If you walk down Church Path in Shipton under Wychwood you walk between two churchyards. On one side, around St Mary the Virgin Church, is the old burial ground that dates back to the time the church was built, possibly earlier. This original churchyard was formally closed after World War Two, although it is still available for the placing of ashes which can be recorded in a book of remembrance. On the other side is the ‘new’ churchyard, dating from about the beginning of World War One.
The newer burial site ran out of space a few years back and Dr Scott kindly gave the village part of his garden to extend it. He and his family also provided a seat around the walnut tree that offers a place for quiet contemplation. That extension is where most burials now take place.
Since my own son, David, is buried in the older part of the new plot I have taken an interest in the churchyard. This led to my taking over keeping the records from John Hartley some years back and emptying the dustbins. The records are incomplete although we have done our best to fill them.
The gardening and general maintenance is in the hands of a contractor, though Shipton Volunteers do admirable work trimming trees and providing other care as needed. The dustbins generally provide enough space to clear the natural rubbish that accumulates as flowers die and tributes reach the ends of their lives. There is still a problem with the use of the compost bins; having to dive head first into a wheelie bin to extract artificial flowers from amongst possibly rotting vegetation is not a high point of my week.
There are lovely human stories behind some of the graves. One that I find so heartening is the family who gave up their claim to be buried next to their son to allow his friend, killed in WW2, to be buried beside his childhood friend.
It is moving to meet recently bereaved people; every bereavement is individual and personal, and the church tries to avoid too many rules and regulations, especially relating to what can be put on graves at a time that can be very demanding and emotional.
Sometimes I get involved in tracing graves for people researching their family history. It is surprising how many graves are ultimately found to be in Milton or even in Witney, though the searcher is convinced Shipton is the place to look.
One way or another, we try to maintain our churchyard for the good of the living and the dead, respecting both and ensuring the village has an asset and not a relic.
February – March 2017