A churchyard is much more than a garden around a church. It is a burial ground but also a place of quiet reflection and recreation, a habitat for rare plants and animals and the setting for the church building. It is basically unchanged for hundreds of years.
Bisham churchyard is in an unrivalled setting, being on a quiet reach of the River Thames with only occasional rowers and motor boats to disturb the waters, a wonderful place for quiet contemplation and of course the perfect setting for the all-important wedding photographs. The views not only across the river but in each direction are superb and the Norman tower makes for a lovely backdrop for viewing from the Thames Path on the opposite river bank. Many water birds can often be observed, from terns, ducks and geese to Great Crested Grebes, while occasional Ring Necked Parakeets fly overhead.
Bisham churchyard holds a wealth of stories, going back for hundreds of years. Some of this is revealed in the inscriptions on the gravestones, but these are gradually being eroded and the details are left for others to fill in.
There are a number of beautifully carved tombstones, the best being from the first half of the 19th Century, the oldest dated 1682. One of the tombs is to the memory of Edith Rosse (Milady), who was allegedly murdered in 1932 and the body exhumed later to establish the possibility of poison.
Another is in memory of Sir Robert Hart - Inspector General of Imperial Chinese Customs and adviser to the Manchu dynasty. This grave was recently refurbished and a ceremony, attended by members of the Chinese Embassy, marked the occasion.
Information about the Bisham war memorial can be found in Newsletter No. 3
Sheila Featherstone-Clark, long-standing committee member, historian and a regular contributor, has access to records and has selected some of the more interesting graves for her article. Among others, she mentions faithful servants, industrialists, farmers, a doctor and children. Through the paragraph on the Dormer family, one can sense the happiness in a village when living conditions could be quite simple. Equally one can only guess the unhappy circumstances in which a Catholic lady died in London and was suspiciously buried in Bisham.
The Millennium Yew Tree
A Parish yew tree was planted in Bisham churchyard on 11th March 2000 to commemorate the Millennium. A short service was conducted by the then Vicar, Rev Sue Irwin, to bless the tree and there were two readings by the church wardens about the expected long life of the tree and its rightful place in a churchyard. The tree can be located on the Stoneyware side of the churchyard adjacent to the Bisham Parish land.
Because of their great age, yews were associated with pre-Christian burial grounds. Research shows that the Bronze Age round barrows were consecrated with yews. In symbolic terms, yews not only represent death but also resurrection. Their evergreen foliage was highly valued and used for religious and secular festivals. Yews are still being planted in churchyards today and serve as a reminder of an earlier pagan age.
Many specimens are now over 1000 years old and measure some 30 feet in girth. Yew wood was used in the manufacture of longbows from the 13th Century and after stocks of the wood were exhausted, wood was imported from Spain and Germany to service the requirements of war archery. However, poison is found in all parts of the tree and is fatal to humans and some animals.
Do come and visit the beautiful Churchyard, perhaps just to while away an afternoon watching the river traffic and wildlife. You will not be disappointed!
Finally, the question is often asked - who can be buried in All Saints’ Churchyard? Parishioners who are currently on the Parish Electoral Roll are eligible. All other requests go to the Vicar, who has the ultimate decision.
Text by Hamish Hunter, see Newsletter No. 6. Images by Robert Frost