Angmering Churchyard Memorials

- A Village Society at Rest

by RW Standing

A Thousand Years

By the 19th century St Margaret's, West Angmering churchyard, may have been in use for a thousand years since the coming of St Wilfrid. East Angmering church nearby closed its doors in 1573, its yard or litten having been used those few hundred years less. There is no doubt our Saxon forebears received Christian burial, whether or not churches were in existence at that time. Ten thousand people may have come to rest in these two small plots of land during that period. Not until 1837 was St Churchyard extensionsMargaret's burial ground extended to the south, dedicated in 1841, with more land added later in the century.  A low lying meadow to the south was the last large addition, with the first grave there for a fourteen year old girl named Dawn, in 1934.  Already today, within living memory of that event, this large expanse is full. 

The contrast is enormous, and is due to one great change in custom.  Until the 18th century permanent stone memorials were virtually unheard of in parish churchyards - only within the church were ledger stones or brass plates laid  to mark where privilege had come to rest.  Previously a medieval cross may have been the only feature that decorated the humps and contours of an acre of meadow, likely enough used to pasture the Rector's sheep.

There is another feature that marks the area first occupied by Dawn.  The churchyard plan had been drawn up in a surveyor's office, with rows and ranks of grave plots marked on it, ready to be occupied in turn.  The relative informality of the ancient litten was of a dying culture.

It is in the ancient burial ground, clearly discernable to this day banked up above surrounding land, where much of the recent history of Angmering leaves its fading message. If only earlier centuries had provided us with just a few memorials, so much more could be learned.  Those that there were could be found in the church and its chapels, but for the most part these have been lost.

It must be emphasised that until well after 1840 the vast majority of villagers could not afford gravestones. It was the appropriation by wealth of more and more of the hitherto open meadow that reduced the area needed by the village at large, necessitating acquisition of additional land.  That as well as increased population.

Each side of the Greenway

Even a cursory survey of this burial ground reveals an interesting peculiarity.  Firstly we see the church in the centre, circled by paths from the lychgate in the east, through to the western gate.  And then notice a depression in the ground south of the church, where an ancient footpath ran south towards Ham. A view from the south, with the ancient 'greenway' footpath to the right. Olliver altar tomb centre, and Baker vault and headstones left.This 'greenway' divides the ground into two halves, with headstones and tombs decaying away amongst rampant boskage on either hand.  It is remarkable that most of these headstones face in towards the path.  Those on the village side face west away from their graves, and those on the other side face east over their graves in what is today the conventional way.  This is so, not only for  the early headstones, but also those of the early 19th century. 

The obvious answer is that the memorials were meant to be read, and having a footpath already present decided which way the stones would face, in a divided yard.  But there is also the interesting question of how the closure of East Angmering church, and consequent burial of its parishioners in West Angmering was dealt with.  Were they provided with their own separate areas, east and west to match the names of the parishes? 1573 is just too early for surviving vestry books to provide any clue, and no other source of information has been found. It would be very easy to find evidence, in the distribution of headstones, for such a division, but in reality too tenuous for any conclusion.  It has to accepted as more likely that a distribution in family groups and households, or a distribution according to farm and house tenancy is what took place.  A mixture of both being the most probable.

The Earliest Memorials

Search where we may in local parish churchyards, it is unlikely that any memorials will be found earlier in date than the late 17th century.  Not a local peculiarity though; this is true across the whole of England - where there is no ancient Celtic survivals.   One or two anonymous memorials from a medieval age are suggested, as at Clapham, where a small lozenge or coffin shape stone was carved with a cross.  Otherwise a few rare examples may be dated just prior to 1700,  as with two small altar tombs at East Preston - one recently demolished - inscribed with the dates 1678 and 1683.

It is to be expected that Angmering would have had tombs, or headstones, of a similar antiquity.  There are indeed a few possibilities that still exist but which have been reduced to anonymity by weathering and damage from unkempt trees.  Otherwise the earliest readable inscription is dated 1705 for Edward Ingram who lived to a remarkable age for the period - over ninety years.  But it was not until the 1720s that [surviving] memorials become at all common, with the principal inhabitants making a statement about themselves as much as for the departed.

Types and Periods of Memorial

The earliest headstones of around the 1720s are remarkably plain, small, and Protestant.  No symbols appear, and only the bare inscriptions with name and date, and often a verse, although few can be read as yet. Lettering is in script form that is more attractive than the formal appearance of later inscriptions in Roman lettering.  Tops of these stones typically have round or concave shoulders and a round arched centre only a third of the overall width - slightly fussy looking (see Example 1 below)

By the 1740s stones are getting larger, with mouldings, and decorative symbols, while retaining script lettering in slightly more formal style (see Example 2 below).  Symbols appear first on the Penfold stones.  The Ingram family perhaps kept to the original form. One of the Palmer double headstones is a good example of the mid-century style, with a tree of life carving above the lettering.   Similar resurrection symbols on the Penfold stones are worn and unclear.

Roman lettering, mixed with Italics, becomes common towards 1800,  with the Baker headstones as examples (see Example 3 below).  Or the earlier Ann Palmer of 1786 on which symbols are profuse. Care must be taken in assuming dates of decease and erection of stones were the same. For the Palmer example, it may have been a decade and more later before memorials were needed for members of the family.

Into the 19th century and gravestones became ever more varied and florid (see Example 4 below).  John Amoore 1801 and Thomas Green in 1811 being examples.  Many still employed simple epitaphs without decoration, using larger stones than a century earlier. 

The more ostentatious and less common alternative to a headstone was the altar tomb (see Example 5 below).  These have brick or panelled sides and stone slab tops, but on being damaged it is all too easy for them to be dismantled leaving only the top slab in place on the ground, with the side inscriptions lost and that on the top soon worn away.  There are several demolished altar tombs at Angmering, with top faces at grass level. Their moulded edges indicate they were not ledgers, which are unlikely outside the church.

The earliest inscription found is on the north side of a tomb near the porch - Thomas Olliver sen. 1726. But as there are other inscriptions of the 1780s on the tomb, the later date for construction can be assumed. Those that are readable elsewhere are mainly of this period or later. The French family tomb is an ornate example in good condition although the main inscription on the top is largely obliterated (see Example 6 below).  An earlier tomb in fairly good condition has George Palmer 1742 on the side, but with the top eroded it may have been constructed for a later member of that family.

William Ingram 1718. North side of church. In Memory of  /  William Ingram  /  Who Died ye (12)  /  (of) August 1718  / [Aged ? this buried]
Mary and And French pair of headstones late 18th century. West side of old  churchyard. I(n Memory of  /  Mary Daughr of Robert  /  and Mary French  /  who departed this life  /  the 17th of June 1791  /   Aged 26 Years. In memory  /  of Ann the Daughter of  /  Robert and  /  Mary French  /  who departed this Life  /  on the 31st of May 1786  /  Aged 24 Years
Example 1
(Early 18th century)
Example 2
(mid- to late 18th century)
Harry Baker 1819 and family. Headstone next to their vault south of the church porch.
Thomas Green probably erected 1850. East side of the churchyard. In  /  Memory of  / Thomas Green  /  who departed this life  /  August 26th 1811  / Aged 77 Years  /  Also ..........
Example 3
(late18th - early 19th century
Example 4
(early 19th century)
Olliver tomb north side 1726 inscription. In Memory of  /  THOMAS OLLIVER Sen.  /  who Died the (1st) January 1726  /  Aged (5)6 Years  /
French north side tomb. To the Memory of  /  Lydia Wife of George French  /  who departed this Life the 30th March  / 1818 / aged 50 Years /
Example 5
(altar tomb 18th century)
Example 6
(altar tomb 19th century)

There are a number of altar slabs on very low brick sidewalls, and it can only be suspected these are the earliest in construction.  The term 'ledger tomb' for them may be confusing.   A few tombs can also be found, shaped like a coffin, but usually associated with a headstone which may be contemporary. Those which are readable are early 19th century.  There is an altar tomb in good condition with round ends, which makes an attractive variation, but almost certainly constructed after 1840.

All of the Ancient Graveyard memorials, belonging to the era ending in 1840, are of these general types.  The absence of crosses or classical forms like the obelisk is notable.  Anything Catholic or strangely secular would not have been approved of by the Protestant church at the time.

Sense and Sentiment

As yet few verses have been read, least of all those of the early 18th century.  However there are several examples which were widely known and used, such as this verse from East Preston.

All ye who pass this way along
Think you how sudden I was gone
God doth not always warning give
Therefore be careful how you live

One can almost hear a Sussex yeoman drawling this succinct statement of fact and fate. 

The well known Lambert grave at Angmering has a very plain word of warning, in 1735.

Young men of strength behold and see
Just in my prime death conquer'd me

Thirty years later and the French family mourn a child, as would every family expect to do, quite often.

O happy is that Child that died when it is Young
Tis free from Worldly cares when Death is overcome

By the end of the century, sentiment was creeping in with increasing verbosity, as for Penfold in 1798.

Farewell vain World I have seen enough of thee
And now am careless what thou says of me
Your smiles I court not nor your frowns Hear
My cares are past and I lie quiet here
What you saw amiss in me I pray avoid & shun
Look at home & you will find sufficient to be done

Somewhat beyond the 1840 mark where this survey otherwise terminates, Victorian sentimentality can be discerned in an Olliver verse.

Affliction comes not from dust 
God sends them in His tender love 
To raise the lingering heart from earth
And speed its flight to realms above


For most people the great value of a churchyard survey is in genealogical research, with family history one of the favourite pursuits of today.  The usual sources used are parish registers and wills, with a variety of other documents that may be found today at county record offices.  Registers are excellent after 1812,  with family and other details; previous to that it is a fortunate researcher who finds entries with anything more than the name of the person and date of baptism, or burial. Admittedly with baptisms, the father was named but not always the mother.

Below is a selection only of those families with substantial groups of surviving memorials. 

Ingram is the first family to appear, long after they became Angmering property owners or tenants. Just two generations of this Ecclesden family, from 1705 to 1749. There is good reason for  them to be amongst the first proclaiming local status - they were principal leaseholders at Ecclesden when this manor was being gradually inclosed and copyholds combined into a single farm.

Olliver, a well known clan with branches far beyond Angmering, but with neighbouring Kingston and later East Preston of special  note.  Their earliest inscription is for 1726, on a tomb near the church porch (see Example 5 above).  Thomas Olliver senior, 'of Kingston' as the register states - iIn fact Kingston Manor farm.  This is slightly misleading in that the tomb was almost certainly constructed for those recorded on it sixty years later - Thomas was probably buried nearby.  Two Olliver headstones nearby were for descendants who lived at Pound House and elsewhere.

There are other small groups of Olliver headstones.  One west of the tower, and another some way south of the lychgate,  and a lost altar tomb where the church hall is sited. These were tenants at Angmering Park and Avenals farm through late 18th century into the 19th.

Guile, a nice group of early headstones north of the lychgate, covering a short span 1731 to 1770, considering the many generations of this family.  John Guile 1770 is most notable as owner of the Red Lion inn.

French - a well preserved group from the last half of the 18th century and into the 19th, west from the tower, 1755 to 1801, for the tenants of Upper Barpham farm on the downs.  John French 1755 would appear to have been the first to arrive.   The altar tomb is partly eroded  but the headstones are very clear, and will remain so if kept away from vegetation.

It is fortunate for the two main family groups of memorials that there are so many of them. Most are in very poor condition and it is only by deduction and comparison with register entries that some of the poorer examples can be identified. 

Penfold memorials dominate part of the area east of the greenway or footpath south from the porch.   Two lines of small headstones facing the path south from the lychgate are largely of that family.   These are from the 1730s through to the end of the century, although that is only a sample of their long career as farmers at Avenals and elsewhere beginning over a hundred years previously.  The earliest so far clearly identified is that of a son of Richard in 1740.     

Grant. The same churchyard area as Penfold but more to the south. it is unfortunate that weed trees and general damage make many of these unidentifiable.  From the late 18th century and long after 1800 they were tenants and owners of Ecclesden Manor.

Amoore, on the west side of the greenway and dominant there.  The first identifiable is of 1785, although they appear in registers ten years earlier, and were tenants of Old and New Place until late in the 19th century.   Many of these memorials are eroded by undergrowth as well as age. Their graves extend across into later additions to the churchyard. 

Baker, a small group in point of headstones, south of the porch, but replete with names. The reason is not hard to find for they have one of the vaults constructed in this area by the church. "In a vault lies interred". They were the owners and occupiers of Conyers near the Lamb Inn, and commemorate Harry Baker in 1819 through to Ellen in 1911.  Small farmers, shopkeepers, and cottage rentiers.

Farms and Households

Something of this has already been noted, but there is at least a suggestion in the distribution of memorials, that particular properties had their sections of the churchyard.  That is how pews inside the church were occupied and rented, and the custom carried forward into this final resting place. 

Amoore at Old and New Place, French at Barpham, Olliver at Angmering Park, all buried in that half of the ground west of the greenway. 

To the east of the greenway. Penfold and Grant of Avenals and Ecclesden, with members of the Olliver family who were also probably Avenals tenants. For that matter, Ingram and Guile of Ecclesden were also buried on the east side, but north of the church.

Baker and Olliver of Conyers and Pound farm are to be found centrally south of the church.  The Sandham family nearby were yeomen and brewers, possibly at Aberdeen House, but what lands they tenanted is unclear - perhaps Olliver's.

One part of the churchyard has not been mentioned. It is a small plot east of the chancel, near the lychgate.  Here several surnames such as Turner, Smith, Gearing, and Halsted are to be found, a seeming motley assemblage but various of them related. It is houses rather than farms which unite them - Saddlers and Thorpe Cottage in particular.

The Survey

This churchyard survey is only in its early stages, with the vast area of new ground to the west and south to be dealt with.  Even the ancient churchyard requires much more work, if fading inscriptions are to be read.  Many of these are under trees and even with the aid of sunlight at an acute angle to throw them into relief, reading them is impossible. An artificial means of illuminating them so as to be photographed, is necessary; normal flashlight is of no value. Any genealogist interested in a particular inscription may be able spend the time needed to improve readings so far obtained.  It will be observed that figures such as 4 and 1, 9 and 0, can be confused where parts of the figure are eroded.  It is often only the round pit at the end of the cross stroke in 4, and perhaps spacing, which suggests that figure rather than '1'.

RW Standing
July 2008

Page first uploaded: 9 July 2008