St.Mary's Churchyard Lewisham and the Lady Well
Our churchyard is beside the noisy high street with its continuous and persistent traffic noise, its intrusive sirens and busyness, but is strangely insulated from it – the trees, grass, the large limestone tombs and the River Ravensbourne on its western boundary seem to dampen and soften the background sounds creating an urban oasis. Trees, early summer wild flowers and rare species of ferns flourish in this large, ancient burial space and provide a habitat for many species of birds.
Until the nineteenth century this was the only burial ground in the huge ancient Parish of Lewisham, an area that encompassed the hamlets of Catford, Brockley, Ladywell, Southend, Hither Green and Sydenham. Local people have been buried here for as long as St Mary’s Church has existed –about a thousand years. As Lewisham has grown, and with it the demand for more burial space, three large additions have been made: two from Church Meadow beside the River Ravensbourne and one from the garden of Lewisham House which once stood next to the churchyard. Some features have disappeared: the ancient preaching cross was crumbling away as early as 1523; the cruel and grim parish stocks, still there in 1739, were removed soon after.
There is a fascinating variety of tombs from simple early eighteenth century stones with stark images of skulls and bones to large and opulent chest tombs of wealthy Victorian Lewisham residents.
Leland Duncan, the eminent Lewisham and Kent historian said of this churchyard in 1892:Surely if there is any spot in this rapidly changing parish which will help us in recalling the past, it is the old churchyard.
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