The Art and Memory exhibition at St Mary's, North Stoke, Sussex

PUBLISHED: 08:33 21 August 2010 | UPDATED: 17:44 20 February 2013

The Art and Memory exhibition at St Mary’s, North Stoke, Sussex

The Art and Memory exhibition at St Mary’s, North Stoke, Sussex

By Janet Aidin, Secretary of the Friends of St Mary the Virgin, North Stoke...


North Stoke is village almost due north of Arundel. It has no through traffic and is accessed from Stoke Road off the B2139 at Houghton Bridge.

Satnav: BN18 9LS

By Janet Aidin, Secretary of the Friends of St Mary the Virgin, North Stoke

It wasthrough the lettercutter Richard Kindersley that I first came to hear about the work of Harriet Frazer, Memorials by Artists and The Memorial Arts Charity. Richard had done work for us, so in 2004 it was natural to ask him to carve a memorial stone for my parents. The beautiful result is in Wiggonholt Churchyard, In the meantime I had helped to set up a Friends Group for my former parish church at North Stoke which had passed into the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. I visited the Art & Memory exhibition at West Dean in 2009 several times. I was quite unprepared for its scope. It dawned on me that the churchyard at North Stoke would make an ideal setting for the work of the Charity. With the support of the Trust and the Friends Committee I approached Harriet, and the result can now be seen.
The Church of St Mary the Virgin, North Stoke, sits high on the South Downs and is a place of special beauty and history. Although the Church was vested in the Churches Conservation Trust in 1992, the churchyard belongs to Amberley Parish. The Church is redundant but is still consecrated, as is the churchyard. Ashes are occasionally interred, but burials have long fallen into abeyance, so the churchyard is uniquely able to accept and absorb a temporary exhibition of this kind.
We have a fine tradition of letter-carving and memorial art in England, going back for hundreds of years. Visiting churchyards and reading tombstones is an honoured tradition in this country. Tombstones not only tell us who died, but how their memory was recorded and sustained in earlier times. Some are simple folk art; others are masterpieces of sophisticated carving and expression in a variety of materials. None is futile, none perfunctory. In each we sense that someone has striven for the best.

Anyone who has taken a brass rubbing will have experienced the thrill of owning a piece of memorial art - at least in replica. But when it comes to rembering our own dead the choice is rather more confusing. Fine memorials can be found, but often the bereaved have no idea how to go about it and cannot, somehow, focus on what they truly want. I have spoken to so many people who felt that the memorial they chose was not what they had wanted in their heart of hearts. It did not live up to their idea, and even seemed a little impersonal. They had not been aware of what was possible, or that decisions needed time of their own. So they settled for less than they had hoped.
There is also the problem of what is acceptable to the church authorities. Gravestones in English churchyards are controlled by the regulations of the local Diocesan Chancellor. Regulation seeks to promote acceptable types of memorial stone and prevent what is unsuitable by a degree of standardisation. As a result, beautiful memorials which could have enhanced the churchyard are often excluded, while drab and poorly-designed work is permitted. On a recent visit to a breathtaking medieval churchyard in the Welsh Marches I found standardisation taken to an extreme: the older graves were of local stone; randomly set, but the 20th century graves were maked without exception by orchestrated ranks of polished granite, a crushing solution indeed.
With all these ideas in mind, the Memorial Arts Charity and the Friends of St Mary the Virgin, North Stoke has mounted an exhibition of contemporary memorials. The exhibition has been made possible with the permission and support of both the Parochial Church Council of Amberley and the Churches Conservation Trust. We would also like to thank HD Tribe, the monumental masons, who did most of the installation free of charge.

The aim of the exhibition is to enhance the quality of memorials in general and to widen the scope of what is permitted in churchyards by showing gifted and inspiring examples of work. We hope the display will stimulate public interest so that people can learn more about memorials and consider what is possible before the need arises. Above all, it will allow the interested public to see what skilled design and craftsmanship can achieve. It is hoped this exhibition will also raise questions and engender debate. In the way the private art of memory becomes available to all.

This article is adapted from one that appears in the book Art & Memory in The Churchyard, available at the Church but also at Amberley Village Stores. It can also be obtained by post from the Memorial Arts Charity Its 6.50 plus postage of 2.20 if appropriate. It is also available at the Amberley Museum and Heritage Centre at Houghton Bridge.

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