THE future maintenance of the town’s historic St Mary’s Churchyard could be undertaken by Ross Town Council.

Currently the council has responsibility for maintaining the closed churchyard, which dates back to mediaeval times, and includes the area in front of the church itself as well as the surrounding area at the rear.

But now the Parochial Church Council has decided that the churchyard should be closed as the burial ground is full.

This is the area beyond the track running from the main churchyard gate from Old Maids Walk / Church Street.

The open portion of the churchyard is currently maintained by St Mary’s Church with the help of a number of groups, which look after the whole area, which is approximately the size of six full-sized football pitches.

The Parochial Church Council has indicated to the Ministry of Justice of its intention of closing the churchyard because it is full and there is no usable space for new graves.

However, the church intends to continue the maintenance of the Garden of Remembrance, which contains cremations and associated headstones.

At Ross Town Council’s recent meeting, chairman Julian Utting, observed that the churchyard, according to the rules, has to be transferred in a good condition, and added: “At this moment in time, I can only describe the condition at best, as being ‘fair’ bordering on poor, probably because of the bad weather we’ve had in recent months.

“However, I don’t see any grounds we can object to the proposal. If we don’t accept the proposal the transfer will be passed onto Herefordshire Council.”

Cllr Louis Stark commented: “I understand that the last burial was in October 2022, which would indicate that the graveyard is still active in some form.”

Cllr Ed O’Driscoll said: “A lot of people would be pleased to see the churchyard better maintained, as we currently do at the front of the church. But this will come at a cost to bring it up to standard and keep it at this level.”

Cllr John Winder suggested that before the council debates the proposal in full, a detailed quote should be obtained to establish the actual costings. 

“There are a lot of issues that need resolving, including the stability of many of the trees surrounding the churchyard, which may affect the ongoing maintenance in future.”

Cllr Utting said that the council would respond formally in due course to the Parochial Church Council’s letter of intention and would welcome every opportunity to consult with the body over the churchyard’s future

After the meeting Rachel Lewis, PCC Secretary at St Mary’s Church explained that the body has just activated the legal process of closing the churchyard and informing the town council was the first step to asking if they want to look after the whole churchyard.

“The churchyard has effectively been full for about 20 years, but nobody did anything about it at the time. The burial ground sits on bedrock which prevents the normal level of burials on top of each other.”

Churchwarden Mark Sanderson explained that the town council currently looks after their part of the churchyard brilliantly and added that looking after the whole churchyard maybe a step to far for the council.

The churchyard is currently split into zones that takes account of what is growing at any particular time, along with the provision of summer meadows, as part of its programme of biodiversity.

Volunteers, under the direction of Churchyard of Angels and the Community Payback team, administered by the Probation Service, undertake various tasks in both summer and winter, look after the main part of the open churchyard.