We want to improve the attractiveness of our churchyard,
and the approach to the church, in order to become more welcoming.
But we have been told that we may have to have an archaeological
excavation - and pay for it - if we do. Is this
ANY works to historical churches may have an archaeological
impact, in so far as they uncover or break into the historic fabric
of the church and churchyard. There are limits, however, to what
you have to do with your works.
In general, archaeological study is required only for what is
actually interrupted or damaged by your works, not for what
surrounds them, or is left in place.
If you are doing internal repairs, or developments that break
into floors, plasterwork, or walls, there may be an archaeological
element. The original Georgian paint or finishes, for example, may
be hidden underneath the 1950s paint. Discovering the original
colours may inform current schemes.
Were those cherubs gilded in the past? Is there a medieval
wall-painting under the Tudor and Stuart paint, from the days when
Protestant tastes meant the removal of all decoration? Little
scraps of paint will tell the tale. Information is all that is
sought: you do not have to uncover the past unless the work makes
it necessary. You need to know only what is there, and what is
Outside, in the churchyard, the ground may be full of bones.
Many churchyards, especially urban ones, were closed long ago to
new burials; so this would not be an issue. If known gravesites are
going to be disrupted during your works, you may be required to
consult the relatives of those who were buried. (This rule does not
apply to ashes.)
Two kinds of disruption may be of interest. Digging a drain
through the churchyard, or a pipe-run for water or gas supplies,
normally involves a narrow, deep trench. An archaeologist should be
on duty with a watching brief to see what comes out of the trench,
and to note any significance.
Almost nothing will be dug out that requires further digging or
uncovering, and items will be replaced in the trench after the pipe
is laid. But what is found is recorded and photographed. If you run
into something such as an underground stone tomb, or crypt, there
may be more discussion before a pipe can go through it.
Creating a garden, perhaps with paving or seating and maybe some
new pathways, usually affects only the surface of the soil. Mostly,
there will be few bones - certainly no full skeletons - and the
same recording may need to take place.
There will be questions other than archaeological ones if you
are changing the "ambience" of the churchyard, and turning it from
one kind of public space into another.
Changing from the historical form and function to a public
meeting or socialising space may require the support of an
organisation such as English Heritage, and the DAC will want to be
sure of the quality of the changes before approving your plans.
In particular, although you may want the general public to see
the church and churchyard as welcoming public spaces, doing so at
the expense of its more subjective significance as a burial place,
or through the loss of its "difference" from adjacent
thoroughfares, may raise objections in the "permissions" process.
Do discuss this with your architect at an early stage.
Your questions to email@example.com.