Wreath holders approved by judge

31 March 2017

GEOFF PICK/GEOGRAPH/COMMONS

Significant restoration: the war memorial at St Mary’s, Tutbury

Significant restoration: the war memorial at St Mary’s, Tutbury

THE Consistory Court of the diocese of Lichfield granted a faculty authorising the installation of two wreath holders near the war memorial outside St Mary’s, Tutbury, a Grade I listed church. The churchyard was closed for burials in 1879, and is now maintained by Tutbury Parish Council.

In 1920, a war memorial to those killed in the First World War was erected about nine metres from the south wall of the church. It was designed by Bodley and Hare, and its construction and installation were funded by public subscription. In recent years, the condition of that memorial had deteriorated.

The Tutbury War Memorials Preservation Committee (TWMPC) was formed, with the objective of preserving that and 12 other war memorials in Tutbury. The restoration of the churchyard memorial had been a significant part of the TWMPC’s work. A faculty had been granted for permitting that restoration work, which had now been completed, and, in July 2016, the Bishop of Stafford conducted a service of rededication.

The Assistant Curate, the Revd Ian Whitehead, a churchwarden, and the chairman of the TWMPC, with the support of the PCC, petitioned for a faculty to install two wreath holders. The wreath holders were to take the form of metal post-and-rail frames, and would be positioned a few yards from the memorial.

Their purpose was to hold the wreaths, which it was intended would be removed from the memorial shortly after Remembrance Sunday, and which would be attached to the holders until 1 October of the following year. In 2014, 17 wreaths were laid on the memorial; and, in 2015, there were 18.

The longstanding policy of the incumbents and the PCC at St Mary’s had been to allow wreaths to remain on the memorial from Remembrance Sunday until 1 October of the following year. The petitioners pointed out that there was a risk of damage to the memorial owing to staining, or the growth of moss or lichen, if the wreaths were left for a long time on the memorial, and also that wind and weather could cause the wreaths to become unsightly.

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Historic England and Tutbury Parish Council objected to the petition. Historic England became a party opponent, and said that the proposed structure would be of undue prominence in the curtilage of this Grade I church, and that it was overly functional in appearance and of insufficient artistic interest. The parish council’s objection was that it was inappropriate, and that there was no need for the wreaths to remain in place for so long.

The Chancellor, His Honour Judge Eyre QC, said that the parish council’s objection amounted to a contention that the incumbent and PCC should change their approach, and should not allow wreaths to remain in place for the time they did. The incumbent and the PCC were best placed to judge the particular pastoral needs of this community, the Chancellor said, and considerable weight must be given to their assessment of those needs.

Where there was a difference of view about what was necessary in terms of meeting pastoral needs, and in terms of commemorating the fallen, it would not be appropriate to overrule the judgment of the incumbent and PCC, even where that judgment was contrary to the view of the elected secular parish council.

The current policy of allowing the wreaths to remain in place for ten and a half months was an appropriate one, and one which would continue, the Chancellor ruled.

If the wreaths were to remain in place for several months, then the Chancellor was satisfied that the provision of wreath holders was a sensible and appropriate arrangement. The petitioners had taken great care over the design of the proposed wreath holders, and it was also clear that they had come to reasoned conclusions why the design and location were appropriate.

The faculty was granted on the basis that the wreath holders might well not be of the high artistic quality which would result from commissioning a top-flight designer, and saying that money was no object, but they were none the less of an appropriate standard. That was sufficient to warrant approval in circumstances where the proposed work was part of a continuing programme of improvement.

“It may not be as great an improvement as Historic England might have wished,” the Chancellor said, “but it was an improvement none the less, and was to be welcomed.”

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