While working on my post-doctoral project on family migration I had the opportunity to score some serious research time at the Birmingham Public Library. They have an immense collection of local history books and archives. During this research extravaganza I went through the parish registers of St. Edburgha’s Church in Yardley.
My subjects were the Jenningsfamily of Yardley, who, from what I can gather in my research, ran the Swan pub for most of the nineteenth century, and into the 20th. I first went through the marriage records, the baptisms, and then finally the burial register. In this register I found that the Jennings were all interred in the churchyard, as well as the Thorntons, who were related to them. There was some important information in the burial registers as to who was there, and their cause of death, but I wanted to know more.
I then went through the local history books which featured numerous old photographs of the church which included a churchyard packed with gravestones. As any good historian and genealogist knows, gravestones are important fonts of information. They can state the position that the deceased held in life, details of their family, ie other members and sometimes some interesting details like birth place, political affiliation- the sky is the limit. Gravestones are made by the family to commemorate the deceased lives, and they will include information that they want people to know about them… beloved, honourable, respected, etc.
So I decided to take a day and visit St Edburgha’s Church. I anticipated seeing an amazing selection of gravestones as the church has been on that site over 800 years. What a chance to see its history reflected on its markers. And hopefully to find more information about the Jennings and Thorntons.
Well, it was a wonderful dream, but like many dreams it crashed and burned. I walked up to the church from the main road, having taken a bus there from Birmingham’s downtown. There are no gravestones whatsoever. None, not one, not even an early one. They had landscaped their cemetery. 800 years of burials obliterated.
According to their website, “attractively landscaped churchyard with no gravestones” [www.stedburghas.com]. Attractive, perhaps, but really quite sad.