Church Monuments Society

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To preserve – or not to preserve?

By CMS in Heritage

This one just won’t go away. There have been several blog posts lately on the problems with conservation of medieval tombs on sites in the care of Wales’s national heritage body, Cadw (see  (https://howardwilliamsblog.wordpress.com/2018/06/19/a-tintern-abbot/, https://howardwilliamsblog.wordpress.com/2018/06/24/archaeodeath-at-tintern-abbey/,  (https://churchmonumentssociety.org/2018/07/15/tintern-and-the-heritage-of-death and most recently https://welshtombs.wordpress.com/2018/08/31/care-of-the-monuments/; and on Twitter https://twitter.com/howardmrw/status/1034021772197289986).

Then @graveyarddetective posted photos of the grave of Peers Naylor, a train driver on the Hull and Selby Railway who died in 1842 and was buried at St Peter’s, Newton-le-Willow. Clearly a popular chap, his colleagues may have contributed to his rather spectacular tombstone (see https://twitter.com/gravedetective/status/1035551000130736128).

The tombstone is clearly suffering from spalling and general wear. A tweet from @RoyalFineArt asked whether it should be protected:

In a way it’s good that this is entirely unprotected, open to the elements and decaying as he did, but sometimes one hesitates a bit. Many are now on the cusp of illegibility, or beyond. Any even those under cover in churches often have chairs scraped over them etc. A dilemma.

(at https://twitter.com/RoyalFineArt/status/1035791119764934658)

Our graveyards and cemeteries are full of stones like this – we can’t conserve them all. And should we? There is what late eighteenth-century artists called ‘pleasurable melancholy’ in wandering round an overgrown graveyard with a ruined church covered in ivy and tombstones leaning and half obliterated.

And attempts at conservation can backfire. Putting carpet over ledgerstones holds the damp and can damage them. Fixing them to the wall also holds the damp, and clamps can corrode. A church in south Wales has a wonderful collection of early tomb carvings in a shelter behind the church. They were fixed with bronze clamps – and one was damaged when metal thieves took the clamps.

There are ethical issues too. Should we move tomb carvings which are meant to sit over the actual burial?

As @RoyalFineArt said. A dilemma.


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