06 October 2009

Tombstone Tuesday - A Rabbit-Proof Fence at Shocklach


My father-in-law, Brian R. R. Kimmitt ("Grandad") lives in Malpas, Cheshire, England. It's a beautiful place – low, rolling hills dotted with great trees who, never having been obliged to share the sunlight with their brethren, spread majestically across the misty backdrop, daring you to don your Wellies and wander among them.


My mother-in-law, Rosemary Kimmitt ("Granny"), née Ida Rosemary Churton, passed away in 2001. She is buried in an isolated church yard called St. Edith's in Shocklach, Cheshire. Some say the church belonged to a village which was burned after one of the many bouts of plague which swept England, but others say this is a myth and there is no evidence of other buildings on the site. In any case, there is no longer a Shocklach village – only the tiny Norman church remains.


St. Edith's lies hidden behind hedgerows off the main road, about half a mile from the River Dee. It was built in about 1150 by the Lord of the Manor, Thomas de Shocklach. It is constructed of irregularly shaped red sandstone blocks held together with mortar. The nave is almost entirely 12th century and the chancel is 14th century. Against the west wall are two large buttresses. The south door archway dates from about 1150 and is a good example of Norman work. The baptismal font is unusual in that it is seven-sided. The church registers date from 1538 and the churchwardens' accounts from 1725. ["Photographs of Shocklach, Cheshire," webpage; (http://www.thornber.net/cheshire/htmlfiles/shocklach.html : accessed 6 Oct. 2009); citing Raymond Richard, Old Cheshire Churches, with a supplementary survey of the lesser old chapels of Cheshire, completely revised and enlarged,  (Didsbury: E. J. Morten, 1973, first published in 1947.]



I was utterly charmed by this place when I was first taken there in 1986. Approached via tiny lanes through pasture land tastefully decorated with grazing animals, the spot remains hidden until the road turns abruptly just before you arrive, revealing this unexpected relic. You feel as if you are intruding and the gravel crunches loudly underfoot as you walk from the carpark to the church yard gate. Conkers (horse chestnuts) litter the ground and become playthings for any Brit under 75. They can't help themselves. The ancient gravestones tilt at awkward angles and evoke black and white visions of Scrooge on his knees begging for a last chance at redemption. Birds twitter, cows low, wind lifts the grasses, gravestones lean darkly. It's just beautiful.


My father-in-law has served as a lay minister at St. Edith's for many years, so when it was time to christen our first son, we chose to take him to England and have the ceremony performed at St. Edith's. We took advantage of the unusual seven-sided font, and Grandad assisted. And when my mother-in-law passed away, she was of course buried at St. Edith's.


Herein lies my trauma. Along with the grief of losing Rosemary, I felt sad at the realization that her final resting place was not going to be romantically set amongst the leaning stones, but rather at the other end of the yard. Today's gravestones are straight and polished, with (gasp) san serif type! Still, I thought at the time that she was lucky to have such a glorious spot in which to rest her bones for all of eternity.


However, that wasn't the end of it. Granny was a fantastic gardener. She loved flowers, was a master flower arranger and spent much of her free time in the garden. Yet the charm of the pastoral setting interferes with the rite of leaving flowers at the grave. The bunnies eat them! Grandad vowed he would prevent the bunnies from running amok, so he built a chicken wire fence around Granny's stone. I don't like the fence. It feels contradictory that in such a peaceful and natural setting, she should be caged. It is as if she's in a detention camp or something. I think he saw it as his final way to protect her. His grief softened visibly after that ugly fence went up, so I decided I could cope. Nevertheless, just for the record, I don't want a rabbit-proof fence around my gravestone! RIP rabbit-free, Rosemary.

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