Moseley St Mary’s Heritage & Access Project

GeoPhysics survey by StrataScan prior to path realignment

I’ve recently become involved in an HLF funded heritage project at St Mary’s Church Moseley – or more specifically the churchyard. The large churchyard at the back of the church on St Mary’s Row is the only piece of public green space in the village but having fallen into disrepair and becoming a focus for anti-social activity it has been much underused for many years. 

Parishioners and local residents have made great strides over the last 5 years to cut back overgrown vegetation and make general improvements to the site – and a Project committee was formed which, following public consultation, produced a MasterPlan and subsequent funding application.

The £69,100 grant from HLF will be more than matched by the church’s own funding in a scheme which encompasses landscaping works to improve access; restoration of the Main Gates; repair of the West Gate and improvement to the access into the churchyard via this route from the alleyway into the village; ecological improvements including planting of native species; conservation of the 1903 burial plan and heritage interpretation.

It is the heritage research and recording that I am primarily concerned with – although I suspect it won’t be too long before I’m joining working parties to plant trees or build compost heaps!  Although a great deal is known about the church since its formation as a chapel of ease to the parish church of St Nicolas, Kings Norton in 1405 ( there is still much that remains to be discovered about most of the 9,000 or so inhabitants of the graves within the churchyard. A number of original records survive and are mostly held at Birmingham Archives including Burial Registers dating back to 1762, a Grave Register covering burial 1783 – 1987, some 19th century burial notebooks and 4 graveyard plans. There is also a volume of monumental inscriptions compiled by the BMSGH in the early 1980’s prior to the removal of many damaged and fragile gravestones that were deemed unsafe. Anne Bold, a parishioner, worked for many years to enter data from the registers and monumental inscriptions into a spreadsheet which is already proving invaluable.
The latest of the graveyard plans from 1906 was stored in a rolled form at the church for many years and has become brittle. It is now being carefully conserved by Louise Vaille of Ogilvie Vaile Conservation at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.
There is growing community interest in the project and 450 people attended the launch open day on 27th June (timed to coincide with the monthly Farmers’ Market). Many people, like myself, had rarely if ever been around the churchyard and even in its current slightly forlorn state it does have a lot to offer as a haven for plants and wildlife and somewhere to take a quiet contemplative stroll away from the bustle of the Village. 
On the back of this success it was decided to invite the public in again as part of Heritage Open Days and Birmingham Heritage Week.  The focus this time was the intended Graveyard Survey and visitors were invited to “Be a Graveyard Detective”. We hadn’t expected the turnout that we received – during the 3 hours we were running the activity about 150 people came round and so the three project volunteers present, including myself, were somewhat overwhelmed. Happily most folk were happy to undertake self-guided tours of the church and the churchyard but we had about 30 adults and children who bravely had a go at completing the grave recording sheets and checking information with that already held in the spreadsheet and Monumental Inscriptions and identifying the surveyed graves on a copy of the 1906 graveyard plan. It was a useful pilot that will do much to inform how we continue the survey over the next 3 years.

Liz numbering graves prior to survey

We are using the survey methodology developed by John Tierney of and intend to publish the results on the site in due course to make them publicly and freely available. I had hoped to meet John at Caring for God’s Acre ( ) “Beautiful Burial Grounds” Conference in Warwick I attended two days after our event so I could discuss some of the difficulties we had found – but sadly he was detained in Ireland and so couldn’t lead the planned workshops. 
At present I am developing a workplan and schedule relating specifically to the Monumental Survey and seeking volunteers to help on a regular basis. We already have some potential recruits from both Open Days and from responses to the Moseley Benefice website and leaflets. One volunteer has already been tasked with taking responsibility for photographing the monuments in a consistent way and with attached GPS data. The intention is then to organise regular sessions to firstly survey the approximately 200 grave monuments that still remain and tie these in with both the photographs and the documentary evidence that exists for each. 
Once we know whose gravestones remain we will begin to research at least basic biographical details of the individuals and families they belonged to. The existing research featured on the self-guided tour of the leaflet and which will be used in interpretation panels is mainly about the Victorian entrepreneurs  such as industrialist Joseph Lucas and estate agent Horatio Nelson Grimley. We hope to uncover stories about those whose names are less well-known and also to link together themes such as local and international migration, military and naval connections and growth of this particular suburb of Birmingham.

Liz Palmer