At a meeting of the Parochial Church Council in 1959, complaints were made about the condition of the churchyard and would someone do something! The People's Warden was farming the major portion of the Parish with staff and implements, so eyes turned to him when the question was put.
We had already experienced this kind of work and the criticisms that always followed, for the Council had called for volunteers to clean up the hay once or twice a year. As the volunteers got fewer and fewer, a barrel of beer was produced, by way of encouragement. Other inducements were also tried without success. One or two farmers sent a few hands during working hours to try and get the churchyard looking more respectable, but this soon petered out as those who knew they were going to be asked to do the work just failed to turn up at the meetings. On one such occasion only one person turned up, so he promptly set fire to the churchyard! The dry grass crackled and smoked; the flames quickly spread around the grave stones and devoured the few flowering trees we had and generally left the churchyard charred, blackened and desolated, exposing not only the grave-mounds but also the numerous molehills. The little billy-winds would whip up the tiny ash from the grass which would then swirl around the congregation as they approached the top of the hill prior to entering the Church - it could not have been worse! There was no level ground anywhere. Some headstones leaned in one direction, some another, whilst the foot-stones that had not previously been visible among the ragworts, daisies and plantains now protruded through the molehills. Some were only just visible, but all had been blackened and were dotted about all over the place at all kinds of angles, forming most grotesque figures. All this at the foot of the beautiful church of St. Mary.
"If the Council will give me a free hand I will undertake to tidy up the churchyard in co-operation with the vicar and the other warden" he declared. After much discussion and imaginary difficulties, and not altogether without some suspicion, the postman was heard to say "Well, it'll never look wuss". Another remarked "There was no-one in the village left to care now". So it was agreed to accept the warden's offer.
The Vicar was to obtain a faculty to move the stones into equally spaced rows, with the foot-stones to be placed against the headstones and in rows that would allow a tractor to pass up and down. This faculty took an awfully long time until one Sunday morning, in reply to the often repeated question "Is the faculty granted yet, vicar?" he at last replied in the affirmative, subject to the two War Graves being left undisturbed.
The day Gordon Peck and David Tyler began moving the stones was very hot. The sweat poured down their faces and soaked through their shirts, for these headstones were very heavy and buried deep into the soil. They tugged and they heaved, as much root growth had held them over many years. Once extracted, they were then carried into the proper place in the row, according to plan. This went on for several days under the watchful eye of the vicar and the suspicious eyes of the inquisitive villagers. Choosing the right time to do such a controversial job was most important, but by the next Sunday the only noticeable change was the realignment of the stones. On the next day, however, in the hope that Church matters were forgotten for a few days and the village women absorbed with their washing, Ernie Smith passed unnoticed through the village Street on his tractor and rotovator. The soil between the rows of headstones caused little resistance to the blades and amid a swirl of dry earth, stones and blackened turf, the mounds and molehills were levelled. The change of colour and the appearance the next Sunday was encouraging (to some, anyway) and by the following Sunday new grass seed had been sown and pressed in with a rib-roll.
"Whatever would old Martha have said?" "A tractor, wheels, such goings on, all over our ancestors - what is the vicar doing allowing such a thing?". The village was now having something to really chatter its teeth over.
As the late summer rain fell gently on the churchyard, the young grass seed turned from the rust colour of new emergence to yellow and then to a lush green that enveloped the yard in a beautiful mantel of greenness, spreading all over the level ground. What a transformation. But it was not yet finished - the real problem was to come when this new grass became established and would require controlling until the late Autumn. There had been a change of heart, too, as this new grass appeared. On the next Monday morning, shepherd Ted Eareth set his sheep netting across the churchyard, being especially careful where new flowers had been placed on more recent graves and trying hard not to cause offence. The flock was driven through the village Street and up the hill. Then, to the horror of the few passers-by, it turned in at the church gate and appeared to run amok! There they stayed until the following Saturday morning, when they again passed through the village on their journey. This was the final move and one of the most valuable. The flock had nibbled each blade of grass between and around all the stones. They had in the process fertilised and consolidated the ground once and for all. Each side of the pathway were planted hundreds of crocuses and flowering trees. Surely the Hammonds (1781), Henry and John Jacob (1718), the Potters (1813), the many Frosts, Mingays and Pecks, together with Corporal Hailstone R.M. (1920) and Private F.S. Foreman (1917) would have appreciated the most holy and biblical animal to have grazed over them instead of the scorching and uncared for desolation that had previously marked their resting place.
The churchyard was greatly admired. All was forgiven!