A graveyard

Historic Graveyards and Cemeteries

Graveyards and cemeteries are important parts of local heritage, intimately bound up with communities and their identities. Remarkably, few have been systematically recorded, and even fewer analysed and interpreted, so they cannot be appreciated and effectively managed. The University of Liverpool is collaborating with others to encourage local recording and enhance preservation.

The Challenge

The monuments and landscapes of graveyards and cemeteries are found across the whole of the UK in every community, but they are rarely appreciated and used because of a lack of awareness of the rich heritage they contain. This can lead to inappropriate site management – leading to a loss of the heritage – and the local people cannot take advantage of this rich local resource for education, tourism and creation of local identity. Those projects that have been completed have often had problems with archiving their data and making this widely available.

Research Action

In order to create a basis for community recording, Professor Harold Mytum initially produced a handbook, Recording and Analysing Graveyards (2000), widely used in the heritage profession and by community groups.

Professor Mytum has gradually enhanced the classificatory systems and used the data in interpretation in a wide range of locations and increased use of digital technology has led to collaborative research to develop a recording and archiving process which ensures effective project completion and archiving. 

New guidelines and digital resources are being published following trials with community groups, and for the first time there will be a national facility for archiving community groups’ data so that it is freely available to all.

Researchers examining a gravestone.

Working in partnerships

The Council for British Archaeology (CBA) has encouraged the recording and analysing of graveyards through Mytum’s Handbook. Numerous projects have been undertaken, but the archiving of data faced logistical challenges which the University of Liverpool investigated (2013-15) for Historic England.

The University’s findings led to another project, Discovering England’s Burial Spaces (DEBS), funded by Historic England and the University of York (2017-20). This links the University of Liverpool with the Universities of York and Glasgow, and other groups including Caring for God’s Acre (through their National Lottery Grants for Heritage project), the Church of England and the CBA.

Outputs and outcomes

We are creating all the support required for groups to carry out fieldwork, analysis and archiving of their local burial ground monuments and landscapes.

Professor Mytum has updated the recording system, and he is providing case studies and advice notes for downloading from the web, supported by a completely re-written CBA Handbook, whilst the University of York creates the app and software systems for data archiving.

The project is being promoted and disseminated by all the project partners,  encouraging action through community groups and burial ground managers both in church and local government control.

Our new support systems enable community engagement with their local burial grounds, creating a positive attitude to preservation and management, and a deeper and richer appreciation of local heritage.

Professor Harold Mytum