After a family project involving the study of the monument to WF Gamul Farmer (1812-1860) positioned at the East Entrance to Nonsuch Park – we decided (as a group) – to see if we could locate the grave of this local gentleman, despite the fact that he had died 162 years ago! After about half an hour of looking around St Dunstan’s Church with no success, I remembered that the Church used to encourage the idea that wealth and status could guarantee a place in heaven – providing that this wealth and status was used in favour of the Church in whilst the individual concerned lived on earth! My hunch proved correct. Usually, the graves of the good and the great are located if not very close to the exterior of the Church wall – then actually in the interior of the Church (buried under heavy flagstones engraved with the details of the deceased). The problem was that by the mid to late 1800s, all the interior space of the Churches had already been paid for and occupied – and so this left the only ‘premier’ spots for the here after to be located outside the Church wall positioned at various distanced from the East-facing Altar!
The Church yard at St Dunstan’s spreads over a surprising area with the oldest graves of ordinary people being the furthest from the Church structure itself (whilst still being on hallowed ground). These areas are overgrown and the stones in a poor condition. This is always a problem for genealogists. We started our search furthest away from the main (central) Church structure so that we could explore the greater ground space of the environment. This is part of teaching our children grid-searching and the application of ‘logic’ when trying to extract some type of specific data from a jumble of unwanted, irrelevant or insignificant data (of course, what might by deemed ‘insignificant’ today – might become vitally important tomorrow as research parameters shift).
The structure of British society can be seen expressed throughout graveyards, with the rich and the entitled (in the literal sense) always being in or close to the Church building proper, and invariably possessing the biggest and most impressive tombs! Everyone else has to settle for whatever modest structure they (or their relatives) can afford! In the old days there were the unmarked ‘Pauper’s Graves’ , which also accommodated those who had taken their lives through suicide. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution (1750-1850), the filling-up of the graveyards and the threat to public health all this caused – there was a general loss of faith amongst the population which was compounded by the switch from ‘burial’ to ‘cremation’. We were explaining to our children the ridiculous notion that Victorian-era (and earlier) Christians used to believe – which stated that the god they believed in would literally ‘reanimate’ and breath ‘new’ life into their dead corpses – and operate a type of ‘rebirth’ in the world where everybody who had lived would be brought back to life (here and now) at the peak of their youth and health – and all live together in peace and harmony! Of course, a dead body has never been brought back to life, and with the advent of ‘cremation’ – no corpses now physically exist to be brought back! The lesson here is that no matter how dearly a belief is held, it is subject to the vagaries of material conditions which always undermine its premise and prove it incorrect! Being proven ‘wrong’, however, does not prevent people believing in whatever they wish – which is a matter of their personal choice.
It tuned-out that as the Farmer family were rich, ennobled and eventually ‘royal’, they possess a family tomb located the ‘closet’ to the Church structure than any other grave located in that yard! Indeed, their tomb expresses not only their high social standing, their class and their wealth, but also expresses the amount of money the family left the Church to maintain their tomb (which is in fact a ‘crypt’). As the modern variants of Christianity have no moral qualms accommodating the ideology of predatory capitalism – the message displayed in this Church (and thousands like it across the UK and the world), is that money on earth can purchase a guaranteed spot in heaven – as if a good seat at the local theatre is being negotiated and confirmed through the exchange of finance! Exactly one hundred years after his death (in 1960) the monument that original covered the family tomb of the Farmers was ‘shifted’ 8 feet to the North to accommodate a Church improvements. It is interested to note that the parts of the graveyard still in use (and attracting money) appears very well kept and is in good order – whilst those sections containing older burials are in a very poor state. Those who believe in the mixing of wordily finance and spiritual sustenance should ask their brokers whether this is a good investment!