Guy Singer has been busy working on another local history book and once again he has unearthed some very interesting stories.
He had been approached by members of the congregation of St Michael and All Angels Church in Thursley who had been researching the history of some of the occupants of the churchyard and it presented perhaps a rather unusual way to discover the village’s own history.
Tales from a Country Churchyard is due to be launched later this month and I can do no better to tell you about it than to quote from the Rev Hannah Moore’s introduction: “Churchyards are fascinating places. It may seem a strange thing to say but they are alive with stories and social history. A group of dedicated volunteers, the churchyard working party, share a passion for the churchyard. Over the years, two members, Amanda Flint and Mike Roberts, have gathered stories about the people who are at rest in our churchyard.
“We do have some famous residents, the unknown sailor and the blacksmith who made the chains for the criminals who killed him. We have a connection to the wigwam murder, the Titanic and the Bossom plane crash. All these people lie beside farmers, labourers, bakers and children who died too soon. Their stories are just as fascinating, and some may surprise you.”
And you certainly will find surprises within the pages of Guy’s volume aplenty for he has taken each character and set many of them in the context of the times and related them to happenings beyond Thursley itself. But as well as the stories Hannah mentions which you may have heard of, the ‘ordinary’ village residents are also recorded here.
These two photographs from Guy’s book illustrate the latter point. The school children from about 1900 (pictured) would have attended the purpose-built school behind them which now is the Thursley village hall. Earlier generations would have used the Dame School, the refurbished building that still exists in the churchyard today, though now used as a store. It was here that widow Sarah Andrews was schoolmistress in the 1840s and is now buried here along with her husband George.
The Baker family, photographed at around the same time as the schoolchildren, lived at Highfield Farm when Edward and wife Maria took over the tenancy in 1883. They had ten children. Edward died in 1935 at 93 but son John took on the tenancy. Despite going off to fight in the First World War, he continued farming until moving away in 1947. The farm was half arable but the other half was for livestock, including cows to provide the milk for John’s dairy round of the village. However, the Second World War saw much of the grassland ploughed up to grow oats.
I hope this gives a taste of the vast amount of work that has gone into Tales from a Country Churchyard. The 312 pages contain more than 100 illustrations and will be available from Guy from September 17 at a cost of £15 (a hardback edition will also be available at £20 as will a companion volume Pictures from a Country Churchyard at £25). To find out more, visit Guy Singer’s website www.guyjsinger.com or call him on 07496 169224 to pre-order your copy.
If you’d like to visit the church and pick up a copy at a discounted price, a launch event is taking place at St Michael and All Angels, Highfield Lane, Thursley (GU8 6QQ) on Saturday, September 17 from midday to 2pm.
The Rev Hannah Moore will open the event at 12.15pm with a few words and Guy will be on hand to sign copies.
There will also be a chance to meet members of the churchyard working group whose research resulted in this fascinating book.