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Chancellor reverses ruling on terms of endearment on gravestones

13 August 2021


St Michael and All Angels, Bugbrooke

St Michael and All Angels, Bugbrooke

AFTER further representations, and after agreeing to meet the petitioners when pandemic restrictions had been eased, the Diocesan Chancellor of Peterborough, the Worshipful David Pittaway QC, reversed his earlier decision in which he had refused a petition to have the words “Dad” and “Pap” on an inscription in the churchyard of Grade II* listed St Michael and All Angels, Bugbrooke (News, 16 April).

The petitioners, who were the daughter and son-in-law of the deceased, Arthur James Goodridge, sought permission to include the words “A Wonderful Husband, Dad and Pap” on his memorial stone in the churchyard. Public notices were displayed, and there were no objections.

In February 2021, the Chancellor made an unaccompanied visit to the churchyard, which appeared to be well used by local residents. From a visual inspection, he formed the view that that there had been general compliance with the Diocesan Churchyard Regulations in recent times, except for occasional lapses, mostly but not exclusively over 30 or 40 years ago, probably before the introduction of the Regulations in 1992. On 23 March 2021, the Chancellor handed down a judgment refusing the petition.

In June 2021, the Chancellor, accompanied by the Registrar, visited the churchyard again, and formed a different view. The petitioners had marked out 34 memorials where the Churchyard Regulations had not been strictly followed. Some were minor breaches of the Regulations, but others were more flagrant. Some were before and some were after the Regulations were introduced in 1992.

The Regulations stated that “inscriptions should be simple and reverent”, that abbreviated references to the deceased as “Mum” or “Dad” should not be used, and that applicants should be encouraged to “use the full and correct English terms such as ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’”.

It had been made clear in past Consistory Court cases that churchyards were for the whole community, not just for individual families in past, present, and future generations, and that past failure to observe the Regulations should not be used to permit memorials that were in breach of them.

The petitioners told the Chancellor that “Nanny” and “Pappy” were common Northamptonshire names for grandparents, and that they wished to use the names that they knew for the deceased. They said that they had found the process distressing already, while coping with bereavement.

The Chancellor said that terms of endearment used in everyday life were not generally appropriate for use as a public record of a person’s death, and that it was more appropriate to use formal terms such as husband, wife, father, grandfather, grandmother, as a permanent record of the relationships attributed to a person. Those were terms used in official forms such as birth, marriage, and death certificates.

The question was, the Chancellor said, “whether I should go outside my expressed view that formal descriptions of familial relationships are more appropriate on memorials”. Having visited the churchyard again in the company of the petitioners, the Chancellor was persuaded that there were sufficient examples of “Dad” and “Pappy” to permit their use. But he said that his decision “should not be taken as an encouragement to use less formal names in churchyards where the use of formal names has been the norm or where it is supported by the PCC”.

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