The churchyard

The churchyard

A churchyard is the land surrounding the church and is used as a graveyard. It has been consecrated (set apart as sacred) by a bishop and is sometimes called 'God's Acre'. The area of St James's churchyard, including the church building, is estimated to be about 1.6 acres. St James's churchyard is an area of great beauty in many ways and used regularly by local people, especially children and parents walking to and from school. Footpaths run through the churchyard, but there are no public rights of way. There is a double garage beside the hall which is used mainly for storage for the church and for the nursery school, who are regular weekday hall users. There is also a shed in the churchyard for the storage of garden equipment. The remainder of the churchyard is a burial ground. See the churchyard plan for details.

The lychgateThe lych

St James's lych consists of a roofed porch-like structure over a gate, built of wood with four upright wooden posts in a rectangular shape. On top of this are a number of beams holding a pitched roof covered with clay tiles. The lych is really part of the church, lyc being the old English word for corpse or body. Thus the words 'lych gate' really means 'corpse gate'. Find out about the 2006 Lych gate renovation.


There are over 4,000 people buried in the churchyard in over 1,000 graves including the Canadian war graves from the First World War, looked after by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, many other war graves, and also ashes in the Garden of Rest. The first burial was that of Walter Richard Daines, aged 11 months in l864 and the very last burial was Bruna (Walter) Blaschke in 1987. Many fascinating people are buried in the churchyard: Canadian Joe Boyle, whose remains were exhumed and returned to Canada in 1983, 60 years after his death; three station masters from Fulwell Station; John Templeton, the opera singer; and many more. Find out about the graves in the churchyard. 

In 1991 the churchyard was closed by an Order in Council made by the Privy Council and handed over to the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames to maintain. Only burials in existing spaces and the interment of ashes now take place. Ashes are interred in the Garden of Rest (sometimes called Garden of Remembrance), an area of grass near the lychgate, and occasionally in graves. There are no plaques at the Garden of Rest, but, on request, names are recorded in a Book of Remembrance inside the church.

Churchyard Records

The original churchyard records were on a huge roll of linen inscribed with each individual grave with a name in each box. In the early 1990s, after clearing the undergrowth, a working party set about recording the names and positions of all the graves in the churchyard. Plans were drawn and a numbering scheme was used to make it easier to locate the graves. All this information was collated into a booklet 'Churchyard Records 1864-2000' which was published in February 2001. Some years later it was updated and a list of interments of ashes from 2000-2014 was included. The booklet not only listed all the graves, but included plans of each area of the churchyard with the numbers of the graves.

An online searchable database for the churchyard records was developed in 2007 - Churchyard records - search by surname or year. Together with the booklet this has proved to be a very useful reference with the increasing interest in genealogy and searches of past relatives from people researching their family history.

In 2018 the church was approached by Roland Bostock from the West Middlesex Family History Society, which was aiming to record the details of every grave in the former county boundary. As well as the inscriptions, St James’s was the first church to have photos of all the gravestones attached to the online records. Roland, and his assistant, Yvonne, took photos of every grave as well as recording all the inscriptions. See the documents Memorials & Graves introduction and Memorials & Graves both by Roland Bostock.

Garden development

When toilets were installed in church it was necessary to excavate the ground near the west porch for pipework. This was a good opportunity to replant the area with attractive shrubs and these are now growing well. Sadly, in 2017, it was necessary to have the lovely copper beech tree at the corner of St James’s Road and Park Road removed as it was diseased. In its place is a young tree and in 2019 the Gardening Team worked hard to create a small garden with flowerbeds, lawn and a bench. This is a sun trap that has already attracted visitors and wildlife alike. The Gardening Team meets several times a year on Saturday mornings and would welcome new recruits. Look out for dates.

Graves Graves Graves

Wildlife flora and fauna

Following the various Diocese of London’s conservation initiatives in 2018, under the banner of 'Caring for God’s Acre', a charity which promotes and assists in the care of churchyard green spaces, St James Church has taken various steps to become pro-active in the management of the St James Churchyard by working together with the London Borough of Richmond and Wandsworth Council to manage, protect and develop its wildlife flora and fauna.

A churchyard management scheme was set up in 2018 and created a wildlife meadow, a designated area for ivy to grow, a wildlife walkway parallel to the Park Road boundary, a ‘left to grow’ area along the East boundary and a general encouragement of wild plant growth and cover around the churchyard perimeter to facilitate creature movement. Further developments along these lines developed over time with a view to the churchyard receiving classification as a ‘designated local wildlife area’. To help with the creation and future maintenance of these wildlife areas the St James’s Gardening Club, (open to all), was launched.  A tremendous amount of work was done during 2018-19 - read the The Churchyard during 2018 to find out about this work.

Some of the trees, shrubs and flowers growing in the churchyard have long been thought to have a symbolic meaning. They remind us of things connected with the Christian faith. The yew trees are slow-growing and very long-lived trees, so they have been looked upon as a symbol of immortality and therefore a suitable tree to be planted in the place where people are buried. The prickly leaves of the holly tree have often been thought of as a reminder of the crown of thorns which Jesus wore when he was crucified. The red berries are like drops of blood, and serve to remind us that Christ's blood was shed for us. Thus the holly tree has come to be known as a reminder of the Passion of Christ. Graveyards usually have yew trees and holly in them. Yew trees and holly are 'evergreens' - the leaves do not die in winter. These plants remind us that we can live for ever in heaven.

The daffodil and the lily remind us of everlasting life. Though the bulbs look dead when they are placed in the ground, new life springs within them and they blossom into beautiful flowers. So our church is decorated with such blooms especially at Easter time. The lily of the valley, with its white blossoms is a symbol of purity and humility, and it is often associated with Mary the mother of Jesus. The clover, being a three-leaved plant is an obvious symbol of the Holy Trinity. Each leaf has three parts, which are not three separate leaves, but one leaf. So likewise, God is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost; yet He is not three Gods, but one. The Christmas rose has been thought of as a reminder of the Nativity.

Find out more

Churchyard plan (document)
St James’s Gardening Club (photo album)
The Churchyard during 2018 (document)
Spring in the churchyard (photo album)
2006 Lych gate renovation (document)
Graves in the churchyard (document)
Churchyard records
The churchyard through the years

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