by Aspect County

Lychgate – now there is a lovely old mediaeval Saxon word!!

A Lychgate usually sits on the first part of a church pathway leading up to the entrance of a church and sits just inside the curtilage. They were all built with one purpose in mind, to protect the dead!

The word Lych is an old English word for corpse and a Gate is where people met. So when the sad event happened of someone passing at home, there were no facilities of a mortuary, so the deceased was prepared in a shroud and taken to their place of burial several days before the commitment and then placed on a bier (a stand for a coffin). Here the coffin would wait for the services, usually guarded by family and friend to protect against grave robbers and body thieves.

St Nichols Church in Cranleigh
This beautiful rear entrance to the Lychgate has been built in coursed sand stone and has a tiled roof. This example was commissioned in 1880 by a Mrs J Bradshaw as a memorial to her late husband John Bradshaw.

Perfect for its design, the Lychgate with its open ends and covered roof were a way of keeping the coffin, mourners and pallbearers dry during this period in the typical British weather. This particular Lychgate belongs to the parish of Cranleigh in Surrey and has been constructed in a three bay form with very ornate tiled roof and lovely stonework.

A typical Victorian example that contains so many features and designs for such a small structure. Overpowering amounts of sand stone with tiny arrow slit openings and four buttresses on each side just oozes a big statement.

What am I doing with this Grade II listed structure you may well ask? Modern times have taken a toll on the stone work with some lamination and a few joints opening up. This we are fixing with a few tie bars and some re-pointing. 

The main item for alteration this is the floor of the structure, it’s been laid with historic gravestone as slabs. When I really don’t know, I don’t think it was part of the original construction as there seems to be a cementitious form to the bedding. Also as to the front, of the photo above there is the original step that over the many years and with many foot steps has worn a lovely dip in the fabric. It has been highlighted with white paint because it is a trip hazard and is impossible to gain access for disabled visitors to the church.

The proportions of this ever so pretty building should look out of place but it all seems so delicate when you study the design and layout The formed arches over the arrow slits with the large singular stone as the sill, guarded by the two large buttresses do make a statement yet seem so perfect

History under your feet
Original grave stone some dating back hundreds of years have been used to for the floor of the Lychgate.

Our mission is to reform the step, remove the headstones and re-form as a slope so allowing wheel chair access. All whilst keeping the charm and beauty of this grand old 140 year old structure.

No pressure there then!!!
Until next time Love Old Buildings.

Written and photographed by Steve Trodd
Love Old buildings Tel: 07868 721701