The Church of England in Your Community
**as we continue to develop the content on this website we will be adding more information about the upkeep of the Churchyard, stories of those buried and further photographs so if this interests you please do come back and visit this page early in 2019**
Old Heathfield is the name now given to the original settlement of Heathfield, and it is probable that there has been a settlement here since prehistoric times. The early settlers would have cleared patches of upland for grazing and crops and lived where they had a clear view of surrounding hills as a means of defence. In Saxon times when missionaries such as Augustine and Richard brought the news of Christianity to Wessex a simple wooden church was built on the site of the current building and Christians who died would have been buried in the vicinity of the church, their graves marked by a wooden cross.
The Norman settlement of the 11th century ultimately led to the construction of a stone church but the land around was used for burial and reburial, especially in the vicinity of the church, with stone memorials gradually becoming more common. In the last few centuries the trend has been to acquire more land from neighbouring farmers. The Parish magazine of the late 19th Century reports that when the church needed to extend the graveyard, and the farmer owning the adjacent field was unwilling to sell, the then churchwarden and owner of Heathfield Park, Mr William Cleverly Alexander, stepped in, bought the whole farm, and gave the church the piece of land they needed.
It consists of a hilltop bounded by a road running North /South close by on the western side , but sloping away towards the east where the graves spread out in their hundreds. Churchyard regulations state that the responsibility for maintenance of graves rests with relatives but after several hundred years it is difficult to trace surviving family members with the result that everything gets very overgrown in the summer months.
However In the last few years churches with graveyards have been called to account by relatives and by the general public when the dead are smothered in brambles and nettles. Books such as “Caring for God’s acre” have been written to emphasize the need to cherish our churchyards as islands of protected vegetation and wild life and a source of much local history.
In the last few years The Friends of All Saints’ Church along with members of the church congregation and Duke of Edinburgh volunteers have worked hard to bring the churchyard under control. For a few weeks in spring it looks idyllic when the daffodils are in bloom! Later in the year when grass and weeds grow unchecked it is a distressing sight.
A conservation area has been established in an area of old graves in which both wildflowers and wild life is encouraged. The grass surrounding the church has been regularly mowed and footpaths have been cleared. Volunteers spend many hours with strimmer's clearing the vegetation around the hundreds of graves, many of which were edged with kerbstones in Victorian times making the use of a mower impossible.
We are very grateful that the environmental charity Sussex Lund gave us a £4000 grant last year to lay the hedge along the southern boundary. Now we have received a Community Grant from Heathfield Co-op of £11,000 to resurface the footpath which follows the boundary hedge.
There are two community Churchyard work days annually , one each in May and September when volunteers from the church, the village and the Duke of Edinburgh organisation meet to help clear vegetation from the area. Your help, or your donations, are gratefully received to enable us to fulfil our responsibility to earlier generations, that they should rest in peace.
Content for this page has been produced by Ann Kenward