St Peter's Church Graveyard Project
The Gravestones of Ugborough
Between the summers of 2012 and 2013, a small team of local enthusiasts mapped and recorded the gravestones surrounded St Peter’s church in Ugborough.
There are 707 stones within the churchyard on which it is possible to read at least part of the inscription. One of these, part of a tomb monument dated to 1645 clearly originated from within the church while a single partial gravestone reworked as part of a step and found during building work in 2009, is now inside the church set into a new section of stone flooring.
Of the 707 stones, only 187 record a single individual while 393 record two, usually a married couple. On a further 127 there is a third deceased person mentioned while 44 examples record a greater number, up to 10 individuals. There are a further 33 individual who were alive at the time when the stones were engraved, usually surviving relatives and often those who commissioned the work. Thus the total number of persons who are named on the 707 grave inscriptions number approximately 1307. There are at least 284 surnames present although some of these have very similar spellings and may represent different spellings of the same family name, such as the 5 Stentifords and the 8 Stentefords. Amongst the most popular surnames are Widdicombe, Luscombe, Hodder and Beable. In the case of the latter 18 memorials mention 34 individuals although it is often the case that the parents of children who die in infancy are mentioned on their memorials and then later have memorials of their own.
In looking at the information recorded on the gravestones one must always remember that the data that they present reveals the lives of a particular group in Ugborough society; those whose surviving families had the wealth to provide a gravestone and the ideological motivation to do so.
Discounting the single 17th century example, which probable originated from inside the church, the earliest surviving grave stones are two from the first half of the eighteenth century.
There are a further 43 from the second half of the 18th century but the bulk of gravestones are from the 19th (324) and the 20th centuries (290). Broken down by decade the distribution of stones shows a steady rise in numbers in the 19th century until there is a marked decline in the last two decades. This is followed by a strong recovery in the first decade of the 20th century followed by another decline. It is possible that this reflects the economic problems in the countryside at the time. The 1880’s and 1890’s were periods of agricultural depression but so were the 1920’s which is the decade with the second highest number of gravestones.
Seasonal Mortality and Gravestones
The Ugborough gravestones record the date of death
for 1106 individuals over a period of approximately
200 years. As expected there are more deaths in the
winter months than the summer (which is still true today) ,
but there is less variability than one might have expected
and the month with the greatest mortality is March.
Modern research into mortality rates in the UK has revealed
that the first week of January is the one with the highest
average mortality, although the reason for this is not
obviously clear since the same study showed that the
last week of December is one with very low mortality.
It has been suggested that Christmas causes hospital
procedures to be avoided or postponed and that the
consequential increase of activity after the holiday period,
when hospitals are filled to capacity is the most important factor here.
Comparing the Gravestones with the Burial Register
While gravestones represented those whose families could
afford them, a more comprehensive record existed in the
orm of a parish register of all those buried in Ugborough
churchyard. The information that it records varies
depending on the author of the record. All record the
name of the deceased and the date of their burial but
some include their age and sometimes incidental detail
such as the cause of an accidental death or some detail
of the deceased persons social status. This reveals a
marked contrast between the data from the gravestones
and the burial record. The register for the year 1800
shows 24 burials, while there is only one gravestones
from that year. Elizabeth Brown appears in both datasets
although in the register she is recorded as Betty Brown. By 1815 a new clerk had taken over the register and had begun to record the age of those buried. Seventeen burials take place in that year 8 of whom are children under 10 while 5 of the remaining are of those aged 70 or above. The age of one individual, James Lowell, is not recorded but the observation that he was “killed by the kick of his masters horse” suggests he may have been a youth.
There are rare occasions when those named on gravestones do not appear in the register. Two such are William Fox and Sarah Barber who died on the 21st of April and the 26 of May 1823. These dates fall within a period between early April and early July 1823 when the register records no deaths at all. This suggests that on occasion, the Burial Record was not kept up to date as it should have been, but in fairness to past Parish Clerks, it’s a very rare occurrence.