Cemeteries and Graveyards

Book review

By Celia Heritage; reviewed by Trevor James, published 15th June 2022

Cemeteries and Graveyards, Celia Heritage, Pen and Sword, 2022, 236p, £15.99. ISBN 978 1 52670 237 1.

This is a most thorough and engaging book. Its focus is specifically the widest context of burials in England and Wales. As a handbook to be used by anyone wanting to understand burial practices of the past, and indeed how they are reflected in modern arrangements and structures, this is an extremely valuable tool to support family history research. I would recommend it most strongly.

My criticism, however, is twofold. Firstly, it devotes only part of a paragraph to the phenomenon of timber memorials, known as ‘deadboards’, ‘grave boards’ and ‘leaping boards’, into which I have researched extensively. This is a cultural and geological phenomenon which is seriously under-appreciated by all who explore the wider role and use of graveyards. [xref Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society Bulletin, 171, Spring 2021, 47-63]

The second criticism is that this is a consideration of burial grounds, including those that we would ordinarily and conventionally describe as a church graveyard. My point is that, with Professor Finberg’s guidance, there is now an appreciation of the concept of ‘churchyard’ as ‘holy place’, in which burials take place but which are not their prime role. The St Michael-on-Greenhill Old Churchyard at Lichfield, originally nine acres in extent, is possibly the best example available. Celia Heritage does hint at this wider role and function but does not pursue its potential.