link to North Cheltenham Team Ministry website

The Parish of Prestbury

St Mary and St Nicolas

What's New?
Church Services
Pew Sheet
People and Teams
Our Churches
Our Events
Table of Contents



Back ] Up ]




No record was kept of the any deceased (apart from monarchs) until after the Norman Conquest was established. The earliest records are those for lords, knights, the rich and members of the clergy. This continued until 1538 when, during the reign of King Henry VIII, an injunction was first published directing "every parson, vicar or curate to keep one book or register and therein to write the day and year of every wedding, christening and burial, and also to insert every person's name that shall be so wedded, christened or buried." This injunction was confirmed by both Edward VI and Elizabeth I. The registers at Awre begin from 1538 and are possibly the earliest in the country. Many of these records were written in Latin, those at Hewelsfield continued in Latin until 1719.


During the 13th century the first recumbent effigy appeared. These effigies can be dated by their appearance, by the armour of a knight, the dress and hair of a civilian or the head dress of a lady. A bronze effigy of Queen Eleanor, from 1290, is in Westminster Abbey. Many of our churches contain effigies: Coberley, Longborough, Pucklechurch, Tewkesbury Abbey and Gloucester Cathedral, to name but a few. Bisley has a knight with legs crossed at the knees. In the 14th century a rich canopy was often placed over a knight, who now rested next to his lady. Many pre-Reformation monuments were given a canopy.

Often small figures, called weepers, were placed around the sides of the tomb. They might be members of the deceased's family, angels or saints. Possibly the most sumptuous effigy is that of Richard Beauchamp, in St. Mary's, at Warwick. It is one of only three bronze monuments in the country. About eight wooden effigies exist nationwide, there is one at Old Sodbury. The 17th century Jacobean monuments are most beautiful whereas those from the 18th century are often of black and white marble with standing figures. There are some incredible examples at Great Badminton.


Monumental brasses were popular from the end of the 13th century until the end of the 15th century. They were actually made from an alloy of copper and zinc, with traces of lead and tin. England has more medieval brasses than the rest of Europe put together. The oldest brass is to Sir John D'Abernon at Stoke D'Abernon church in Surrey. Like effigies, but less costly, a wider cross-section of the population is portrayed in brasses. Many brasses at Northleach, dedicated to the wool merchants, date from the 15th and 16th centuries. Usually they were fixed to the floor but they are also found on tomb slabs.


Dating from the middle ages a funeral hatchment depicts the coat of arms of the deceased person on a lozenge-shaped board. It was carried before the funeral procession of the nobility before being hung outside the home of the deceased for some months. Later it was brought into the church in perpetuity. Their removal is illegal. The background, usually white and black (or black and white) gives the marital status and sex of the deceased. A completely black background denotes the person was unmarried at the time of death. At Dyrham there are nine hatchments within the church, dating from the 18th and the 19th centuries.


A cartouche is a wall tablet designed in the form of a scroll of paper, on which is carved an inscription. There is a fine example dated 1681 at Haresfield, Middlesex. It is to John Pricket, Bishop of Gloucester. They were common during the 17th and 18th centuries and could be made of marble. Above some would be a coat of arms or a crest.


Painswick is well known for its chest tombs, which come in large numbers and various shapes with carvings of cherubs and skeletons. Here are hexagonal (1727) and pyramid (1787) shaped tombs, chest tombs with ends in the shape of a lyre and those with a bale on the top. Chest tombs with lyre ends and carved corded bales of wool on top are found in many Cotswold churchyards. At Broadwell there are ten such tombs.

Shipton Moyne: St John the Baptist.
Painted stone tomb with recumbent effigies of both
Thomas Estcourt (died 1599) and his wife


Churchyards, and of course the church building, are often found in prominent locations, such as Churchdown, at the top of a hill from where a wonderful view can be seen. Some are circular which indicates a very old site (Ozleworth and Alveston). The Christian Church took over the site "under new management" with the policy of "inclusion, not exclusion". Thus we have been left a marvellous heritage.

Often the churchyard is referred to as God's Acre. Entry is usually through a lych gate, which in by-gone days provided shelter for the coffin and its bearers awaiting a priest, who met them on consecrated ground. Before the Reformation the churchyard cross dominated every churchyard, and was probably the only memorial to the dead before gravestones appeared. Headstones, especially in the past, blended well with the character of the locality which the church served. Recently the type of lettering found on a headstone, and its size and colour, has provided a splash of colour in the churchyard. This has been added to by the flowers found on the tomb as well as around the churchyard. In some churchyards the grass is left as a nature reserve although this may portray an uncared for attitude to the casual observer. Ashleworth provides such an example.

Most churchyards have at least one yew tree in a prominent position. As well as being a symbol of immortality it provided evergreen for festivals and material for archers. The practice of using the long bow was not taken off the statute books until the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Painswick has 99 yews which are ceremoniously clipped in early September.

The earliest tombs were simple stone slabs, dating from the 12th century, incised with a wide range of foliated crosses. They may be the oldest part of a churchyard. By the middle of the 14th century their sides became parallel. As carving developed so writing appeared on both slabs and headstones. Epitaphs became pompous and used verbose language; many sensational examples are to be found, such as that to a slave at Henbury, Bristol. Within Gloucestershire the tombs of many famous people can be found and their study could make a fascinating pastime. England's last court jester (Dicky Pearce) is buried at Berkeley, as is Edward Jenner.


The creating of memorials to the departed is an on-going process. Windows may depict a memento to an individual or a group by a picture or a series of pictures. At Slimbridge a window commemorates Sir Peter Scott and a window at Little Rissington remembers the RAF personnel who were killed. One of the most recent, at Rodborough, is the 1998 stained glass window of Thomas the Tank-Engine, remembering the Rev W Awdry and his wife. More numerous are plaques, located at the base of the window, dedicated to a person. These may have been inserted at a date after the window was completed when the glass was cleaned or repaired.


Leighterton has a cemetery containing many Australians who served in their Flying Corps during the Great War. Nympsfield also has First World War graves, including a soldier killed a few days after the Armistice. At Little Rissington 76 air-men lie buried in a small part of the churchyard reserved especially for service personnel. Solitary head-stones, or even small groups, are, surprisingly, found in quite a few churchyards in Gloucestershire.


Edward Wyatt

This article concludes Edward's series on Church Architecture.

Back ] Up ]

Welcome • What's New? • Church Services • Pew Sheet • People and Teams • Our Churches • Our Events • Magazine • Table of Contents • Links

The Parochial Church Council of the Ecclesiastical Parish of St Mary and St Nicolas Prestbury Cheltenham - Registered Charity No 1130933

This website does not gather information about its visitors nor does it place cookies on your computer.  Please read Policy for this website

For general enquiries email  or telephone the Team Office  01242 244373  Mondays to Fridays 09:00 to 12:00
Send mail to with comments about this web site.
Copyright 1999-2015 The Parish of Prestbury, Gloucestershire, UK
Last modified: 06 June 2015