this land was acquired, it was intended for use other than to provide an income for the vicar. Could that use have been for burials? The disposing of felons or suicides comes to mind but it is unlikely the small village of Ruyton XI Towns have so many throughout its whole history to warrant so much allocation of land. Can you provide a rational explanation? If so we would like to hear from you.


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