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Memorial in shape of gypsy caravan is appropriate, court concludes

01 December 2017


“Not encountered on highways and byways”: a traditional gypsy caravan

“Not encountered on highways and byways”: a traditional gypsy caravan

THE Consistory Court of the diocese of Coventry granted a faculty for the introduction of a memorial in the shape of a gypsy caravan in the churchyard of St Leonard’s, in Ryton-on-Dunsmore. Although there was no doubt that the proposed memorial would be noticeably different from others in the churchyard, no offence could be caused by its presence there, the court ruled.

The memorial was to be of polished dark-grey granite, and would have engraved on the front face the double doors of a gypsy caravan with blank windows and the doors flanked on either side by the engraved representation of a lit hurricane lamp. Above the doors, it was proposed to say “In loving memory of” and on the left-hand door, “Leslie Elliott Died 13th April 2016 aged 79 years A dear husband, Dad, Grandad and Great Grandad”, followed by the quotation “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, make me to dwell in safety.” The inscription was proposed to be on the left-hand door only; the assumption was that the grave was a double plot, and that Mr Elliott’s wife or partner would ultimately be interred in the same grave.

The DAC did not recommend the proposed memorial, because of its large size, unusual design and imagery, and the type of stone proposed. No objections, however, had arisen as a result of a public notice about the proposed memorial which had been displayed at the church.

The Deputy Chancellor, Glyn Samuel, made an unannounced visit to the churchyard to see whether the proposed memorial was likely to “stand out like a sore thumb” among the other memorials. He found that there were several polished stone memorials throughout the entirety of the churchyard, and many of them featured gold or silver lettering.

The Deputy Chancellor was of the opinion that no offence was likely to be caused by the selection of polished dark-grey granite with silver lettering on Mr Elliott’s memorial, and it was likely that Mr Elliott’s family would feel an understandable grievance if they were required to abandon their desire for polished granite stone.

The Deputy Chancellor said that the proposed inscription did not offend: expressions such as Dad, Grandad and Great Grandad were not unusual nowadays, although more formal titles had been expected in the past. The words used on this memorial were useful in suggesting that there lay the remains of a dearly loved one. The chosen quotation was not attributed, but those with good scripture knowledge would recognise the excerpt from Psalm 4, which seemed wholly appropriate in the circumstances.

The real issue was the shape and design of the proposed memorial, and that, unusually, engraving was sought on both the front and the reverse. In considering what was appropriate, there had to be regard not only to the character of the churchyard, but also to the reasons why an out-of-the-ordinary memorial was sought, and whether there were compelling personal or other circumstances suggesting that a faculty should be granted.

The Deputy Chancellor said that the presence of true Romany gypsies within our communities was becoming a thing of the past, and that there could be very few people in Europe, let alone in the diocese of Coventry, who had lived their whole existence in a traditional wooden Romany caravan. It was a way of life, the Deputy Chancellor said, that remained in the public consciousness almost exclusively through literature and drama, or as a sideshow at public displays, rather than being encountered on the highways and byways of England. For that reason, he concluded that there was something exceptional about the life of Mr Elliott, and it would seem appropriate, if at all possible, to permit acknowledgement of his unusual lifestyle in his memorial.

The faculty was granted, but a faculty was refused for the suggested additional engraving of a two-wheeled horse-drawn wagon on the reverse of the memorial. No justification had been put forward for its inclusion. The main reason for the memorial was to pay respect to Mr Elliott’s Romany gypsy lifestyle as reflected in the shape of a traditional gypsy caravan. The suggested extra engraving would detract from the intended imagery, and, as such, would detract from the aesthetics of the memorial itself.

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