Centred in the heart of Havant, St Faith’s Churchyard provides a surprisingly rich habitat for native grasses and flowers which attract a great range of insects, birds and small mammals. These include a hedgehog, a sparrow hawk and a jackdaw. Trees and shrubs are being managed to complement the area without over shading the grassland. Elder, field rose, ivy, yew and common lime provide nesting and feeding areas and some of the four nesting boxes provided in 2018 are now being used. The gravestones and tombs are an excellent medium on which lichens can grow .
With the support of the Havant Council’s management team, four plots are now left unmown from the end of April until September. This allows plants to flower and set seed, providing better cover for mammals and a rich pollen and nectar source for bees, hoverflies, butterflies and other insects.
The grass around the Church has not been re-seeded, sprayed or fertilised.
Our churchyard has been designated as a “Site of Importance for Nature Conservation” (SINC). A panel of experts from Natural England, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, Hampshire County Council and the Hampshire Biodiversity Information Centre have concluded that “the churchyard contains herb rich semi-improved grassland of a good age in an urban environment. The grassland diversity increases where mowing is relaxed. The churchyard is reported to have Green-winged orchid (International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Vulnerable)”
Many people like to sit in the Dewhurst Garden on the south side of the Church and enjoy the nature. Dr Dewhurst was a real Havant hero who was well loved and respected by his patients. An article is included in Ann Griffiths’ “Havant in the Second World War”.
A WALK AROUND THE CHURCHYARD
Before the fifteenth century it would have been rare to find tombstones in graveyards. The ground around the church was used for burial but the dead were not memorialised except in the priest’s prayers. The churchyard at St. Faith’s rises higher than the building itself. It has been estimated that there may be more than 20,000 bodies buried in the ground.
From the North porch entrance, facing the West Street, turn left towards the yew tree. It is estimated that this yew is more than 600 years old. As well as having a spiritual meaning, the planting of yew trees was considered to be practical too.
Taxus baccata is one of the few native evergreen trees of Northern Europe. Its dense crown provides a windbreak that protected the church during winter storms. Being evergreen, its dark branches demonstrate the continuity of life. Yew boughs were used in the decoration for church services and were a substitute for ‘palm’ on Palm Sunday.
Follow the path past the large West door and round the corner until you find some stone steps leading to a paved area. This is the Dewhurst Memorial Garden.
It was built in the 1980s to celebrate the life of Dr. Michael Dewhurst and his wife who were much loved members of the Havant Community for many years. During the 2nd World War Mrs. Dewhurst was commandant of the civil defence First Aid Post which was based in St. Faith’s Church Hall and Dr. Dewhurst was an Assistant Medical Officer.
It is understood that the stone seat comes from Canterbury Cathedral. It was given to Canon Derek Brown in the 1970s by Mr. Charles Chase of The Ship, Langstone.
Many of the inscriptions on the gravestones are unclear or illegible but the earliest stone may be found towards the East of the churchyard. Turn left from the Memorial Garden and it will be found to the left of a row of higher stones.
Look carefully at the construction of the walls of the church. The overall impression is of uniformity. The most abundant stone is Bembridge limestone. This is likely to be of Saxon or Medieval date. If you look carefully, it is possible to find fossils in the freshwater limestone. These are fossil shells and the pin holes are where the fossilised fruiting bodies of chara, a stone wort, have fallen out.
There has been considerable rebuilding of St Faith’s, particularly during the Victorian Period, when it seems that the whole of the outside walls were given uniformity. The plaque celebrating the re-ordering and re-opening can be seen low down toward the East end of the church, just before the smaill parking area.
The churchyard contains a great deal of wild life. As well as squirrels, blackbirds, pigeons, robins and jackdaws and six different types of tree, there are around 65 different varieties of flowering plant.
Produced by Phyllida Acworth, Pam Moore, Davide Bone, Ralph Hollins & David Deadman
Ralph Hollins visited the Churchyard in St Faith’s every month until he moved out of the parish and wrote a fascinating record of the wildlife there. He said: “My interest in wildlife brings me to St Faith’s each month to enjoy the varied interest of the plants, insects and birds which thrive here in the centre of town and you can see on the St Faith’s website photos of the things I have enjoyed here over the past.”