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"A Convenient Move"

from The Barwicker No. 59

All Saints' Church in Barwick-in-Elmet is being re-ordered and improved in an extensive and ambitious scheme. Phase One of the process involves siting a toilet and kitchenette by the west wall just inside and to the left of the main door. This has necessitated laying a 45 ft.main sewerage pipe in a four foot trench from the main gate through the churchyard parallel to the path under the church wall and into the rear of the church.

The West Yorkshire Archaeological Service has been working closely with the building contractors to examine, record and study the human remains which have been disturbed. An official report will be issued on the findings of the team and we await publication with considerable interest. In digging the trench the workmen recovered and removed six large sacks full of human bones, which the rector Roger Wild later re-interred in a short service. Roy Dobson the foreman explained that bedrock appeared at 4 feet underground and that was why the bodies were buried at a maximum of 4 feet deep. Some coffin handles have been found and the remains of several shrouds but there is some speculation that not all the bodies had been buried in coffins.

Within the church on the west wall underneath the memorial to John Phillips, the floor has been taken up to reveal a skull and assorted bones which were removed and relocated. The inscription reads as follows;

"John Phillips Esq. formerly of Walthamstow, Essex, son of Charles Phillips died January 5 1814 aged 62 and buried in the vault beneath, and Hannah his wife who died at Whitburn, Durham, December 21 1815 aged 77."

The workmen said that the skeleton was in a shallow grave and there was no evidence of a vault or brickwork; other bones were also found in the immediate vicinity. Remains were also found under the outer wall indicating that extensions to the church in the 14th. and 15th. centuries were built on an old graveyard.

There was a church on the present site before the Norman Conquest. Frederick S Colman the former rector of Barwick published his authoritative history in 1908 and speculated that the church may have been destroyed in 1069 after the Saxon rebellion when William pursued his ruthless campaign resulting in the harrying of the north. The lack of evidence of that destruction however may mean that Barwick escaped the storm.

The oldest part of the church was re-constructed earlier in the 12th. century incorporating Norman styles. Building materials will have been re-cycled probably in the foundations mainly and so continuity is observed with Saxon times. Colman makes the point that a number of gravestones on the church floor have been moved from their original places, where they marked the sites of vaults and placed where they would usefully serve as paving stones.

On a related issue following the Historical Society's recent walk over the Towton battlefield, the question has been asked whether or not any of the Towton dead were buried in Barwick. Colman makes an intriguing reference to this question when discussing the need to provide additional grounds for burial. In 1849 Miss Gascoigne gave "half an acre against the Hall Tower Field," because land could not be "procured adjoining the churchyard". Another extension was necessary in 1897 and "a piece of land was acquired adjoining the churchyard, it contains 2,600 yards." In clearing the ground some old cottages were pulled down.

"In digging graves on the site of these old cottages, many skeletons are found showing that the land, or part of it, had formerly been consecrated and subsequently turned to secular uses. The fact that these skeletons are generally of men in the prime of life leads one to think that there may have been a burial of some of the great number slain at Towton Field."

The church re-ordering is making us think of a number of very important and neglected issues about our culture and our heritage as we face up to the future. The history of Berwic or Bergwic or Barwick is important to us all as we reflect on the proud and mighty energies and ambitions of the ancients and their descendants who created the earthworks and the village.


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