The Churchyard

A further extract from Revd. Henry Stapleton’s history of the Church – link to the full article

The Village is proud of its gardens and its Churchyard.  In Spring-time it is a delight to behold the numerous daffodils and the flowering trees around its borders.  When the interior of the Church was remodelled in 1789 the governing theme was harmony and there is a similar, if accidental, harmony in the gravestones about the exterior.

Reproduced with the permission of Beverley Archives and the depositor.

From the earliest times the dead have been buried in and around the Church.  But it was not till the 19th century that the centuries old superstition against being buried on the North side was overcome.  The North in ancient folklore was thought of as the ‘wrong side’, the source of evil.

The lack of gravestones earlier than 1800 is due to the absence of stone easily available in the neighbourhood.  But after that date transport improved and stones could be brought.  The majority are simple headstones of York stone, now mellowed with age and lichen.   The oldest are perhaps the Table tombs on the South side but the inscriptions are indecipherable.  Good examples of style and lettering are those to GEORGE JOHNSON (1838), MARY COULSON (1834), JOHN BURNETT (1837) and ROBERT DEAN (1803).  Among the more recent memorials there is the attractive monument to KATHLEEN WATSON (1934) and MARTIN TURTON (1963).[1]

In the Canons of 1603 it is required that the Churchwardens should ensure that the Churchyard ‘be well and sufficiently repaired, fenced and maintained with walls, rails or pales.’  It became customary to make local landowners responsible for such fencing.  The Churchwarden’s Account Book records the allocation of the various portions in 1818 among 50 of the parishioners.  The fencing was divided into 59 parts and several have more than one section upkeep.  The Parish was responsible for the gate.

In February 1832 the fence was renewed and the quick hedge planted.  An excerpt from the Churchwarden’s Account itemised the expenditure [2]:

The Churchyard was extended[3] in the 1930s and the Cross erected[4], the proportions of which are much to be admired.  At the same time the flowering trees were donated.  In the South West Corner is the Parish Bier, perhaps rather an unusual commemoration of the Coronation of King George V in 1911.[5]

The older gravestones abound in epitaphs, the best known being those to MARGARET HARPER (d. 1853) who was thought to be a witch[6]


and to WILLIAM WATSON (D. 1857) –

At this church I so often with
Pleasure did call
That I placed a sun dial upon
The Church Wall.

The same man may well be the author of some of the epitaphs.

During the 19th century  epitaphs were often wordy[7] but they became shorter in the 20th century, e.g. ‘Gone but not forgotten.’  ‘Till the day dawns,’ ‘At Rest’; words of Scripture were quoted and in two cases there are verses of hymns.  But the lines at Seaton Ross remain as a fine example of the local versifier’s art[8].

Seaton Ross History Group Note: Since the original history was written in 1965, there have been a few changes to the churchyard: the creation of a plot in 2012 for the interment of cremated remains, and the inclusion of a large area of land within to the north-west of the property in 2017. An archaeological survey of the new (2017) ground included three trenches, but no significant material was discovered, merely a 10g piece of medieval pottery.

                Continue to the next section – The Curate’s House

[1] There is also a Great War Commonwealth Grave (John Henley).

[2] These costs amount to around £11-6s, which in today’s money is equivalent to about £770

[3] See churchyard plans in appendix

[4] This cross stood in the middle of the churchyard in living memory, but fell into disrepair many years ago and there is now no trace of it.

[5] The bier shed was demolished in 2019 and the bier is in the process of restoration. The original bier notice now hangs in the church.

[7] For the sake of brevity, the 4 pages of epitaphs in the original version of this history have been placed in the appendix.

[8] East Yorkshire Family History Society have recorded all the monumental inscriptions for Seaton Ross, along with a map of earlier graves in the churchyard in Everingham, Seaton Ross & Harswell Monumental inscriptions, Monumental Inscription Series, No 125 (1999). There is also an up-to-date churchyard map within the church.

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