It is more puzzling than one might imagine working out who owns ground in and around our churches. I’ve been reminded twice this morning of the strange but real danger of our ending up responsible for cost of the care of land we don’t in fact own.
First, a Funeral Director talked to me about a plot he says a family purchased in one of our churchyards. That is straight forward, and he jolly well ought to know. Nobody buys bits of churchyard. They simply pay a fee for a burial in it. It remains churchyard. But actually there is what appears to be part of St Michael’s churchyard where this isn’t true.
It is really a private burial ground where the owner sold plots; I hadn’t realised that any of the few remaining unused graves were still ‘booked’ in this way until a few years ago a next-of-kin turned up with a legal document and asked us to conduct a burial. I know that the owner tried to give it to the church in the 1970s but the Church Council refused to take on the liability without any endowment, but I also know that almost nobody else knows this, and that the area has ended up being looked after as if it is part of the churchyard without any financial help ever having been given.
Secondly, a Council official told me he wasn’t sure he could put the disabled parking markings we requested on the road outside St Michael’s because it isn’t recorded as an adopted highway on his map. What looks like a lay-by, and is sometimes incorrectly treated as the Church Car Park, is actually the line of the road before it was straightened in, I guess, the 1950s, and I’m sure the Council has resurfaced it since then.
I suggested that he really needs to provide evidence that it was actually granted to or bought by someone else then. If not, and he simply disclaims responsibility for it because it isn’t on his map, who owns it? If noone owns it, who can give permission to put disabled parking marking on it? And who will meet the cost of resurfacing it when this next needs doing?
Meanwhile, the picture is another from the recent climb of St George’s tower and shows how the north opening is blocked up, something it is not possible to see from outside.