St. Mary’s Changing Churchyard

Towards the end of 1945, Jean Mary Davis (my second cousin twice removed) married John Clement Rix at St. Mary’s, the parish church at Norton Cuckney in Nottinghamshire1. I recently came across this wonderful photograph of them stepping out of the front doors of the church just after they had been married2.


The war had ended in September of 1945 and perhaps feeling hope for the first time in many years, couples flocked to their local parish churches or registration offices to get married. The Office for National Statistics notes the uptick in marriages in England in 1945. Although the number of marriages dropped during World War 2, by 1945, with the end of the war in sight, the number of marriages began to rise.3

I wondered if the church John and Jean married in was still standing. I was pleased to see that it was. However, what struck me was the change visible in the later photograph I found. A September 2011 photograph (photo credit to Andrew Jackson, user contributed content on Google Maps) shows that the headstones visible in background of the 1945 wedding photograph no longer appear. The actual building itself has not changed but the churchyard definitely has. The blue box outlines the area which appears in the background of the photo of John and Jean.


The only reference I could find as to why the headstones no longer show on the 2011 photograph was from the Southwell and Nottingham Church History Project which stated that, “In 1948 a Faculty was granted to lay down the gravestones in the churchyard.”4 It is possible that the stones were laid flat and that in the intervening 70 years, they have sunk into the ground and grass has grown over them. This is just speculation at this point. If you have any insight into what may have happened, I’d love to hear it!

John Clement Rix and Jean Mary Davis had a very interesting life together. They traveled the world from Hong Kong to South Africa and Northern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). I’m still digging into their story so stop back soon for an update.

This post was written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Week 23 prompt: Going to the Chapel.


  1. “England & Wales, Marriage Index: 1916-2005,” database, Ancestry ( : accessed 4 March 2015), entry for John C. Rix to Davis; citing Worksop district, December [quarter] 1945, vol. 7b: 134. 
  2. John C. Rix and Jean M. Davis wedding photograph, 1945; digital copy in Sue McNelly collection, Phoenix, Arizona. 
  3. The Office for National Statistics ( : accessed 17 June 2018), “Victory in Europe Day: How World War II changed the UK”, 8 May 2015. 
  4. Southwell & Nottingham Church History Project ( : accessed 18 June 2018), “Nottingham St Mary” 

12 thoughts on “St. Mary’s Changing Churchyard

  1. The headstones you speak of are still present at the church yard, they surround the inside of the church wall and are laid flat side by side. The old part of the church yard has the large old headstone of my great great grandmother and grandfather still standing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You have eagle eyes to notice the gravestones in the first photograph! (I usually comb my own old photos for details but not so much others’ photos.) It would be interesting to learn more details about what happened to those stones. I think it would be sad to have them turned into a walkway.

    Love the photo of the bride and groom!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Nancy. I do love that photo! It is really hard to see those gravestones when the photo is not enlarged. It’s not the best quality but I am grateful to have it at all! Thanks for stopping by!


  3. Sue, When I was in England in 2007 I learned that a lot of stones in the old churchyards were laid down into walkways. The reason was they were falling over due to the weight of the stones. Most are not very thick. If you go to this page and scroll down about 4 images you will see one of the old churches in Rugely in Stafordshire, I have an ancestor here and several at the Cathedral in Dewsbury in Yorkshire, Hope this helps.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those are really interesting photos! It would seem that if the stones at St. Mary’s Norton Cuckney were laid flat, there would be some indication that they were there. Even if covered with grass, I think you’d see something. I looked on Google earth and even though the resolution isn’t great, there really appears to just be grass covering the area. So I think my idea that they were laid flat may not be the right one. Hopefully I’ll figure out the mystery!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I looked at the church on Google Earth, but the resolution isn’t good enough to see if the headstones are still visible in a horizontal position. I do see that there appear to be lots of headstones around the other sides of the church.

    I love the wedding photo! So lucky for you to find it!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great minds think alike, Eilene! I did the same thing and like you say, couldn’t really see much due to the poor resolution. I reached out to a local genealogy society in the area. Perhaps they will have some ideas.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s hard to see the old photo – are you sure they are headstones and not bushes? hahaha
    Some of my ancestors were baptized, married and buried at St James church in Stalmine, Lancashire. It is a small churchyard that had over 3000 burials until 1899. The yard was crowded and unruly, making it difficult to keep tidy, so in 1973 the decision was made to build a new wall and all the gravestones were removed, cleaned and embedded on the wall.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For a second you had me doubting my sight 🙂 But no, they are headstones. I’m able to blow the photo up and you can definitely see the square shape of some and the rounded tops of others. Phew! That would have been really awful had it been bushes 🙂


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