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Where do you want to be Buried?

On the Tomb of physician named Silvester

-          in St David’s Cathedral:

Silvester the physician lieth here, and his dissolution showeth that medicine withstandeth not death.

In 1664 if your family wanted to bury you (after your death) in the Chancel[1] of the Church which would involve lifting tiles and relaying them after the service then the Sexton would charge 12s  6d for an adult and 1s for a child. In the nave[2] and aisles[3] it was cheaper so your loved one could be buried under the family pew[4] for 2s or if a child 1s. Of course this could make the floor under the family pew uneven but if sufficient relatives attended Church on the following Sunday while the earth was still loose their weight would tend to tamp the floor down on top of their beloved and level it out. Although there were complaints that the floors in many churches were very uneven, I always wondered about the smell. When working on one church the workmen found one coffin only 6 inches below the floor.

There were also court cases over people sitting in other people’s pew. In Pembroke Elizabeth Adams of Paterchurch brought a writ against Hugh Lloyd and his wife Joan in November 1701 for sitting and kneeling in a seat that went with the “demesne, messuage and lands called Llanion”, in St Mary’s Church Pembroke. At the time the Lloyds were the tenants of the property which was still part of the Paterchurch estate. I could never understand why a writ was necessary as I don’t think I would have liked to attend a Service in that church at the time as a description of St Mary’s Pembroke before the restoration suggests that the interior of the church was filled with wretched dilapidated pens, miscalled pews on a very uneven floor; uneven because of the burials underneath.

The majority of the gentry would have been buried in the Church some with chapels and vaults for their memorials and many of those memorials exist today. St Davids Cathedral is full of them; some very old but most of our older local churches have their share. Penally as an example, has a late 13th century altar tomb with an incised cross on the top with two small heads carved in marble and let into a covering stone under the arms of a cross. There is a tomb to the de Nauntons [1260 - 90] in alabaster.  Upton Chapel also has some memorials one of a very large man but these seem to have wandered from Church to Church over the years and one spent many years covered with moss in a Churchyard so where the original burial sites are is not known.

Later memorials record people like Robert Rudd, Rector of St. Florence. During the Civil War he remained a staunch Episcopalian and royalist. According to the account of Edward Yardley, when Tenby was taken by Parliament, he and Lieut. Col. Butler, High Sheriff, were regarded as important prisoners. He was forced, as a “malignant priest”, to resign his archdeaconry and retire to St. Florence, “But” says Yardley, “ye malice of his enemies would not let him be at rest; and they dragged ye venerable old man from his house and imprisoned him in a guardship.” He died October, 1648 and was buried in the Chancel of St. Florence Church.

One that I would like to know more about is Lady Jone Mansell. According to Fenton who records that this lady is often seen whirling round this vicinity in her carriage, with a headless coachman, headless horses and herself headless and also she is said to have ridden in a fiery chariot from Tenby and alighted on the farmhouse of Samson and crushed it. She is buried in St Petrox Church alongside her first husband Sir Roger Lort of Stackpole who said of her “My wife wished to have a sepulchre beside my own. As in life, so may she be also in death my companion, she who alive was never a spouse ill-disposed to her husband, nor wished to be faithless after death.”

I think the strangest custom must be that of St Elvis Church where there are the remains of St Teilo’s Well and Church with a pilgrims graveyard. It is said that the sick were brought here and given the holy water then laid to rest in the shade of a cromlech. If they slept all would be well but if they were visited by Caladruis (a ravenish bird of ill omen) their chances were not good. It seems rather like the stories of old people being bedded down in cold hospital corridors in the hope they would develop pneumonia – did that actually happen?

To be buried in the porch was cheaper as it only cost 1s for the grave of an adult and 6d for a child but then would you like people “walking over your grave” all the time.

The cheapest place was in the Churchyard where the charge was only 1d. Of course if your family was rich then a family vault was a possibility although I know of some families who were not on speaking terms in life and would certainly not wish to be buried together. One husband buried his wife at the centre of the cemetery and purchased a plot for himself right near the south boundary.

Whether buried in Church or Churchyard there used to be some very strange customs but we have to remember that because of the condition and lack of roads most bodies would have to be carried to the Church. Even in more recent times I have taken Services at Crunwere church where to get to the Church I had to follow the old corpse track across two fields.  These corpse tracks led from the farms and village to the Church and the dead would be carried by teams of men along them. One Church, St Edrin’s, stands in a prehistoric earthen ring reached by corpse roads. The grass in the churchyard was held in great esteem on account of its efficacy and wonderful effects in curing people, cattle, horses, sheep and pigs, which had been bitten by mad dogs.  So it was said. There was a cavity in the chancel wall of the church, in which the persons put what they chose to pay for the grass, and these gifts were the perquisite of the parish clerk. Along the road from the house to the churchyard; at every crossroad, the bier was rested on the ground and the Lord's Prayer repeated, also on entering the Church. In some parishes it was the custom to ring a small bell in front of the Funeral procession.

One old custom was that of "the sin eater" who came to the house of the dead person, and for a meal and a fee undertook the guilt of the departed. [For me he would need a very big meal and a large fee].

The night before the burial, the friends and neighbours came to the house, bringing with them a small piece of meat or bread and some beer etc., this night was called in the north part of the county Wyl Nos - the watching night. Certain psalms were sung and Scripture read, and when a person entered the room they knelt beside the corpse and repeated the Lord's Prayer. Pence and half pence were given to the poor instead of small rolls of bread as had been the older custom.

The funeral procession would enter the church led by the minister with prayers and psalms as is done today. He would then go to the altar and say the Lords and one of the burial collects; after which the  congregation offered on at the altar their offerings to the Minister, a friend of the deceased standing near to observe who gives and how much. He would count the money afterwards with the minister, and announcing the amount thanks those present for their good will. Many times Evensong would be read with the burial service. At the burial the minister took the spade and threw the first earth into the grave. It was also customary for friends to attend on the next Sunday service and to kneel at the grave saying the Lord’s Prayer.

So buried in peace until the day of resurrection or so they believed.

Spare a thought for those buried at Hoyles Cave where our ancestors lay buried in peace. Seventeen of them for 4750 years, and two at Hoyle's Mouth for 5000 years until disturbed by present day archaeologists. At least they would treat the burials with respect unlike the amateur archaeologists of the 19th century, one of whom was investigating a Bronze age burial on the Ridgeway  and found a large slab of stone covered a grave. The poor person taking his final sleep there was given a rude awakening by a charge of gunpowder destroying the stone slab and the human remains interred there. 

There is also the record of the cemetery at Paterchurch which was found when the Admiralty Dockyard was being built. According to Sir Thomas Pasley, Captain Superintendent of Pembroke Dockyard, recorded in Archaeologia Cambrensis in1851:

“During the progress of the excavations in 1844, by workmen employed by Mr. Henderson, the contractor for the extension of the new boundary wall of the dockyard, a number of skeletons were found deposited about three feet below the surface of a meadow near Pater Church. These relics appear to have been buried without coffins, as no vestige of any, either wood or stone, could be discovered.  On being exposed to view, they were found lying with their heads towards the east, surrounded with stones rudely placed on their edges, and arranged in a coffin-like form, but without a slab either underneath or above them. Twenty-eight skulls had already been found. One of the most perfect skeletons measured six feet four inches from the ankle-bone to the crown of the head. Many speculations were indulged in as to the origin of this cemetery, which was evidently of great antiquity; it is however not improbable that, from the tower still standing amongst the ruins in good preservation, it was the burial-ground attached to some monastic institution”.

Some records suggest that the remains were sacked up and reburied on Barrack Hill.

When Churches have been renovated the burials in the Church cause problems. It was felt necessary to remove the north aisle of Warren Church. In1770 it was in an especially bad way and the water pouring down through the roof - though it was stone vaulted - was making the rest of the church very damp. The Leach's proposed to pull it down and make good the arch - only one person objected and that was because some of his wife's family had been buried there some years past - although as stated in the letter there was plenty of room in the church for burials. The Leach family were tenants to the Bishop of St David's for the tithes of Warren and therefore responsible for the repairs to the chancel.

Monkton Priory church was practically rebuilt in the late 1800’s. During the work the body of a Nun was found in a small room above the Porch. In 1939, Rev. Ivor Daniels, the Roman Catholic priest, in a series of vitriolic correspondence in the West Wales Guardian strongly denied the story, stating it was a monk.  During this restoration the floor level was lowered and leveled. This revealed that, like in many other churches, there had been numerous burials below the floor. One of which, if the terms of his will of 1500 were carried out, was Richard Newton. The remains were collected and interned in a very large grave by the north wall of the Churchyard.

Up to the year 1834, the inhabitants of what is now Pembroke Dock had the "right" of burial in St Mary's Churchyard, Pembroke, but that graveyard being very small and overcrowded. Monkton Churchyard (with the exception of a few buried at Bethany Chapel till the admiralty complained that the burials were contaminating their water supply) became the burial ground and the grave yard at Monkton Churchyard contains by far the greater number of the dead of the early dockyard. On the west side of the churchyard they were laid side by side from the Churchyard gate up to the Church door, close alongside the pathway.

His Majesty King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, on the 23rd August, 1902 visited Monkton Church and scanned some of the headstones whilst passing along this path. They could have read the following inscriptions:

To the memory of Mary the wife of Thomas Roberts, 'master' shipwright of His Majesty's Yard; Pembroke, who departed this life, 24th January 1824, aged 52 years

(The Master Shipwright of one of H.M. Dockyards was the senior tradesman [craftsman] of the Yard).

Sacred to the memory of William Calder, Esq., of H.M. Dockyard, Pembroke, who departed this life, 4th May, 1826, aged 62.

To the memory of Elinor Burch, daughter of Thomas and Anne Burch, of  Plymouth, who departed this life, April 3rd 1819.

One who was buried there in 1829 was Joseph King. He had served on the "Boreas," the “Agamemnon” and the "Captain" as Boatswain under Nelson and was recommended by him and the Earl of St Vincent for the post of Boatswain [5] to the Dockyard of Gibraltar from December 9th 1796 to 1808. He then came to the Haven, first as Boatswain to the Dockyard at Milford and, then on its transfer, to the Dockyard at Paterchurch.

If this record is correct he served Lord Nelson from 1784 as Nelson assumed Command of HMS Boreas in that March of that year. She was a very fast 28 gun frigate unusually built of fir and not oak therefore cheaper and lighter but her service life was less. Her top speed would be about 14 knots.  Nelson’s commission was for the West Indies station to suppress smuggling which did not make him very popular. It was during Nelson’s time there that the Dockyard at Antique was expanded. While there Nelson met and married in March 1787 the widow Francis Nisbet. The future King William IV, who was Captain of HMS Pegasus, gave away the bride. Later that year Nelson and HMS Boreas sailed for England. Nelson was so worried about dying and being buried at sea that he had a barrel of Rum set aside in the hold so that his body could be preserved for burial in England. On reaching England the ship was paid off and Nelson had four years on half pay before his next commission. It could be that Joseph King was retained by Nelson as a servant. This sometimes did happen especially if a Captain and a boatswain had a good working relationship.

HMS Agamemnon, Nelson’s next ship, was recommissioned on 31st January 1793 and was much bigger than the frigate HMS Boreas being a 64gun third rate, ship of the line. Her first action was as part of the Mediterranean fleet blockading the port of Toulon. Nelson lead a party of seamen in the spring of 1794 and helped capture Bastia. It was during the siege of Calvi in June 1794 that Nelson lost the sight of his right eye when sand and grit got into it thrown up by a French shot. HMS Agamemnon then took part in the Battle of Genoa March 1795.

March 11th 1796 Nelson was promoted to Commodore and on 10th June transferred to HMS Captain a 74gun third rate ship of the line. It would seem that Joseph King transferred with him but before the battle of Cape St Vincent had transferred to be Boatswain at Gibraltar Dockyard. At the battle of Cape St Vincent in February 1797 HMS Captain was part of the fleet commanded by Admiral Jervis. The fleet intercepted a Spanish fleet near Cape St Vincent and a very heavy battle was fought. HMS Captain captured the San Nicolas (80 guns) and then the San Josef (112 guns). Nelson was knighted and Jervis was made Earl St Vincent. HMS Captain was very badly damaged and had to be taken out of service for repairs. It was 1809 before she saw further action. Incidentally after the Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson had his wish of not being buried at sea. His body was brought to England in a cask of Brandy.


The remains found in one Church have always puzzled me. When it was rebuilt, the

 restoration revealed interesting relics, according to (Arch. Camb. 1896 V xiii 354):

1] A human skull, three horse skulls and a pike head, found under the second chancel step. They record that “The present location of the iron pike-head is unknown”. [What happened to the other remains?]

Edward Laws (The History of Little England Beyond Wales 1888) records;
"In the year 1883 the stone steps leading into the chancel of Steynton Church were taken up. Not more than a foot beneath the surface and immediately beneath the chancel arch were found a human skeleton, three horses' skulls and an iron pike head". [Was it a skeleton or just a skull?]

2] In each pillar of the arcade was found a cavity, and in each cavity a human thigh bone. These were remains, as much probably of Viking warriors as of British saints. The cavities were about 4 feet from the ground.

[Why did Law’s suggest they might be of Viking warriors? A mystery.]

Another mystery when building the new Vicarage about 100 years ago.

The skeleton of a Cromwellian soldier minus his head was discovered in the grounds - outside the cemetery boundaries to the north, in other words he was buried in unconsecrated ground. The remains were re-buried in the Churchyard and a stone marker with the inscription M O W (Man of War) was erected.

[Me - I have decided I am going to be cremated.]

[1]  Chancel - Area of a Church near the altar for the use of clergy and choir and often separated from the Nave by a screen or steps.

 [2] Nave - central hall of a church, flanked by aisles.

 [3] Aisle - division in church: an area of a church separated from the nave or central area by pillars, especially one forming a passage between seats.

 [4] Pew - usually wooden bench with a straight back and often a kneeling bench attached to the one in front of it, used by worshipers in a church or synagogue.

 [5] Boatswain - Senior non-commissioned officer on ship: a non-commissioned officer or warrant officer on a ship in charge of the crew, maintenance of the vessel, its boats, and other equipment.

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