The churchyard – a place of skulls and spring flowers was definitely ready for its Spring mow. Shaggy grass peeped from between the monuments and memorials. The 18th century skulls grinned at me from small headstones clustered near the church entrance and there were several styles to choose from. These ranged from a naïve version to more professionally carved ones.
However, there was a 17th century table top tomb beside the church wall and also near the entrance It’s a helpfully low tomb in that it’s just the right height for sitting down on or standing on to look through the window above and inside the church. This tomb is dedicated to two of the Biggs brothers whose charitable enterprises still help those less fortunate in Fordwich to this day. The Bigg brothers were Walter and Stephen who died in 1631 and 1646 respectively. Inside St Mary’s, the bread shelves remain in place for the
‘loaf provided by Thomas Biggs (another brother who died in 1669) to be distributed weekly to the poor.’
A sort of 18th century food bank as the guidebook helpfully points out. More examples of their generosity are recorded on Benefaction boards by the tower arch. The guidebook adds that:
‘Walter Bigg gave the income from land for the relief of poor and aged people in the parish and Stephen Bigg gave 20 shillings yearly for six poor householders in Fordwich and six in Sturry from land rent with the remainder to be used to put out poor boys and girls of each parish as apprentices. These bequests (including the bread) are still being fulfilled by the Fordwich United Charities.’
Frustratingly, I couldn’t find out much about the Bigg brothers but I will keep researching.
Spring flowers studded the grass: bluebells, dog violets and the bright yellow flowers of lesser celandine made splashes of colour amongst the memorials. Spring is such a lovely time to be out church crawling, or steeple chasing, as Mother Nature begins to yawn and stretch and come back to life again. A line of forget me nots led the way to a young child’s grave. The rose on it was a poignant reminder of unrealised hopes.
But it was the skulls that caught my attention. They were all clustered around the entrance, jostling for position as they reminded the parishioners to lead a godly life as they would one day be only a skull and crossbones.
As I rounded the corner of the church, I saw the River Stour in the distance and also a rug of wood anemones completely covering the flat top of another grave. They are one of my favourite Spring flowers and nearby was another rug but this time it was of primroses, yellow and pink. Cuckoo flowers with their delicate, pale pink flowers lifted their heads up to the sun. They are an important feed plant for both the Orange Tip and Green veined White butterflies. Cuckoo flowers are also known as ‘lady’s smock’ and their arrival is thought to coincide with the arrival of the first cuckoo hence the name.
The more modern section of the churchyard was beside the river and these headstones featured kingfishers and daffodils. There are several meanings attributed to daffodils and these include Memory. There was also a man swimming on one of them and I wondered what it meant. This was proof that people, even now, want to leave a message for those left behind.
As I finally left St Mary’s and walked back down the path, I spotted a lone headstone, set apart from the others, and in a very different style. It was a winged skull and reminded me of the ones that I’d seen in photographs from ancient New England churchyards.
However, I forgot to keep a lookout for the rumoured ghost that is supposed to patrol this quiet corner of Fordwich. It is as the guidebook says:
‘Colonel Samuel Short, Lord of the Manor, who died in 1716, and it is his ghost that is said to still walk by the church gate.’
I then moved onto the church in Sturry that I’d seen from the bus and …what delights I found there…
©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.
References and further reading:
Guidebook to St Mary’s Fordwich, Kent published by the Churches Conservation Trust
https://www.brunningandprice.co.uk/georgeanddragon/history/ ( some interesting facts about Fordwich and its history)