St Andrew’s parish church in the village of Corton Denham is part of the Cam Vale Benefice.
In 1870, the church building which had stood on the site since the 12th century had become dilapidated. It was demolished to be replaced at Lord Portman’s expense, by the larger building which occupies the site today. He also donated about a quarter of an acre hillside pasture on the Eastern boundary of the churchyard to compensate for the burial space lost to the new building. Coincidentally, at this time the village’s population had doubled to around 450 souls. This caused a certain amount of social distress because neither the work nor the resources were available to support the increased numbers. This resulted in many families leaving the parish, some even emigrating to Canada and Australia.
By the opening of the 20th century the population of the village had returned to a little over 200 souls. This was roughly the number that had existed in the parish since the 11th century when the Doomsday Book had been compiled. Even now, in 2015, the number of people living in the parish recorded in the voters register is 205.
However, at the beginning of the 20th century was nearing maximum capacity of the old churchyard even with its added extension. In 1912, by an Order in Council, the old churchyard was closed. The Portman Estate gave to the church a parcel of land, about three quarters of an acre in size, which was subsequently consecrated and designated as an inter-denominational cemetery for the parish. This land lay on the Western boundary of Corton Denham, about 400 yards distant from the church. Interments have taken place there since that time and continue to the present time. Currently, only about a third of the cemetery’s plot capacity has been used. The not insignificant maintenance costs for this area remain entirely the responsibility of the Parochial Church Council.
This rural cemetery is set in a tranquil location and commands a magnificent view of the 600’ high ridge of hills that lead up to Corton Beacon. In 2007, to reduce the danger of the unused land becoming overgrown the PCC embarked on converting the cemetery to a scheme known as ‘the living churchyard’. On advice from the local district council, a quantity of small trees and shrubs were obtained and planted on the cleared unused ground. These plants are now established and form a luxuriant habitat for native wild birds and insects. Apart from occasionally employing a contractor for mowing the open areas of grass around the graves, other maintenance tasks are carried out on a monthly basis by a voluntary band of villagers. This work has created an outstandingly beautiful natural and tranquil spot, one in which quiet contemplation is possible whilst admiring the aesthetic beauty of God’s creation in its many glories.
The 20th century has seen the increasing use of cremation of remains in comparison to traditional burials. The method adopted in Corton Denham to place ashes has been to designate an area immediately by the southern wall of the old churchyard. This is a stone wall topped by crenellations. At the foot of the wall the ashes were interred and in the crenellation immediately above a small granite memorial stone was inserted. This system is adopted unless other arrangements had been made for the placement of ashes in an existing family grave.
With the passage of time, the sector for ashes has almost all been used. Hence it is necessary to create an alternative area for this purpose. The village cemetery, fortunately has plenty of space available and is the obvious location for an area to be set aside especially for this purpose.
The churchyard was closed for burial in 1910. Shortly thereafter its maintenance became the responsibility of the Parish Council. Over time, the upper section became overgrown with brambles and weeds and sections of the dry stone boundary wall disintegrated. In 2010 an old oak tree split in a storm and required felling. An initiative was lead by the Parish Council with support from the Gardening Society; the undergrowth was cleared and the wall rebuilt. Much of the upper churchyard was then reseeded and swathes of spring bulbs planted.
Through the generosity of an anonymous donor, the remains of the oak tree’s trunk were skillfully transformed by a chain saw wielding woodsman into a unique rustic seat which now provides a quiet place for contemplation and a good view towards Corton Ridge.
On the outside of the boundary wall, to the right of the south gate, is a memorial stone to Sidney Stretton, farmer of Beech Farm (Charlton Horethorne) and New Barn Farm (Corton Denham), placed there as it was not allowed to be erected within the closed churchyard. The stone was carved by Sidney’s Irish son-in-law, Ken Thompson, who went on to become a stone carver of great renown.
The handrail on the wall leading up to the south gate was given by Lady Alexander to commemorate the Millennium and in memory of her husband, Sir Lindsay Alexander.
Listed Churchyard Tombs:
In 1985, the following chest tombs in the churchyard became Grade II listed:
- Mary and John Relett, 1719 and 1722
- Joseph Longman, 1759
- Joseph Longman, 1763 and Caleb Barrett, 1810
- Elizabeth and George Weaver, 1822 and 1824
Click here for link to map of listings (insert Post Code DT9 4LR in search box)
The Village Cemetery
Upon the closure of the churchyard, a village cemetery was created from land donated by Lord Portman. Since 1958, the cemetery gates carried a dedication to Jolyon Spiller, a schoolboy killed in a road accident on Wheatsheaf Hill. By 2012, the gates had deteriorated beyond repair and were replaced.
In 2002, a Living Churchyard Scheme was developed, funded in part by a local authority grant. Native trees and shrubs were planted in the unused area of the cemetery to encourage birds and insects and provide an attractive, natural and peaceful environment.
In 2003, a wooden seat was purchased by the PCC and installed in the cemetery. Its location provides a spectacular view of the church and the hills above the village. The cemetery is maintained by village volunteers and the cost of its upkeep is met by the Parochial Church Council.
In the village cemetery are the graves of several military heroes.
Sgt. Percy Thomas won his MM on cavalry operations in Mesopotamia just after the end of World War I. He was buried in the cemetery with full military honours, including gun carriage and firing party, in the mid 1930’s. He taught semaphore to the village scouts and guides and encouraged them to compete; they won national championships in the 1920’s. He married a local girl and lived at the Queen’s Arms.
Rear Admiral Godfrey Place won his VC for carrying out a midget submarine attack on the battle ship ‘Tirpitz’ in World War II. He and his wife, Althea and family lived at The Old Bakery for many years.
Colin Pickthall won his DFC whilst in the Army Air Corps during operations over Indonesia in the 1960’s. He was chairman of the Gardening Society for several years.
Additional notes and images may be found here and below:
Details of the Monumental Inscriptions and related matters in 2001 may be found here.